Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Private Worlds

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Private Worlds

Article excerpt

The classic video documentary A Private Universe has not lost its relevance in the 24 years since its release (Sadler, Schneps, and Woll 1987). The first part of the video, filmed on graduation day at Harvard University, reveals the scientific misconceptions of newly minted Harvard graduates, still in their caps and gowns. Even after years of education--in some cases including university-level physical science or astronomy courses--21 of 23 randomly chosen graduates, professors, and alumni reveal misconceptions when asked to explain the reasons for the seasons or the phases of the Moon.

The documentary becomes even more interesting as it follows Heather, a bright ninth-grade science student, as she attempts to reconcile her misconceptions about Earth's orbit. Interviews both before and after classroom instruction reveal that she retains many of her prior misconceptions, even as she desperately tries to incorporate her old naive ideas into a new scientific framework.

The success of A Private Universe inspired the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to create the Private Universe Project (see "On the web"). One part of this project, the Minds of Their Own video, roughly follows the format of A Private Universe, with additional commentary for teachers. Although Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates are now interviewed along with their neighbors at Harvard, both groups of new graduates display equally egregious misconceptions about basic science. …

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