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Development of a Learning Progression for the Formation of the Solar System


"This study describes the process of defining a hypothetical learning progression for astronomy around the big idea of Solar System formation. At the most sophisticated level of the learning progression, students can explain how the formation process leads to the current Solar System by considering how the planets formed from the collapse of a rotating cloud of gas and dust. In this first step towards understanding student progress in this domain, we interviewed middle school, high school, and college students (N=44), asking them to describe properties of the current Solar System and to explain how the Solar System was formed. Our analysis reveals potential levels of sophistication within the hypothetical learning progression while also revealing common alternative conceptions or areas of limited understanding that could form barriers to progress; many students' understanding of Solar System phenomena was limited by either alternative ideas about gravity or limited application of momentum in their explanations. Few students approached a scientific-level explanation, but their responses revealed possible stepping-stones that could be built upon with appropriate instruction. Our findings also point to critical deficiencies in how state and national standards address Solar System astronomy."