Document Type

Conference Paper

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association

Publication Date

Spring 2010


This paper examines a “misconstrual hypothesis” regarding diagrams of the Earth’s orbit around the sun and how middle school students explain the cause of the seasons. Drawing from 24 semi-structured interviews, I present qualitative analyses of students’ explanations of why temperatures vary in summer and winter and how those are influenced by the elliptical shape of perspective drawings of the Earth’s orbit, common to many science textbooks. The results of the analysis suggest that diagram interpretation does not necessarily follow what has been often predicted in the literature and that conceptualizations can shift quite rapidly as different diagram features are noticed. A knowledge-in-pieces approach for understanding diagram interpretation is ultimately recommended through specific examples.



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