Barriers to learning for 'Earth, Space and beyond'

Use this list to prepare for pupils' common misconceptions and confusions when teaching this science strand. These can be built into your scheme of work and addressed throughout the learning journey.

Common misconceptions

Pupils often think that:

  • the Sun orbits the Earth and this causes day and night
  • the phases of the Moon are caused by cloud cover or the shadow of planets, the Earth or the Sun
  • the seasons are caused by the distance of the Earth from the Sun, i.e. the Earth is nearer to the Sun in summer
  • the planets and the Moon are light emitters
  • there is not much difference in the size of the Sun and the planets, and that all stars are the same distance from the Earth; alternatively pupils may think that all stars are the same size and that their different distances from the Earth cause differences in brightness – this is because of the scales used in the solar system and universe diagrams
  • the Sun rises exactly in the east and sets exactly in the west every day
  • the Sun is always directly overhead or directly south at twelve o'clock noon
  • the surface of the Sun has no visible features
  • light years refers to time rather than distance
  • dwarf planets are 'tiny planets' rather than a celestial body rounded by its own gravity.