SLOPE – Studying Learning Opportunities in a Planetarium Environment


Despite the long history of research on planetariums, there are many questions unanswered about the role they can play in educating various kinds of audiences and in supporting their interest in astronomy. Planetarium displays can prevent or remedy misconceptions about crucial notions of space, astrophysical phenomena and the universe as a whole. The Planetarium in Brussels offers a diverse educational program both for the public and for schools. In this project, we will focus on the activities that the Planetarium offer to students in the last two years of secondary education. These activities typically take the form of one school trip to the Planetarium. This visit aims at enriching the traditional school based (geography) lessons, by exploiting the unique visualization possibilities in the dome to enhance student learning.

Whether these Planetarium visits are effective in terms of student learning, and which features of the visit in general and the visualization in particular may contribute to this effectiveness, is not clear, however. In the proposed project, we will first investigate to what extent the unique Planetarium setting supports the learning of a selection of astronomical and astrophysical concepts by upper secondary school students. In a second phase, we will try to improve students’ learning processes and outcomes by enriching and optimizing the existing program and test its effectiveness. The ultimate goal is to design a research-based learning environment for astronomical and astrophysical concepts by fully exploiting the unique visualization possibilities of the Planetarium.

This PhD project builds on expertise from the staff of the Planetarium that will be combined with research expertise in astronomy/astrophysics, physics and geography education and educational psychology available in KU Leuven.

The SLOPE project is a cooperation between KU Leuven and the Planetarium in Brussels.