A History of Science Approach to the Nature of Science

In W. McComas (ed.), The Nature of Science in Science Education: Rationales and Strategies. pp. 177-196 (2000)
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Abstract
I subordinated the discussion of historical and philosophical issues of science to learning scientific concepts, superimposing them so as to make them inseparable. The topics of units are the same as in regular science courses, such as "electrical conductors and nonconductors," and the goal is the same: to formulate the laws of phenomena. The difference is in the ways the unit is taught. I have found that understanding of a concept improves if it is "rediscovered" with active participation on the part of the learner. Students work in small groups. The instructor shows them a historical experiment, and they begin repeating and modifying it. Periodically, students discuss their results. After they formulate their final conclusion, the instructor informs them how close 'their' law came to the historical one. Students get a lesson about various interpretations of experimental results (including the erroneous ones) and a difficulty of making the best general conclusion. The second area concerns the type of experiment used. I emphasize investigative experiments which require students to imitate scientists rather than use artificial or contrived experiments. In particular, I emphasize qualitative experiments - popular in the 18th century where students study a certain phenomenon to find a qualitative empirical law to describe it. The third area deals with the strategy of experimenting. The recommended strategy is distilled from scientific treatises of the past. Some parts of it, especially Preliminary Part, are not familiar to science teachers. Students learn, in particular, that variables appear not from guessing but from initial unplanned experiments.
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