The challenges of teaching Astronomy concepts at secondary education have been well documented in the literature. Meaningful teaching of Astronomy is conceptually demanding, as some of the scientific explanation for everyday natural events are not obvious and sometimes counter-intuitive. Consequently, students hold various misconceptions and can develop negative attitudes about Astronomy learning. Currently, there is a need for more research into teaching approaches that immerse and engage students with Astronomy. In this way, game-based learning (GBL) has garnered much attention among researchers, as games could be an essential tool in the science classroom to enhance the learning process through play. However, the inclusion of games in Astronomy education has been hampered by the lack of Astronomy game resources validated in the classroom and aligned with curriculum learning outcomes. This study investigated the use of GBL activities in secondary students’ for a conceptual understanding of astronomical concepts from the curriculum. In particular, four non-digital games were developed and examined in practice to explore the effects of learning through board and card games in the context of Astronomy education. A quasi-experimental research study involved 498 students from Junior-Cycle level (11-15 years) in Ireland. Our preliminary analysis showed that the sociocultural environment promoted by the non-digital games favours student’s attitudes towards learning and improved students conceptual knowledge.
Slide 2 gives the significance of the study. It describes the motivations of this research divided into four subsections: science syllabus, Astronomy teaching resources, out-of-field teachers and the importance of Astronomy. Astronomy (called Earth & Space) was only included in the Junior Cycle science curriculum in 2015. There is a lack of resources for teaching Astronomy aligned with the curriculum available for science teachers; in fact, the Junior Cycle support official body only provides three lesson plans to support teachers . Majority of science teachers at Junior Cycle level are out-of-field teachers, which might compromise students' motivation and interest in the subject . More than half of the Irish JC science teachers are qualified in Biology while “fewer than one fifth are qualified in Physics” [4, p. 21]. Also, there are very few opportunities available in Astronomy continuing professional development. The last subsection gives a short description of the importance of Astronomy to STEM as it has many links to other disciplines in science, such as biology, chemistry, physics, geology. Thus, Astronomy could be used to attract young people to science and technology as fields of study or potential careers.
Also, on slide 2, there is a description of the methodology used in this study. The methodology followed a nonequivalent quasi-experimental research study involved 498 students from Junior-Cycle level (11-15 years). A total of 10 schools located in Ireland participated in the research. Data was collected through a mixed-method approach with qualitative (surveys and questionnaires) and quantitative data (interviews and observations).
Slide 3 describes the preliminary findings of our research. A summary of the main findings for the conceptual knowledge test and the affective learning survey is given on the slide. The knowledge test revealed that a 67% learning gain for the treatment group (taught with GBL) and reduction in the number of alternative ideas held by the students about seasons, gravity and the Big Bang. Although all groups showed an increase in their post-test means, 2nd Year group showed greater and more statistically significant learning gains.
Our preliminary analysis of the affective survey showed that the sociocultural environment promoted by the non-digital games favours student’s attitudes towards learning and motivation. Learning through play significantly enhances students’ perceptions of Astronomy and scientists. GBL instruction supported students to improve their attitudinal constructs towards Astronomy such as self-efficacy and perceived value of Astronomy. Also, a graph with the difference in pre and post mean for both treatment and control group show that the group that learned Astronomy with the games had greater and more statistically significant effects in their motivation and perception of Astronomy.
The last slide describes the future work of this research:
1. Investigating the aspects of GBL that promote/constrain conceptual knowledge change and affective learning.
2. Analyse flexibility in student reasoning and discourse differences between pre- and post-instruction.
3. Explore how the game components impact students motivation to learn attitudes towards Astronomy.
Slide 4 also includes a link to get a copy of the games involved in this research -- bit.ly/RASposter
 Cardinot & Fairfield, 2019.
 Junior Cycle for Teachers Support Service. Visited in September 2020.
 Dee and Cohodes, 2008.
 STEM Education in the Irish School System, 2016. Department of Education and Skills.