In this video segment from Teaching Earth and Space Science, teacher Mark Goldner works with his eighth-grade students to visualize the enormous spatial scale ...
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A common question for the teaching of science is how to concretize the abstract. It is easy to assume that what is concrete to the science teacher is concrete to the student. However, when students actually work with particular content, the concepts may become too overwhelming in size and scope.
In this light, concrete representations can be a benefit to students’ understanding. By working with real-world scenarios, students can translate difficult ideas or scales into a more intuitive and active form.
In his Earth and space science class shown in this video, teacher Mark Goldner uses an outdoor walking exercise to help students conceive and figure out the distance between celestial bodies like the Sun and planets. The exercise gives a concrete, real-world scenario in which students can practice the abstractions of astronomy.
Like visualizations, physical activities provide a familiar and imaginative form for students to play out concepts. Goldner’s “solar-system experience” is a kind of theater in which students can physically act out distances by pacing. This overcomes the abstract scale of the solar system that is difficult to imagine or condense into a size that makes sense to many students.
You may find it useful to watch this video with a group of your colleagues and then discuss it together.
- In this activity, the teacher tries to make the size of the solar system comprehensible to his students by creating a model of it, substituting 1 inch for 100,000 miles. While the scales of time and space have their own unique teaching challenges, how might you adapt this learning experience to help your students conceptualize very long time scales?
- Can you think of other strategies that you could use with your students to help them conceptualize time or space larger than they can personally experience?