Virtual solar system project: Building understanding through model building

Sasha A. Barab, Kenneth E. Hay, Michael Barnett, Thomas Keating

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Scopus citations


In this manuscript we describe our introductory astronomy course for undergraduate students in which students use three-dimensional (3-D) modeling tools to model the solar system and, in the process, develop rich understandings of astronomical phenomena. Consistent with our participatory pedagogical framework, it was our intention to establish a context that supported students in carrying out scientific inquiry using virtual models they developed. The progression of our thinking and the course curriculum has been grounded in a series of "design experiments," in which we develop entire courses, do research, and cycle what we are learning into the next iteration of the course. In this manuscript, we use field notes, portions of case studies, interview data, artifact analysis, and excerpts from previous manuscripts to situate the reader in the actual happenings of the course. Focusing primarily on the dynamics of the earth-moon-sun system, we illustrate the modeling process and how learning evolved in this context. In general. we found that 3-D modeling can be used effectively in regular undergraduate university courses as a tool through which students can develop rich understandings of various astronomical phenomena. Additionally, we found the design experiment approach to be a useful strategy for supporting course design that was both theoretically and empirically grounded.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)719-756
Number of pages38
JournalJournal of Research in Science Teaching
Issue number7
StatePublished - Sep 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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