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Discipline-Based Astronomy Education Research, Planetarium Education, Active Learning, Formative Assessment
Planetariums were created to teach astronomy by simulating motions of the star-filled night sky; however, simply having a virtual reality facility to immerse learners beneath a projected night sky in and of itself is insufficient to automatically ensure student learning occurs. Modern teaching strategies, like active learning, have consistently shown to move students toward deeper understanding in classrooms; yet, active learning approaches seem to be only rarely observed in planetariums. Use of Ruiz-Primo and Furtak’s (2006) coding scheme to define and analyze formative assessment conversations between classroom teachers and students reveals that unless teachers are formally taught how to use formative assessment-based active learning, such approaches are largely absent in classrooms studied. The goal of this 2-phase study was to evaluate the nature of active learning-based formative assessment conversation cycles in the planetarium. The first phase systematically analyzes 26 recordings of live planetarium programs to describe and document presence of active learning teaching strategies. The second phase conducts interviews to determine rewards and barriers to using formative assessment-based active learning in the planetarium. Analysis suggests scant evidence of complete formative assessment conversation cycles, despite that varying degrees of interactivity between the planetarium lecturer and the audience do exist. It is not that planetarians
don’t ask questions, but responses rarely serve to systematically guide instructional decisions aligned with modern pedagogy. Moreover, these planetarians hold a wide range of definitions of what constitutes active learning and often view their primary responsibility as inspiration rather than education, lending explanatory power to why active learning is largely absent.