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<p>The concept of a round Earth is not a simple one for children to acquire. Their everyday experience reinforces their deeply held notion that the Earth is flat. Told by adults that the Earth is round, they often react by constructing a mental model of the Earth as a pancake, or a terrarium-like structure with people living on the flat dirt layer inside, or even a dual model with a spherical Earth and a flat Earth coexisting simultaneously. In effect, children attempt to accommodate the new knowledge within the framework of their existing conceptual models, while holding tight to the features of those prior models, thereby inhibiting fundamental conceptual change.</p> <p>The Round Earth Project is a collaboration among researchers in computer science, education and psychology investigating two alternative pedagogical strategies for teaching children that the Earth is spherical, and the implications of that fact. One strategy, which we term the 'transformationalist' approach, attempts to effect conceptual change by evidencing a breakdown in the children's prior models. The alternative 'selectionist' strategy, in contrast, attempts to effect learning in an alternative setting (in our case, a small diameter asteroid), free of pre-existing biases, and to relate that learning back to the target domain: the Earth.</p> <p>Virtual reality (VR) technologies are used to support both pedagogical strategies. In the transformationalist approach, VR is used to simulate the launching of a spacecraft from the Earth's surface and subsequent exploration within a fixed-height orbit. In the selectionist approach, VR is used to simulate a small diameter asteroid upon which the learner may walk on a body with a curved horizon, see objects 'appear' from 'below' the horizon, take a long walk around the entire globe and come back to where they started. In both environments, distributed VR technologies are used to provide a collaborative learning environment promoting positive interdependence among pairs of learners. While initial pilot studies were performed by bringing children to the VR equipment in the laboratory, the actual studies are being run by bringing the VR equipment into a local elementary school as part of an ongoing research program looking at the use of VR in conceptual learning for children.</p>

M. Gillingham, T. Moher, A. Johnson and S. Ohlsson, "The Round Earth Project-Collaborative VR for Conceptual Learning," in IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, vol. 19, no. , pp. 60-69, 1999.
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