Constructing New World Views: Learning Science in a Historical Context

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Session 2 -- History in Astronomy Education I
Oral presentation, Sunday, 8, 1995, 2:00pm

[2.01] Constructing New World Views: Learning Science in a Historical Context

B. J. Becker (SWRL)

Recent research has shown that children, like scientists, can tolerate a wide range of observations that do not match their expectations, or that even directly conflict with them, without abandoning their personally constructed system of beliefs about the natural world. Traditional approaches -- even laboratory experiences that support textbook presentations of theories -- do notguarantee students will alter their convictions concerning how things "ought" towork. In contrast, a history-grounded approach to presenting scientific concepts has the potential for doing precisely that. In this paper, the author argues that embedding science learning in a historical context engages students in thinking about science in a way that complements and enriches a "hands-on" approach to inquiry learning. It conveys the creative and very human character of scientific explanation -- its tentative, probabilistic, and serendipitous nature. By integrating well-chosen historical images and ideas into traditional content-centered science units, educators can stimulate productive classroom discussion and establish a classroom atmosphere that nurtures students to think critically about the meaning of scientific activity in different cultures and times More importantly, the use of historic episodes in teaching science opens up opportunities for students to identify their own untutored beliefs about the workings of the natural world, to examine them critically in the light of considered historical debate, and to confront these beliefs in a way that results in positive, long-lasting conceptual change.

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