Andrej Favia

Date of Award


Level of Access

Open-Access Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Neil F. Comins

Second Committee Member

Geoffrey L. Thorpe

Third Committee Member

David J. Batuski


My Ph.D. research is about examining the persistence of 215 common misconceptions in astronomy. Each misconception is based on an often commonlyheld incorrect belief by college students taking introductory astronomy. At the University of Maine, the course is taught in alternating semesters by Prof. Neil F. Comins and Prof. David J. Batuski.

In this dissertation, I examine the persistence of common astronomy misconceptions by the administration of a retrospective survey. The survey is a new instrument in that it permits the student to indicate either endorsement or rejection of each misconception at various stages in the student’s life. I analyze data from a total of 639 students over six semesters. I compare the survey data to the results of exams taken by the students and additional instruments that assess students’ misconceptions prior to instruction. I show that the consistency of the students’ recollection of their own misconceptions is on par with the consistency of responses between prelims and the final exam. I also find that students who report higher increased childhood interest in astronomy are more likely to have accurate recalls of their own past recollections.

I then discuss the use of principal components analysis as a technique for describing the extent to which misconceptions are correlated with each other. The analysis yields logical groupings of subtopics from which to teach. I then present a brief overview of item response theory, the methodology of which calculates relative difficulties of the items. My analysis reveals orders to teach the associated topics in ways that are most effective at dispelling misconceptions during instruction. I also find that the best order to teach the associated concepts is often different for high school and college level courses.