Julia Plummer

My research investigates how formal and informal learning environments can support students in developing increasingly sophisticated understanding of astronomy.

Learn more about my funded projects:

ThinkSpace -- My Sky Tonight -- Earth & Space Science Project

More coming soon.

Learning progressions: Learning progressions (LP) are descriptions of how students may develop increasingly sophisticated reasoning around big ideas in science when guided by appropriate instruction.  My research groups have been developing LPs is on celestial motion (observational astronomy phenomena explained by the relative motion and position of celestial objects in the Solar System and beyond) and the Solar System and its formation.  Developing learning progressions requires empirical support through research studies that examine how children learn to make connections across multiple astronomical phenomena and how they develop these ideas over many years of study (e.g. Plummer, 2012; 2014; Plummer, Palma, Rubin, Flarend, Ong, Botzer, et al., 2015).  
Spatial thinking: My research on celestial motion emphasizes the importance of first developing students’ knowledge of apparent patterns, as observed from Earth, and then supporting their ability to explain their observations by shifting between Earth-based perspectives to a space-based frame of reference (Plummer & Krajcik, 2010).  Learning in this domain can be supported through kinesthetically engaging students through their own movement to mimic the patterns of celestial motion, either in the planetarium (Plummer, 2009b; Plummer & Small, in progress) or in the classroom (Plummer, Wasko, & Slagle, 2011; Plummer, Kocareli, & Slagle, in press).  Through this focus on perspective-taking in astronomy, my research advances our understanding of how instruction supports children in developing explanations for celestial motion in ways that account for complex spatial reasoning (Plummer et al., 2011, 2014).   
Science practices:  Understanding how students develop an understanding of science practices in astronomy is central to full characterize “learning astronomy.” Early elementary students are capable of designing investigations that could be used to test claims about celestial motion, though their proposed methods often lack details that would allow them to be successful (Plummer & Ozcelik, 2013).  I also have begun to investigate instruction that can improve children’s engagement in science practices.  For example, I found that after participating in a combination of planetarium and classroom lessons, first-grade students improved their use of scientific observation and representations in astronomy (Plummer & Small, in progress).  My research on-going research is currently investigating methods that support preschool children's engagement in evidence-based explanations through astronomy experiences in museums (My Sky Tonight project) as well as classroom-based instruction for middle and high school students engaged in science practices during instruction on the Solar System (Earth and Space Science Project).  

Supporting astronomy educators: Supporting children in learning astronomy also requires understanding and supporting their instructors.  My research has implications for methods of supporting preservice elementary teachers in designing their own investigations of celestial motion (Plummer, Zahm, & Rice, 2010) and in developing and implementing astronomy investigations for elementary children (Plummer & Ozcelik, 2015). This research suggests that teachers’ own experience in conducting guided astronomy investigations supports their ability to develop investigations for children, and highlights the relationship between increased knowledge of astronomy content and their development of coherent astronomy investigations in lesson plans.  My research has also focused on improving our understanding of the pedagogical beliefs and practices of informal science educators.  After finding that planetarium professionals strongly support the need for live interaction with young audiences (Plummer & Small, 2013; Small & Plummer, 2010), my colleague and I designed a planetarium program that combines both live and pre-recorded video and serves as a test case for further research on children’s learning in this environment (e.g. Small & Plummer, 2014).  My research on the pedagogical beliefs and practices of informal science education practitioners is helping us develop better methods of supporting them through materials and professional development (My Sky Tonight project).