Dissertation Planetarium


The purpose of this study was to examine the role of the planetarium on students while learning astronomy. The main goals of this study were to evaluate changes in students’ attitudes towards astronomy, whether students learned and retained more knowledge due to planetarium-enriched instruction, and how the planetarium helped students think about astronomical concepts. The framework that guided this study was the Contextual Model of Learning (CML) (Falk & Dierking, 1992; 2000), which includes three overlapping contexts that contribute to the overall learning experience in informal science venues - the personal, physical, and sociocultural contexts. The planetarium program was successful in reaching students in all three contexts of the CML, which contributed to students’ positive experiences during this study. The results of this study showed that the immersive environment and unique capabilities of a digital planetarium positively influenced students’ attitudes, learning, retention, and thinking. This study has important implications for planetariums, informal science education researchers, and schools.

Recommended Citation

Thornburgh, William Raymond, "The role of the planetarium in students' attitudes, learning, and thinking about astronomical concepts." (2017). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2684.


Of the 1100 planetariums in the U.S., approximately 96% are smaller facilities. The majority of these use a program type called the “Star Show”, whereas some have advocated a different type called the “Participatory Oriented Planetarium.” The purpose of this study was to investigate the following question: “In a smaller educational planetarium, with a capacity of between 15–75 people, is a traditional ‘Star Show’ planetarium program, or a ‘Participatory Oriented Planetarium’ program the most effective method of instruction and attitude change?” A large scale investigation was conducted in Pennsylvania, with four smaller replications in Texas, Minnesota, California, and Nevada. In each planetarium, a group of 8–10 year old students were identified and randomly assigned to groups. 556 students were tested. The testing instruments included a paper-and-pencil content test and a Likert-style science opinionnaire. The instructional programs were chosen from existing scripts to avoid bias in their construction. Both programs dealt with constellation study. Correlated t tests were used to compare pretest to posttest scores and two-way factorial analyses of variance were used to compare the groups' posttest scores. It was concluded that, “The Participatory Oriented Planetarium program, utilizing an activity-based format and extensive verbal interaction, is clearly the more effective utilization of a small planetarium facility for teaching constellation study and possibly for improving students' attitudes towards astronomy and the planetarium”.

One thought on “Dissertation Planetarium

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *