”I think A Comet Is A Burning Star.”
Anyone who observes children, or who remembers their own childhood, knows there are two subjects guaranteed to excite their imagination; space and dinosaurs.
These are the big issues to kids, the worlds beyond the everyday world we live in. Space is fast gaining prominence though, just look at the sudden increase in space related movies and video games. This story focuses on young people’s answers BUT adults also are part of the study as the video will show. First a study on school age children:
Today, there’s a generation of kids born to the knowledge that man can leave the earth. It wasn’t like that prior to 1969, space travel was still the domain of the science fiction writers, it couldn’t happen for real. Well, now it almost can. Kids can travel to another solar system, take a trip into the future or battle aliens in another dimension – all with the push of a video button.
The problem is that fantasy has overtaken fact, and their concepts about the universe around them are changing. Electronic games and DVDs are fast becoming today’s astronomy teachers.
In 1998, New Zealand’s Auckland Observatory surveyed 67 children aged between 7 and 14 from three visiting schools and found that two children drew a figure eight orbit for the Earth showing it circling the Sun during the day, and the Moon at night, several thought the Moon blocks the sunlight to cause night, and the belief that the Moon orbits the Sun was expressed by three out of eight 13 year-olds in the study.
Jay Leno Astronomy Quiz: Look at a selection of questions posed to the average American of all age groups.
Even sadder comes the fact that a common belief by children from years 4-9 was that the Moon makes light in the same way the Sun does. Ok, that was in New Zealand; but would the results be that much different in Australia? I’ve yet to locate a recent survey but in my own experience, visiting Australian schools with our Astronomy Outreach program, we find a similar result, even history is challenged. Around 15% of Australian school kids still firmly believe the Moon landings never happened. It was all done in a Hollywood studio!
A Japanese survey of 720 students in fourth to sixth grades late last year showed 42% of students believed the Sun goes around Earth, while nearly 30% were not aware of which direction the Sun sets! If you thought that was bad only 39 percent of Japanese students surveyed knew the Moon revolves around the earth; 27 percent chose Mars and 24 percent went for the Sun. I found this very comforting.
So What’s The Cure?
Simple, show your kids the night sky and explain the basics to them. If you need help seek out your local observatory or astronomy club. They all have telescopes and usually put on a pretty good slide show to boot. If you can afford it, buy yourself a small telescope and go ‘star hopping’ but don’t fall for a ‘cheapi – around $300 will buy you a decent instrument, or just dust off the humble binoculars. I still use mine!
If you’re a parent of school age children consider purchasing some of the better videos or DVDs around. ‘ABC shops have available several good DVDs I highly recommend. If you have internet access better still, there are dozens of sites to look at.
Experience the night sky with your kids, you won’t regret it. In a world of fast-moving television and high-end action video games, nothing compares to the ‘real thing’.
By David Reneke
- You don’t need a telescope to do astronomy (skymania.com)