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Dr. Julia D. Plummer

Dr. Julia D. Plummer
Phone: 8148638922
Office Address:
149 Chambers Bldg
University Park, PA 16802
Campus: University Park


Associate Professor of Education (Science Education)


Curriculum and Instruction


Curriculum and Instruction: Science Education


Julia Plummer spent more than a decade teaching children and adults in planetariums and other informal settings and continues to teach college-level introductory astronomy and science methods for preservice elementary teachers. Her research interests focus on the design of learning environments that support children's spatial thinking and science practices in the domain of astronomy. This includes investigating both formal environments, such as classrooms, and informal environments, such as planetariums and museums.  Her research has led to the development of astronomy learning progressions focused on explaining celestial motion phenomena and connecting observations of the current Solar System to its formation model.  Dr. Plummer has co-authored middle school astronomy curricula and collaborated on the development of planetarium programs for children.  Dr. Plummer received a combined Ph.D. in Astronomy & Education from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Plummer is currently engaged in several collaborative research projects that involve Penn State graduate students, including:

  • My Sky Tonight: Early Childhood Pathways to Astronomy.  As Co-PI on this NSF-funded research and development project, Dr. Plummer has led a team of graduate students, early career researchers, and informal science educators in investigating how informal science educators engage preschool-age children in astronomy and how young children engage in the practices of scientific argumentation through informal astronomy experiences.  This project is in collaboration with the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Cal Poly, and UC-Santa Cruz: 
  • ThinkSpace: Thinking Spatially about the Universe: As Co-PI on this NSF-funded research and development project, Dr. Plummer is collaborating with astronomers and astronomy educators at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics to develop astronomy labs that will support spatial thinking in middle school students.  She and her Penn State graduate students are investigating how middle school students who participate in curriculum designed to support their spatial thinking through physical and computer simulated models demonstrate improved indicators of spatial thinking.
  • Earth and Space Science Partnership: As a senior researcher on this large-scale NSF-funded project, Dr. Plummer leads a team which initially focused on the development of a learning progression for the Solar System and its formation, guided by investigation of a middle school teacher's implementation of targeted curriculum on this topic.  Subsequent investigations from this team have begun to investigate methods of supporting middle and high school students' understanding of science practices in astronomy, with a focus on how astronomers use telescopes and other instrumentation to gather data.

Areas of Expertise

Age Levels

Early Childhood

Curriculum Areas

Science Ed

Education Levels

Early Childhood
Middle School/Junior High
Professional Education

Individual Difference

Learning Processes


Instructional Methods and Design
Learning Sciences

Courses Taught

SCIED/ASTRO 116: Introduction to Astronomy for Educators

SCIED 458: Teaching Science in the Elementary School

SCIED 550: Curriculum in Science Education

SCIED/LDT 583: Survey of the Learning Sciences and Technology

Representative Publications

*Graduate student collaborators

Plummer, J.D. & Small, K.J. (2018). Using a planetarium fieldtrip to engage young children in three-dimensional learning through representations, patterns, and lunar phenomena. International Journal of Science Education, Part B, 8(3), 193-212.

Palma, C., Plummer, J.D., *Rubin, K., Flarend, A., *Ong, Y.S., McDonald, S., *Ghent, C., & *Gleason, T. (2017).  Have astronauts visited Neptune? Student ideas about how scientists study the Solar System. Journal of Astronomy and Earth Science Education, 4(1), 63-74. 

Plummer, J.D., *Bower, C.A., & Liben, L.S. (2016). The role of perspective taking in how children connect reference frames when explaining astronomical phenomena. International Journal of Science Education, 38, 3, 345-365.

Plummer, J.D. (2015). Embodying the Earth’s place in the Solar System: Students investigating seasonal constellations. Science and Children, 53 (4), 52-61.

Plummer, J.D. & *Tanis Ozcelik, A. (2015).  Preservice teachers developing coherent inquiry investigations in elementary astronomy. Science Education, 99(5), 932-957.

Plummer, J.D., Palma, C., *Flarend, A., *Rubin, K., *Ong, Y.S., *Botzer, B., McDonald, S., & Furman, T. (2015). Development of a learning progression for the formation of the Solar System. International Journal of Science Education, 37(9), 1381-1401.

Plummer, J.D. & Maynard, L. (2014). Building a learning progression for celestial motion:  An exploration of students’ reasoning about the seasons.  Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 51(7), 902-929.

Plummer, J.D. (2014). Spatial thinking as the dimension of progress in an astronomy learning progression. Studies in Science Education, 50, 1-45.

Plummer, J.D., *Kocareli, A., & Slagle, C. (2014).  Learning to explain astronomy across moving frames of reference: Exploring the role of classroom and planetarium-based instructional contexts. International Journal of Science Education, 36, 1083-1106.

*Rubin, K., Plummer, J.D., Palma, C., *Flarend, A., Spotts, H., McDonald, S., & *Ong, Y.S. (2014). Assessing student progress along a Solar System learning progression. Science Scope, 38, 27-33.

Small, K.J. & Plummer, J.D. (2014). A longitudinal study of early elementary students’ understanding of lunar phenomena after planetarium and classroom instruction. The Planetarian. 43(4), 18-21.