Adapting Historical Knowledge Production to the Classroom || Does History of Science Contribute To The Construction of Knowledge In The Constructivist Environments of Learning?

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  • P.V. Kokkotas et al., (eds.), Adapting Historical Science Knowledge Production to the Classroom, 6184. 2011 Sense Publishers. All rights reserved.





    Over the last twenty years, an increasing interest has been developed in what concerns the contribution of HOS to the teaching of science in all levels of education. This interest has been expressed with: a) the creation of the International History, Philo-sophy and Science Teaching Group b) the organization of European and International Conferences (Paris 1988; Tallahassee-Florida 1989; Cambridge 1990; Madrid 1992; Szombathely 1994; Minneapolis 1995; Bratislava 1996; Pavia 1999; Calgary 2007; Notre Dame 2009) and c) the publication of the Journal: Science & Education. The interest in the use of HOS in teaching science is not new. For example, Ernest Mach claimed that the use of HOS as a vehicle to obtain a genuine under-standing of modern scientific contents, to appropriately face new problems and prompt further progress in science, is unique (Galili & Hazan, 2001). Mach argued that:

    A person who has read and understood the Greek and Roman authors, has felt and experienced, more than one who is restricted to the impression of the present. He sees how men, placed in different circumstances, judge quite differently the same things from what we do today. His own judgments will be rendered thus more independent (Mach, 1886/1986, p. 347 cited by Galili & Hazan, 2001).

    This opinion of Mach becomes more significant in the context of science teaching. Since 1927 and until recently the prevailing view for using HOS in science teaching was that of Haywood (1927). Although he believed in the importance of the historical approach to science teaching, he had the certainty that students will not benefit as much from it in their examinations. Even today the situation remains much the same (Matthews, 1994), since many teachers dont use HOS in their teaching. Furthermore, it is accepted that present and past science textbooks make only passing reference to HOS. Where history is included, it all too often becomes fictionalized conveys the Whig view on history (Brush, 1974). Monk & Osborne (1997) describe Whig view as a historical approach which interprets the past in terms of present ideas and values, elevating in significance all incidents and work that have contributed to the formation of current society, rather than attempting to



    understand social context of the era and the contingent factors that contributed its production. The contribution of HOS in teaching science even in the form of the Whig view could be accepted to the extent, it serves science education. Furthermore, whiggism, according to Nickelss point, is invaluable in the practice of science; it is the condition for conducting good research (Nickels, 1992, p. 98). Another direction for the exploitation of HOS in science teaching is that described by Kuhn, who distinguishes between HOS for scientists (textbook history) and HOS for historians and philosophers. The importance of Kuhns distinction rests on his intention to advance and recommend the orderly and heroic history of scientists as a myth that will entice and blind them (Kindi, 2005). According to her, Kuhn by recognizing the significance of textbook history in science education highlights the importance of the bad history of textbooks, since this history is an indelible condition of scientific practice and it is conductive to forming the scientists course of action. Kuhn perceives science as a practice and not as a set of propositions forming a theory. The systematic use of HOS in science education started in the USA at the middle of the 20th century. HOS in education was used by Conant in his work: Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science (Conant, 1957). Another attempt to introduce HOS in teaching secondary school science was made by Klopher (19641966) in his project: History of Science Cases for Schools. Perhaps the most integrated approach arguing for the introduction of History and Philosophy of Science (HPS) in science teaching is the Harvard Project Physics Course (HPPC) developed by Rutherford, Holton and Watson (1970). This project had a humanistic orientation and aimed to attract and motivate students of secondary education in the study of physics (Bruch, 1989). Even today this aim has not been achieved in all European countries. For this reason the European Union (EU) calls for proposals for projects with humanistic orientation to be produced in order to attract and motivate a wider range of students to study physics or science at post secondary and university levels. Over the last decades in the USA and the EU research programs dealing with the nature of science (NOS) and (HOS) have been developed. For example three important reports for science education have been introduced: Science for All Americans (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1989), Bench-marks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993), and the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996). This inclusion of HOS in science education is justified on the following grounds: a) HOS is both a tool for teaching science well, and b) HOS is a part of the substance of science literacy (Rutherford, 2001). In two of the reports mentioned above an integrated program containing natural and social sciences, mathematics and technology has been developed in an interdisciplinary way, using cases of HOS and reflecting on the values of the educational paradigm: Science Technology Society (DeBoer, 1991, p. 178184). In this paper we attempt to answer the question whether HOS contributes to better quality science teaching and how accomplishes it. For technical reasons our study is restricted only to constructivist environments and especially to individual and socio- constructivism.




    The most well known theories of learning in science education still in use are: behaviorism, discovery learning, constructivist theories, and sociocultural approaches to learning. Behaviorism was the prevailing theory of learning in science education over the last century. This theory is still in practice in many countries of the world. For behaviorism a stimulus (S) from the environment produces a response (R) from the organism, and with repetition, a S-R bond formed so that a given S is almost inevitably associated with a given R. Behaviorism was largely based on animal experimentation in laboratories and was extensively practiced in ancient Greece, where it was believed that repetition is the mother of every learning. Learning in behaviorism is defined as the change of the behavior of the subject due to know-ledge gained. For this theory knowledge is objective and transmittable. The rigid prescriptive nature of beheviorism was consistent with and supported by the positivist or empiricist view of the nature of knowledge and knowing made popular by Bacon, Hume and later by Pearson (1900) and other philosophers of the Vienna School (Novak, 1993). According to Novak the failure of these ideas to describe and predict how scholars produce knowledge and how humans learn allowed new views of knowledge as paradigm construction (Kuhn, 1962) and evolving populations of concepts (Toulmin, 1972). The epistemology of the discovery of knowledge by scientists and consequently the discovery of learning by students are best described by von Glasersfeld. According to him, to most traditional philosophers true knowledge is a commodity supposed to exist as such, independent of experience, waiting to be discovered by a human knower. It is timeless and requires no deve-lopment, except that the human share of it increases as exploration goes on (von Glasersfeld, 2001). In discovery learning, knowledge is regarded as objective and independent of the learner. Both the above theories regard students minds as empty vessels, ignoring their previous knowledge. As the beheviorist theory of learning, so discovery learning failed to describe and predict how humans learn and how knowledge is produced. Therefore, it was gradually replaced by new theories, very well rooted in epistemology, i.e. constructivism and sociocultural theories of learning. Both these theories reject the traditional epistemological claims about knowledge as an objective representation of reality.


    There is a belief shared by most psychologists who study learning, that from birth to death individuals construct and reconstruct the meaning of events and objects they observe. It is an ongoing process, and a distinctly human process. This reality has been recognized by educators for at least the last two millennia, but it was only relatively recently that scholars developed methods and tools for the characterization of personal meanings. Foremost among these tools have been Piagets (1926) clinical interview; Kellys (1955) repertory grid for eliciting personal constructs and Novaks concept maps (Novak, 1993).



    The psychological processes by which an individual constructs his/her own new meanings are essentially the same as the epistemological processes by which new knowledge is constructed by the professionals in a discipline (Schwab, 1964; Toulmin, 1972). A better understanding of the individuals acquisition and organization of knowledge leads to an