Science & Education

, Volume 18, Issue 5, pp 561–580 | Cite as

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

  • David W. RudgeEmail author
  • Eric M. Howe


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.


Anthony Allison HBD Kettlewell History of science Nature of science Sickle-cell anemia William Harvey 



We thank our colleagues Uric C. Geer, Charles Henderson, David Schuster, Renée Schwartz, Aletta Zietsman-Thomas, and R. Paul Vellom for their constructive criticism of an earlier draft of this paper. We also acknowledge advice on the lesson plans and empirical study mentioned above from the members of Eric Howe’s dissertation committee: Fouad Abd-El-Khalick, Anthony C. Allison, William Cobern, and Robert Poel. We especially thank Uric C. Geer for his invaluable assistance in conducting the interviews associated with the empirical study mentioned above.


  1. Abd-El-Khalick F, Lederman N (2000) The influence of history of science courses on students’ views of nature of science. J Res Sci Teach 37:1057–1095CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Akerson VL, Abd-El-Khalick F, Lederman N (2000) Influence of a reflective explicit activity-based approach on elementary teachers’ conceptions of the nature of science. J Res Sci Teach 37:295–317CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Allchin D (1993) Of squid hearts and William Harvey. Sci Teach 60(7):26–33Google Scholar
  4. Allchin D (2000) How not to teach historical cases in science. J Coll Sci Teach 30:33–37Google Scholar
  5. Allison AC (1954) Protection afforded by sickle-cell trait against subtertian malarial infection. Br Med J 1:290–294CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chalmers AF (1999) What is this thing called science? Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., IndianapolisGoogle Scholar
  7. Department of Land and Surveys (1962) Uganda: 1962. Atlas of UgandaGoogle Scholar
  8. Driver R, Oldham V (1985) A constructivist approach to curriculum development. Stud Sci Educ 13:105–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Gallagher JJ (1991) Prospective and practicing secondary school science teacher’s knowledge and beliefs about the philosophy of science. Sci Educ 75:121–133CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Herrick A (1968) Area handbook for Uganda. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, pp 79–81Google Scholar
  11. Herrick JE (1910) Peculiar elongated and sickle-shaped red-blood corpuscles in a case of severe anemia. Arch Intern Med 6:517–521Google Scholar
  12. Hodson D (1993) Philosophical stance of secondary school science teachers, curriculum experiences, and children’s understanding of science. Interchange 24:41–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Howe E (2004) Using the history of research on sickle-cell anemia to affect preservice teachers’ conceptions of the nature of science. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, MichiganGoogle Scholar
  14. Howe EM (2007) Untangling sickle-cell anemia and the teaching of heterozygote protection. Sci & Educ 16:1–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Howe EM, Rudge DW (2005) Recapitulating the history of sickle-cell anemia research: improving students’ NOS views explicitly and reflectively. Sci & Educ 14:423–441CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Jenkins E (1996) The ‘nature of science’ as a curriculum component. J Curriculum Stud 28:137–150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Khishfe R, Abd-El-Khalick F (2002) Influence of explicit and reflective versus implicit inquiry-oriented instruction on sixth graders’ views of nature of science. J Res Sci Teach 39:551–578CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lederman N, Abd-El-Khalick F, Bell R, Schwartz R (2002) Views of nature of science questionnaire: toward valid and meaningful assessment of learners’ conceptions of nature of science. J Res Sci Teach 39:497–521CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Lehmann H (1953) Distribution of the sickle-cell gene. Eugen Rev 46:101–121Google Scholar
  20. McComas W (1996) Ten myths of science: reexamining what we think we know about the nature of science. Sch Sci Math 96:10–16CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Monk M, Osborne J (1997) Placing the history and philosophy of science on the curriculum: a model for the development of pedagogy. Sci Educ 81:405–424CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Nersessian N (1989) Conceptual change in science and science education. Synthese 80:163–183CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Raper A (1959) Further observations on sickling and malaria. Trans R Soc Trop Med Hyg 53:110–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Rudge DW (2004) Using the history of research on industrial melanism to help students better appreciate the nature of science; The mystery phenomenon: lesson plans. In: Metz D (ed) Proceedings of the seventh international history, philosophy science teaching group meeting. Winnipeg, CanadaGoogle Scholar
  25. Rudge DW, Howe EM (2004) Incorporating history into the science classroom. Sci Teach 71:52–57Google Scholar
  26. Schwartz R, Lederman N (2002) ‘It’s the nature of the beast’: the influences of knowledge and intentions on learning and the nature of science. J Res Sci Teach 39:205–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Solomon J, Duveen J, Scot L, McCarthy S (1992) Teaching about the nature of science through history: action research in the classroom. J Res Sci Teach 29:409–421CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Wandersee JH (1986) Can the history of science help science educators anticipate students’ misconceptions? J Res Sci Teach 23:581–597CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesWestern Michigan UniversityKalamazooUSA
  2. 2.Department of EducationAssumption CollegeWorcesterUSA

Personalised recommendations