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Science & Education

, Volume 17, Issue 7, pp 717–749 | Cite as

Historical Experiments in Students’ Hands: Unfragmenting Science through Action and History

  • Elizabeth Mary CavicchiEmail author
Article

Abstract.

Two students, meeting together with a teacher, redid historical experiments. Unlike conventional instruction where science topics and practices often fragment, they experienced interrelatedness among phenomena, participants’ actions, and history. This study narrates actions that fostered an interrelated view. One action involved opening up historical telephones to examine interior circuitry. Another made sound visible in a transparent air column filled with Styrofoam bits and through Lissajous figures produced by reflecting light off orthogonal nineteenth century tuning forks crafted by Koenig and Kohl. Another involved orienting magnetic compasses to reveal the magnetism of conducting wires, historically investigated by Oersted and Schweigger. Replicating Homberg’s triboluminescent compound elicited students’ reflective awareness of history. These actions bore pedagogical value in recovering some of the interrelatedness inherent in the history and reintroducing the wonder of science phenomena to students today.

Key words:

active learning conducting wire critical exploration electricity electromagnetism experiment guesswork historical reconstruction history of science Homberg integrated curriculum investigation Koenig, Kohl Kundt tube light Lissajous figure magnetism materials narrative Oersted orientation Piaget Schweigger science education sound teaching and learning telephone triboluminescence tuning fork 

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Notes

Acknowledgments

I thank Kathleen Stevens and Richard Whitney for working observantly together in the lab and with history. James Bales created the possibility for this teaching experiment and enriched it with many ideas. Lab meetings and activities were supported by MIT’s Edgerton Center staff including Tony Caloggero, Amy Fitzgerald, Sandra Lipnoski, Edward Moriarty, Eileen Huang. Markos Hankin, Bill Sanford and Patrick Ragsdale shared lab experience and physics apparatus; Krystyn Van Vliet and Laura Trudel helped with chemistry materials. Deborah Douglas, Ben Weiss and Gil Cooke gave meaning to our visits in historical collections at the MIT Museum, Burndy Library, and MBTA Roslindale power substation. We were advised by David Pantalony for the tuning fork experiment, by Lawrence Principe for Homberg’s reaction, by Howard Fischer for Newton’s prisms, and Thomas Settle for Galileo’s work. George Smith and Bonnie Edwards of the Dibner Institute sponsored the course development. Constance Barsky discussed Aron’s pedagogical work and history with me. This manuscript benefited from comments by James Bales, Alain Bernard, Angela Kimberk, Alythea McKinney, David Pantalony, Roger Sherman and the reviewers. I thank the organizers of the Leeds IHPST 8 Conference for the opportunity to present this paper on July 17, 2005. For her mentoring in explorative teaching, I thank Eleanor Duckworth; for the thoughtfulness in their teaching with materials and history, I thank Fiona McDonnell, Bonnie Tai, Lisa Schneier, Petra Lucht, Peter Heering, Claryce Evans, Wolfgang Rueckner, Susan Collins, Ryan Tweney. Alva Couch, Alanna Connors, Phil and Roy Veatch are co-experimenters. This work is dedicated to the memory of Philip Morrison, who inspired it and delighted in hearing about each exploration made by Kathleen and Dick.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dibner Institute for the History of Science and TechnologyMITWoburnUSA E-mail: elizabeth_cavicchi@post.harvard.edu

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