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Can Getting Out of the Classroom Aid Student Comprehension?

Updated on August 27, 2013
Teach kids about the heavens by taking them to a planetarium.
Teach kids about the heavens by taking them to a planetarium. | Source

How Visiting a Planetarium May Help Elementary Students Better Understand Astronomy

Sure, taking your class to visit a planetarium is a lot of fun, but how much benefit do students get from being out of the classroom and learning about the planets and solar system in a new method?

Plummer (2009) suggests that using alternative learning methods may be more beneficial than originally expected, and suggests that while students may have a general understanding or knowledge of how celestial objects move through the sky, showing students how the planets move in the solar system gives them deeper understanding. Sure, watching a video about star movement may deepen some understanding of the celestial entities, however visiting a planetarium — where the students view the movement of the stars and planets as if they were a part of the system — provides students with the experience of being a part of the solar system. Planetariums allow students the ability to “actively engage” (with the activity and build new knowledge on previous knowledge. Making that connection between active and passive learning can be key to forming new ideas and further understanding the concepts the teacher is trying to teach.

According to the article, Plummer decided to conduct the study on planetarium instruction because despite the number of planetariums in the United States. Furthermore, there was little research proving the value of planetariums as a learning tool (Plummer, p. 194). Although the study was conducted with elementary students, the principles of experiential and kinesthetic learning are applicable to students of any age.


Activities such as planetariums deeper understanding and push students to think deeper about the concepts. Seeing a visual representation allows students to tap into their "head knowledge" and turn the concepts into true understanding.

Plummer found some “significant improvement in topics not covered using KLTs [Kinesthetic Learning Techniques] by the attributed both to the level of engagement in the program, encouraged by the frequent use of kinesthetic learning techniques, and the visually stimulating environment” (emphasis original, p. 206). This theory seems reasonable, given that when students in a stimulated learning environment are more likely to notice nuances and connect the dots for themselves.

Silesian Planetarium in Chorzow
Silesian Planetarium in Chorzow | Source

Key Elements

In addition to teaching students about the subject by being a part of the process, Plummer introduced a kinesthetic learning technique that helped to depend student comprehension.

Students specifically focused on motion and perspective to better understand the position of the sun at certain times of the day. By combining the verbal, visual and kinesthetic techniques together, students were better able to synthesize information and process it several times. Using "multiple modalities" enabled students allowed them to be exposed to the concept more than once, which furthered the learning experience.


Although not all students prefer to learn through experiences or kinesthetic opportunities, exposing students to a variety of approaches on the same subject matter reintroduces them to the material like a review session.

Admittedly, the science classroom may be the easiest class to integrate the kinesthetic approach. While teaching to every learning preference may not be applicable for every class day, it falls in line with the concept of “responsibility teaching” as described by VanBrummelen as cited in Stephen Holtrop (VanBrummelen, 2002, p. 38-39).


Plummer, J. D. (2009). Early elementary students' development of astronomy concepts in the planetarium. Journal of Research in Science Teaching , 46, 192–209. doi: 10.1002/tea.20280

Van Brummelen, H. (2002). Steppingstones to curriculum. Colorado Springs, CO: Purposeful Design Publications.


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