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Pendulum Motion: A Case Study in How History and Philosophy Can Contribute to Science Education

Abstract

The pendulum has had immense scientific, cultural, social and philosophical impact. Historical, methodological and philosophical studies of pendulum motion can assist teachers to improve science education by developing enriched curricular material, and by showing connections between pendulum studies and other parts of the school programme, especially mathematics, social studies, technology and music. The pendulum is a universal topic in high-school science programmes and some elementary science courses; an enriched approach to its study can result in deepened science literacy across the whole educational spectrum. Such literacy will be manifest in a better appreciation of the part played by science in the development of society and culture. Such history, philosophy and science (HPS)-informed teaching and study of pendulum motion can serve as an exemplar of the benefits of HPS-informed teaching across the science curriculum. (This chapter draws on material in Matthews (1998, 2000, 2001, 2004), and on contributions to Matthews et al. (2005))

Keywords

  • Science Education
  • Scientific Revolution
  • Natural Philosopher
  • Pendulum Motion
  • Simple Pendulum

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Making a pulsilogium is a simple and rewarding class exercise. The basic lesson of science, the move from subjective experience to objective measurement, can be well illustrated.

  2. 2.

    This will be a recurrent theme in the history of pendulum-related science where it is seen that many different mechanical, biological and chemical processes will manifest the mathematical formulae for Simple Harmonic Motion.

  3. 3.

    Maurice Clavelin provided the foundational analysis of Galileo’s early mechanics, including De Motu and Le Mecaniche in his The Natural Philosophy of Galileo (Clavelin 1974, Chap. 3 ).

  4. 4.

    So not surprising that children do not just ‘see’ these properties. For medieval and scholastic treatments of the pendulum see Hall (1978).

  5. 5.

    Importantly, Galileo literally saw what da Vinci, del Monte and everyone else saw; what was in front of his eyes was the same as was in front of everyone else’s; what was behind his eyes was the difference. He constructed a different model of the pendulum phenomenon. On this see Giere (1988, pp. 68–80, 1994)

  6. 6.

    The letter was written in October 1602 (Opere, Edizione Nazionale, Florence 1934, vol. 10, pp. 97–100), and a translation has been provided by Stillman Drake (Drake 1978, pp. 69–71) and it is also translated in Renn et al. (1998, pp. 104–106). Ronald Naylor (1980, pp. 367–371) and W.C. Humphreys (Humphreys 1967, pp. 232–234) discuss the letter in the context of Galileo’s work on the law of fall.

  7. 7.

    On Galileo’s geometrical constructions of pendula movement and his physical interpretations of them, see especially Machamer and Hepburn (2004).

  8. 8.

    Some especially insightful discussions of Galileo’s methodological revolution are McMullin (1978, 1990), Machamer (1998), and Mittelstrass (1972).

  9. 9.

    Discussions of Galileo’s inclined plane investigations are in Costabel (1975), Humphreys (1967), and Palmieri (2011).

  10. 10.

    Stillman Drake discusses these measurements in his Galileo: Pioneer Scientist (Drake 1990, pp. 23–25). So also does James MacLachlan in his Galileo Galilei (MacLachlan 1997, pp. 114–117).

  11. 11.

    See Ariotti (1968, 1972), MacLachlan (1976), Naylor (1974, 1976), Palmieri (2009), and Settle (1961, 1967).

  12. 12.

    Among many excellent books on the history of timekeeping, see Barnett (1998), Landes (1983), and van Rossum (1996).

  13. 13.

    Alexandre Koyré (Koyré 1943) and Edwin Burtt (Burtt 1932, pp. 61–95) regarded this metaphysical conviction as evidence of Galileo’s Platonism.

  14. 14.

    On the pendulum’s role in this unification, see especially Boulos (2006).

  15. 15.

    Accounts of the development of the standard metre can be found in Alder (1995, 2002), Kula (1986, Chaps. 2123).

  16. 16.

    On the history of debate about the shape of the earth, see Chapin (1994), Greenberg (1995) and Heiskanen and Vening Meinesz (1958).

  17. 17.

    For the physics and mathematics of these calculations, see Holton and Brush (2001, pp. 128–129).

  18. 18.

    This is a wonderful episode in the history of science. A great story can be made, even a drama. All the elements are there: powerful and prestigious figures, ‘no name’ outsiders, struggles over a big issue, mathematics and serious calculations, religion, final decisions and ample opportunity to preserve the status quo. But sadly the episode is little known and hardly ever taught.

  19. 19.

    Dava Sobel has given the Longitude Problem enormous exposure (Sobel 1995). Other more detailed and wide-ranging treatments are in Andrewes (1998), Gould (1923) and Howse (1980).

  20. 20.

    Many books deal with the social and cultural history of timekeeping, among them are: Cipolla (1967), Landes (1983), Macey (1980), and Rossum (1996).

  21. 21.

    Macey (1980), Pt. II is a nice introduction to the utilisation of the clock in eighteenth-century philosophy and theology.

  22. 22.

    The pendulum, and all physical phenomena, can be represented by different mathematical devices: geometry, Hamiltonian equations and so on. Geometry has the advantage of connecting more immediately and intuitively to the physics of the phenomena; a not inconsiderable advantage and so a step that students should pass through on their way to algebraic representation of the pendulum.

  23. 23.

    Gregory Baker and James Blackburn provide an excellent account of the role played by the pendulum in the development of physics from Galileo to superconductivity (Baker and Blackburn 2005). Randall Peters discusses largely unexplored uses of the pendulum in investigating the science of material deformation and creep (Peters 2004).

  24. 24.

    Gerald Holton, a member of National Commission for Excellence in Education (NCEE) that prepared the report, has provided an account of its disturbing contents that chart the ‘tide of mediocrity’ in US education, and its recommendations for turning the tide (Holton 1986).

  25. 25.

    This observation was made in 1992 by a senior NSTA official in private correspondence with the author.

  26. 26.

    The 320pp draft is available free from the National Academies Press website; it is titled A Framework for K-12 Science Education. Background studies for the NGSS are in NRC (2007).

  27. 27.

    An excellent pendulum booklet is produced for Japanese elementary students. Galileo’s image occupies the entire front cover while Huygens’ image occupies the entire rear cover – a nice comment on the universality of science and its ability to be embraced by cultures beyond its original European home. Japanese students, at least, can gain some sense of participation in the scientific tradition and their indebtedness to those that have gone before.

  28. 28.

    The idea for this visual representation of the argument comes from a AAAS lecture of Gerald Holton, subsequently published as Holton (1995). For elementary schools, READING could be added as a column.

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Matthews, M.R. (2014). Pendulum Motion: A Case Study in How History and Philosophy Can Contribute to Science Education. In: Matthews, M. (eds) International Handbook of Research in History, Philosophy and Science Teaching. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-7654-8_2

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