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Conflicting Interpretations of Scientific Pedagogy


Not surprisingly historical studies have suggested that there is a distance between concepts of teaching methods, their interpretations and their actual use in the classroom. This issue, however, is not always pitched to the personal level in historical studies, which may provide an alternative insight on how teachers conceptualise and engage with concepts of teaching methods. This article provides a case study on this level of conceptualisation by telling the story of Rómulo de Carvalho, an educator from mid-twentieth century Portugal, who for over 40 years engaged with the heuristic and Socratic methods. The overall argument is that concepts of teaching methods are open to different interpretations and are conceptualised within the melting pot of external social pressures and personal teaching preferences. The practice and thoughts of Carvalho about teaching methods are scrutinised to unveil his conflicting stances: Carvalho was a man able to question the tenets of heurism, but who publicly praised the heurism-like “discovery learning” method years later. The first part of the article contextualises the arrival of heurism in Portugal and how Carvalho attacked its philosophical tenets. In the second part, it dwells on his conflicting positions in relation to pupil-centred approaches. The article concludes with an appreciation of the embedded conflicting nature of the appropriation of concepts of teaching methods, and of Carvalho’s contribution to the development of the philosophy of practical work in school science.

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  1. 1.

    Letter from Fernando Pinho de Almeida to Carvalho on the 7th of February 1963. Unpublished document, kept at Portuguese National Library, Archive 40, box 4, folder “Correspondência de Professores”.

  2. 2.

    Interview for “Jornal da Educação”, year III, N° 24, June 1979.

  3. 3.

    The Decrees were published by the government in the Government Bulletin “Diário do Governo” (Official Daily Bulletin of the Portuguese Government). These naturally were oriented by government’s political agenda, but also echoed educators’ views, as these appeared in educational journals. A full account on the key educational Decrees issued before and during Salazarism can be found in Galamba (2013a, Chapter 2). There it is argued that the salazarist regime transformed the role of the Liceu and science education in that institution.

  4. 4.

    Unpublished document, kept at Historical Archive of Ministry of Education fundo IEL “Relatório dos professores”, box 55. Francisco Manuel Meira da Costa Historical Archive 2554.

  5. 5.

    Carlos Cerdeira Guerra’s Official Report. Unpublished document, kept at Historical Archive of Ministry of Education, fundo IEL, box 9, 1950.

  6. 6.

    For the sake of readability, this is not a literal translation. Unpublished document, kept at Historical Archive of Ministry of Education, fundo IEL “Relatório dos professores”, box 49, Historical Archive 2322, academic year 1934–1935. Rómulo de Carvalho, Aggregate teacher of the Liceu de Camões.

  7. 7.

    Carvalho preferred to call it Archimedes’ ‘theorem’ instead of Archimedes’ principle. This states that bodies in any fluid are subject to an upward force, proportional to the volume submersed.

  8. 8.

    Rudolph refers to these kind of curricula as the “epitome of functional schooling, in which academic subject matter was marginalized in favor of courses designed to meet the immediate social, personal, and vocational needs of the student” (Rudolph 2002, p. 4).

  9. 9.

    Then called the ‘Preparatory Cycle’ for secondary education.

  10. 10.

    Letter from Fernando Bragança Gil to Carvalho in October 1969. Unpublished document, kept at Portuguese National Library. Carvalho’s documents, Archive 40, box 3 folder “Ciências da Natureza”.


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I would like to express my gratitude to Jim Donnelly, who kindly supported me in the development of this study with his ever-clear understanding of educational issues. Likewise, I must thank very much indeed the anonymous reviewer who scrutinised in detail the structure and argument of this article. Their involvement, criticism and suggestions were invaluable and truly appreciated.

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Correspondence to Arthur Galamba.

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Galamba, A. Conflicting Interpretations of Scientific Pedagogy. Sci & Educ 25, 363–381 (2016).

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  • Science Education
  • Science Teacher
  • Teaching Method
  • Heuristic Method
  • Inductive Method