, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 561-580
Date: 14 Apr 2007

An explicit and reflective approach to the use of history to promote understanding of the nature of science

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Abstract

Monk and Osborne (Sci Educ 81:405–424, 1997) provide a rigorous justification for why history and philosophy of science should be incorporated as an integral component of instruction and a model for how history of science should be used to promote learning of and about science. In the following essay we critique how history of science is used on this model, and in particular, their advocacy of a direct comparison of students’ conceptions of scientific phenomena with those of past scientists. We propose instead an alternative approach that promotes a more active engagement by inviting students to engage in the sort of reasoning that led past scientists to reach insights about scientific phenomena. As an example we describe in detail two lesson plans taken from an eight-class unit developed with reference to the history of research on sickle-cell anemia. These lessons demonstrate how an open-ended, problem-solving approach can be used to help students deepen their understanding of science. Throughout the unit students are invited to explicitly and reflectively consider the implications of their reasoning about the disease for their understanding of nature of science issues. The essay draws attention to how this alternative approach actually more closely aligns with the constructivist rationale Monk and Osborne have articulated. It concludes with a brief summary of empirical research demonstrating the efficacy of this approach.