Asia-Pacific Forum on Science Learning and Teaching, Volume 6, Issue 2, Article 1 (Dec., 2005)
Shu-Chiu LIU
From geocentric to heliocentric model of the universe, and the alternative perspectives
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The Common Place for Students' Models and their Historical Counterparts

Based on the students' and historical accounts, there seems to be some common features to be observed. Most evident is that the students construct for themselves a model of the universe, which organizes a limited scope of information, like early scientists did. Furthermore, the alternative models among students appear to embrace the Western geo- and heliocentric views and in the same time demonstrate the Chinese way of enquiring into the sky, separating the observable world and beyond. On the one hand, students did not have solid spheres of heavens in mind, and instead believed the universe to be infinite vastness in space. They construct, on the other hand, a model of the "universe" confined to an observational area, where either the earth or the sun occupied the centre and had the dominant power over the movements of other celestial bodies.

At this point, we may argue that the pre-scientific models may harbour the valuable information about the ways children may move out of their previous conceptions towards the more scientifically accepted view. More precisely, by discovering what are the things that establish and support a model, that differentiate one model from another, and that make one model "more scientific" more successfully explaining reality, than another, we may gain insight into the keys of cognitive process in its rational domain.

It should be noted that the alternative models from the both sources are easily seen as inconsistent if examined without taking into account what questions it speaks to or what phenomena it is intended to account for. If the student's alternative model, for example, does not speak to the question about phases of the moon, it is understandable that (s)he explains the phenomena as a result of clouds or whatever moving across the moon. That is to say, this kind of explanation avoids confronting the model to a crisis of being insufficient or incorrect. Similarly in history, the scientist addressed a limited number of questions to construct a self-sufficient model of the universe. The ancient Greeks, for example, persisted in earth-centred views and concentric celestial spheres because they did not question whether the earth was actually placed in the centre of the universe, but instead focused on the question about the ways in which celestial bodies move around the earth. For, above all, their models were informative enough for them regarding the phenomena in their concern. It seems to us that alternative models are consistent to the eye of their beholders.

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