Teaching the history and philosophy of science in the secondary

Discusses the methodology of teaching a course in the history and philosophy of science in the secondary schools. Keywords (Audience):. High School ...
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Teaching the History and Philosophy of Science in the Secondary School Curriculum Kenneth L. Frazier North Olrnsted High School North Olrnsted. Ohio Few things are more benighting than the condescension of one age for another.-Woodrow Wilson

T h e intent of this article is to discuss the methodology of teaching a course in the history and philosophy of science in the secondary schools. The purpose of this course is to trace the historical development of science and philosophy from the beginnings of the earth and man to those problems that might face mankind in the 21st Centurn. E m ~ h a s i is s nlaced on the interrelationshi~s that have existed between science, philosophy, religion, the fine arts. eovernment, and literature durine the different aees of history. This course is nresentlv heine.. taueht .. a t North Olmsted High School as n one semester, nun-lahm~torycourse. 'l'he m l v r~rrreuuisitrfix the course is that the itudrnt should ha\.e taken a t least one year of a laboratory science. T h e methodology of teaching involves class discussions, lectures, and extensive use of films and filmstrips. The students write six short (5-page) papers and one long paper of 12-15 pages during the course. T h e students usually choose their topics from a list supplied by the instructor. The students are eiven freauent onoortunities to exwress their ner.. sonal views and opinions in a verbally. Emphasis is placed on participation in class discussions. The classes have gone on field trips to Oherlin College, Case-Western Reserve University, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and the NASA Lewis Research Center where there are displays of science eauiument, memorabilia, and artifacts that are eermaine to the ibjectives of the course. There are no examin&ions in the course. The students that enroll in this course represent a wide range of views and attitudes, and they are juniors or seniors. About one-half of the students are science career oriented, and the rest are interested in the humanities. Most students enroll in the course because it has been recommended to themby a former member of the class. T h e author has taught this class ~


Kenneth L. Frazier taught general chemistry and advanced placement chemistry and presently teaches physics and history and a philosophy uf science wurse at North Olmsted High Schual, North Olmsted, Ohio. He received his B.S. and MA. from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and has been teaching 19 years, 18 years at North Olmsted, Ohio. He is active in local, state, and national science organizations-past member of National Science Teachers Association Board of Directors, Finance Committee, Ihildin~Committee, Secondary Education CommitteB, and Cunventirm Planningcommittee-and has presented papers at national and international science and history conferences. Currently he is helping ta write a module on materials science for high school chemistry under the auspicesof the American Society far metals. He also serves as science consultant for WVIZ-PBS television in Cleveland, Ohio.



for nine years and the class size has averaged 12 students per class during this time. It should he intuitively obvious that a large amount of time cannot be spent on any one topic. To do so would require more than a semester. The instructor is attempting to show a flow of ideas and history rather than an in-depth study and discussion of all topics. The students have an opportunity to do a n in-depth study of a topic or subject when they write their maior assiened waners. he tezhook that was originally adopted for use in this course was Stephen Mason's hook "A Historv of the Sciences." although most of the course content is taken from other suurces. I wuuld like to give you a h s x t uwr\.ic>w01the coursc~ahich are basicnlly the h~ghlightso i t h e development 01'Chrisrian Western science and philosophy and their interaction with other human activities. There is a word in the German laneuaee which is weltanschaung. The translation of this woyd into English gives us a "world view." If students could understand the weltanschaung, or welt, that existed in a given period of history and how this view mav have influenced succeeding generations, then man might be better prepared to handle the technological and societal problems that face us today. How have some of these ideas from the past shaped events that influence our science, technology, and life styles today? This course starts a t the beginning of the universe, if there ever was such a beginning. How was the earth formed? Why did the dinosaurs die out? Did man evolve from another form of animal life or was he created by God? How and where did man obtain the characteristics of civilization? These are the great questions examined very early in the course. The Greeks and their great philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristutle laid the philosophical background that influence us today. Greek science was good in many respects, but it also contained many flaws. The writings of the Greeks were introduced to Europe during the medieval period and eventually became the focal point of the controversy between Galileo and the Church. There was the sudden and collaborative breakthrough by Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo which launched the heavenlv bodies in their true courses around the sun. Galileo. Descartes, and Newton described the infinite, mechanical, and mathematical universe. To a eroun of like-minded men a kine granted a charter in 1660, aGd the Royal Society of ond don was founded in order to lead the assault on undiscovered .........-

Certain economic and social conditions in England became breeding grounds for the Industrial evolution. Cavendish, Lavoisier, and Scheele unlocked the secrets that eventually have brought us "better things for better living through chemistry." Lister and Harvey started us on the road to better health and longer lives. What were Darwin and Wallace really trying to tell us about evolution? Theories on the nature of the atom were devised. Radioactivity was explained and we divided the atom. Now, we split parts of atoms. What is the ultimate composition of matter? Volume 56. Number 8, August 1979 1 535

New interpretations of the universe were given by Einstein and Heisenberg. The Industrial Revolution caused far worse environmental and social problems in 19th century England than we have today. But, will our pollution kill us? The ideals that eoverned the Roval Societv and the mind of science in the 17th and 18th centuries still govern science todav. But todav. the Roval Societv has been suuu~emented .. hy univ~~sities, governmelrts, and industries. The mrchanistic uhiloso~hv . .of the 17111ru 19th crnturies with its emphasis on dehumanization perhaps helps explain why 20th century man finds himself reduced to a series of different numbers that are used to identify him. This dehumanization process is being further enhanced hy the Computer Revolution. Can we keep on feeding the burgeoning population of this planet? How far into space can we go? Are we alone in the universe? A heart can he transplanted from one individual to another. Now, we can even create life. How far can we go, or should we go, in playing God? The weltanschaune of man. therefore, in the medieval and early Rcmai*sanre prrlods is a man-centered, God-oriented universe. The study of nature begins in earnest in this era. The mechanistic u PI! of the 17th century is infinite and calvulable. There was a total mechanical inrtmctio~~ of matt^. Man was no ditlermt frum a banana ped; he was a bunch of' atoms floating in a sea of electromagnetic radiation. The 1700 era has ;givtm way to the 20th century u~rltof quantum mechanics which is phenomenalistic and i i a non-rational u ell. What will he the wilt of the 21st century and beyond? Music, art, and literature parallel the development of science. The medieval cathedral and its suire lead man toward Heaven a n i ( h d . The creatnv spirit ufda \'inci and Michaelaneelo are in the forefront 01' an axe. the 1tt:naiasance. that ~ I S O!;kings t h R~roquestyle ~ in rnu&and architecturs nhlsh soon give u,ay to the Rococco stylr and the Clnssiciil Period in music. NeWon is exalted by Alrxander I'ope in his "K4sav on Man." hut the Romantic Itt41rllion in Iitrri~tureat the time of the lndusrrinl Revolution starts queitiming the ~thi,:dwlueor scimce. In the20th century, who is tosay that the new art forms and electronic music-have not been influenced by the non-rational physics of quantum mechanics. One topic that is covered in this course that relates to the 1iwrlupment of chemistry is nlchrmy. The author feels t6at t.he suhiert of alchemy 15l~irhlvn~iaunderstmd.Perhaps the 1nost &erally accepted explanation of alchemy was that it \was the art of transmuting base metals into gold by using the I?hilosopher's Stone. T o categorize alchemy as a thin, experI mental science would he incorrect; alchemy was a view of 1:xistence. Alchemv was manv thines. It was a science dealine 1with the soul's purification. 1t"wasti;e supposed transmutation hilosopher's Stone, the quintessence of existence, the 1ountain of vouth. and the ultimate medicine. The exulorat.ions of de Leon are such an example. For its grkatest i?xponents, alchemy was the universe in its totality; to them 1t was the only explanation. Of uncertain origin, alchemy probably evolved in or near Ik v n t . Its formal heeinnine can he associated with the rise of t he k h o o l of ~lexaidrian"science. Alchemy, derived from (:reek Alexandrian thinking and developed with great secrecy, €weompassed cosmology, mysticism, and astrology. I t inherIted two traditions about the natureof matter: (1) the tradition