Educational Practices in Sommerfeld School

A Case of Scientist Education from the View of Nature of Science

Abstract

This study sought to discover what aspects of the nature of science (NOS) should be emphasized to nurture great scientists. To this end, educational practices in the Sommerfeld school, regarded as highly successful in scientist education, were analyzed and compared with past and present educational practices. Sommerfeld school’s educational practices include lecture, seminar, colloquium, seminary, and out-of-class education. Common features of the educational practices include (1) open-mindedness based on pleasant relationships, (2) challenging and specific problem-centered learning, (3) intellectual coherence of various topics, and (4) pursuit of shared opinions about problems. Furthermore, explicitly or implicitly, several aspects of NOS—tentativeness, empirical nature, theory-ladenness, creativity, and social dimension—relate to these features. Comparison with other scientist education reveals that the culture of social consensus based on criticism might have contributed significantly to Sommerfeld school’s educational success. Study results imply that science professors should work to improve an understanding of social consensus based on criticism.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In Munich, his predecessor was Ludwig Boltzmann who laid the foundation for statistical mechanics. Since Boltzmann had left Munich in 1894, the position was still vacant (Eckert 2013). Coincidentally, Boltzmann committed suicide in 1906, when Sommerfeld took the position.

  2. 2.

    In this paper, we use the expression “problem-centered” rather than “problem-based” because “problem-based” suggests “problem-based learning (PBL),” which refers to an instructional approach. The Sommerfeld school’s approach differed from PBL, especially in the teacher’s role. Sommerfeld was sometimes a facilitator, an information provider, a problem solver, or whatever other role seemed needful. In contrast, a teacher in PBL can play only a limited role, i.e., supporting the process and not providing information (Savery 2006). If a teacher is just a facilitator, the dilemma “to tell or not to tell?” (Wallace et al. 2002) might occur.

  3. 3.

    Feldman et al. (2009; 2013) did not reveal any information that could identify individuals, including surnames, probably to guarantee anonymity.

  4. 4.

    We chose scientist education in microbiology because few studies have demonstrated successful cases of scientist education in detail, particularly in theoretical physics (Feldman et al. 2013; Warwick and Kaiser 2005). Although some studies assert that scientists’ NOS depends on personal characteristics rather than on discipline (Bayir et al. 2014; Schwartz 2012; Schwartz and Lederman 2008), nevertheless, the context of another discipline might limit our study.

  5. 5.

    Herein, “the terms ‘loosely’ and ‘tightly’ refer to the possibility for interactions among members” (Feldman et al. 2013, p. 225).

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank Gyoungho Lee and Jinwoong Song for their insightful comments on an initial version of this study.

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Correspondence to Hun-Gi Hong.

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Park, C., Hong, HG. Educational Practices in Sommerfeld School. Sci & Educ (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-021-00212-3

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