Spatial ability in understanding astronomy concepts

Ping Wai KWOK

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Research findings in science education (Pallrand & Seeber, 1984; Coleman & Gotch, 1998; Mathewson, 1999) indicate that some students encounter difficulties in learning certain science concepts which are related to spatial thinking. In the area of astronomy, the explanation of retrograde motion of planets using geocentric and heliocentric models, the technique of parallax in measuring distance, the structure of the Milky Way inferred from the distribution stars are just a few examples of astronomy concepts that require spatial ability to understand. The study explores the relation between spatial ability and the learning of science concepts particularly related to astronomy. Linn and Petersen (1985) define spatial ability into 3 categories: spatial perception, mental rotation and spatial visualization. Spatial perception is measured by the Group Embedded Figures Test (GEFT) (Witkin et al, 2002). Mental rotation ability is measured by the Purdue Visualization of Rotations (ROT) test. (Bodner & Guay, 1997). Spatial visualization is measured by test such as Paper Folding, Form Board, and Surface Development (Linn and Petersen 1985). Besides measuring the spatial ability, science concepts of the students are also tested so that the performance can be correlated with the spatial ability. Astronomy Diagnostic Test (Zeilik, & Morris-Dueer, V. J. 2004) is used to measure conceptual understanding of astronomy. When this is related to their spatial ability, we can identify the misconceptions and conceptual difficulties that students have and the spatial elements that cause such difficulties.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2010


Kwok, P. W. (2010, December). Spatial ability in understanding astronomy concepts. Paper presented at the Global Chinese Conference on Science Education 2010, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, China.


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