Conference Goals and Projected Outcomes

It is a widely held belief that there is positive value in teaching the history and philosophy of science in support of science education. It is a belief supported by both the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Science for All Americans (AAAS 1990) and the National Academy of Science in the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996) and the more recent Framework for Science Education (NRC, 2011). Historically, this belief in the value of teaching the history of science pre-dates all of these standards (Matthews 1994; Conant 1957; Holton and Brush 1985; Chicago 1949, 1950). Nevertheless, the hypothesis that teaching the history and philosophy of science (HPS) has practical value in the classroom and for meeting national science education standards does not have a strong evidential basis. As summed up by Teixeira et al. (2012), “there is an urgent need to assess the efficiency of HPS in science teaching in the classroom, especially in relation to conceptual learning, opinions and attitudes toward the nature of science, argumentation and meta-cognition.” Current understanding of the use of HPS in the classroom is restricted to individual research efforts lacking in the coherency to establish a theory for curriculum to achieve the outcomes valued in the standards.

It is the gulf between the assumed wisdom and the research base to support the integration of HPS into the classroom that motivates this conference by the Center for Philosophy and History of Science (CPHS) and the School of Education (SED) at Boston University. The principal outcome of the conference is expected to be a sequence of next research and development steps to be taken to close the gap between what wisdom suggests and evidence supports.

Goal 1: Define a research agenda to evaluate the value and use of HPS in the science classroom.

To achieve this goal, the CPHS and SED will to gather scholars in the history and philosophy of science, scientists, educators, and education researchers to set a research agenda for testing the value of teaching HPS as part of the science curriculum.

Objectives and projected outcomes of the meeting are:

  • A curriculum-centered research agenda that distinguishes between different aspects of HPS and their different roles in the support student learning of science, engineering and citizenship. The different aspects of HPS all have possible roles to play in the K-16 science curriculum. Different developers in the HPS community appear focused on different aspects of HPS. For example, Allchin (2011, 2012), emphasizes interesting human stories and the sociocultural impact of science with a “whole science” approach appropriate for general citizenship, while the work of the international History and Philosophy in Science Teaching (HIPST) group emphasizes the role of HPS for instruction in science epistemology and for the understanding of scientific concepts. This latter approach may be closer to the new Science Frameworks with its call for increased emphasis on modeling (NRC, 2011). From a classroom and teaching perspective, it is not always clear when HPS has more to say in the science classroom as opposed to the history or social studies classroom. An outcome of this conference will be a clarification of the different roles for HPS and their place in the general K–16 curriculum.
  • A student-centered research agenda that focuses on the impact of HPS on student learning. There have been many small scale studies of the impact of including an aspect of HPS in a science classroom. Some of these studies have been here in the U.S., but many have occurred in other countries. A synthesis and critique of prior results in service of developing a theory of how to integrate HPS into a pedagogy to improve student science mastery (content and understanding) is needed. An outcome of this conference will be the definition of a research agenda to achieve this objective, along with recommendations of which levels and topics of HPS might result in the most productive initial research to shape future efforts.
  • A teacher-centered research agenda to determine professional development objectives for preparing science teachers in HPS. Corresponding to research on supporting student learning with HPS, there must be an equal effort to prepare teachers to integrate HPS in the classroom. Teachers teach the way they have been taught (US DOE, 2000). If science teachers are to use aspects of HPS in the classroom, professional development must be offered that leads to teachers’ integrating HPS into their pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 1989). In their analysis of physics education, Höttecke and Silva (2011) have identified obstacles to induce teachers to adopt HPS in their classrooms. These include a culture of teaching science that is different from that of teaching other subjects; teachers’ beliefs about teaching science; lack of clarity in curricular standards on the role of HPS; and, lack of HPS appropriate content in textbooks. Although this was an international study and focused on physics, there is little reason to doubt that the barriers are the same in the U.S., and that the barriers apply to all of the sciences. Teachers implement curriculum, and instruction follows what teachers admit to their classrooms. If the student-centered research leads to the conclusion that HPS enriches students’ science learning, and help achieve more general curricular objectives, the development of professional development standards and methods must be seen as necessary. Another outcome of the conference will be a report on the barriers to teachers’ adoption of HPS in the U.S. and necessary steps to overcome these barriers.

Goal 2: Strengthen the HPS Community with respect to science education, and specifically the U.S. HPS Community.

This conference is likely to strengthen the international, national, and local HPS community by providing an opportunity for researchers from cognate disciplines to meet and exchange research results and define areas for future research in HPS and science education.

Science education is a field to which philosophers and historians of science can make a valuable contribution that is complementary to that from science content experts. We wish to stimulate a greater awareness among scientists and science educators of the value of incorporating the insights from the humanities in science education. Boston, with its large community of historians and philosophers of science at leading institutions such as Harvard, MIT, Boston University, Boston College, and Tufts, along with strong science education research centers at these same institutions, is ideally placed to benefit from and contribute to this workshop.

Objectives and projected outcomes include:

  • Broader involvement of the science education community in evaluating the value-added of HPS instruction. As can happen in as broad a field of research as science education, subdisciplines and groups have emerged. Investigators interested in the use of HPS for teaching publish in one set of journals. Currently, a survey of the work on HPS for teaching finds that it is top heavy with examples from the teaching of physics. Despite this fact, since seminal research by Halloun and Hestenes (1985) and John Clement (1982) little research on the impact of HPS on physics teaching has appeared in the well-developed field Physics Education Research (PER) literature, published largely in the American Journal of Physics, and in the Physical Review Special Topics – Physics Education dedicated to PER research. In a similar fashion, there is apparently little cross-fertilization between HPS education researchers and chemistry, biology and earth science education researchers. Members of all of the different science education communities will be invited to the conference and included in the subsequent study groups. Through these means, the conference will hopefully facilitate an outcome in which members of the different communities will participate in formulating an HPS research program that would be convincing to all science educators.
  • Development of stronger connections between HPS education researchers in the U.S. with international HPS education researchers. The HPS education research community is international in nature with much of the research being conducted abroad. Working with foreign HPS researchers and consolidating current results will benefit a future research agenda here. It is for this reason that funding is being requested for foreign researchers to contribute to the conference. Outcomes of the conference may include involvement of U.S. researchers in the European History and Philosophy in Science Teaching (HIPST) project, and greater awareness by U.S. researchers of the extensive research being conducted abroad.
  • Development of proposals for funding. The growth of a successful research community is dependent on funding. It is expected that an outcome of this conference will be teams of researchers collaborating across disciplines and institutions seeking funding to  pursue the research agenda identified during the conference. Proposals by these teams would be aimed at the Research and Evaluation on Education in Science and Engineering program of the NSF, and to professional development programs funded by the Department of Education (e.g., Improving Teacher Quality).

Rationale and Background

The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Project 2061 (AAAS, 1990), and the National Research Council in its National Science Education Standards (1996) and in the more recent Science Frameworks (2011), are advocates for the use of the different aspects HPS for improving scientific literacy and understanding.

The AAAS (1990) emphasizes the historical importance of new scientific theories for their influence on society and worldview. It endorses the teaching of science as a liberal art, putting an emphasis on the fact that “[s]cience courses must convey these aspects of science by stressing its ethical, social, economic, and political dimensions” (AAAS 1990, p. 24) by utilizing the history of science to provide examples to understand the nature of science, its tentativeness, and its relation to technological advancement.

This broad articulation of the role of HPS in science education was endorsed and repeated in the National Science Education Standards (NRC, 1996):

The standards for the history and nature of science recommend the use of history in school science programs to clarify different aspects of scientific inquiry, the human aspects of science, and the role that science has played in the development of various cultures. (p.107) Tracing the history of science can show how difficult it was for scientific innovators to break through the accepted ideas of their time to reach the conclusions that we currently take for granted. (p. 171) Progress in science and technology can be affected by social issues and challenges. (p. 199)

Since the publication of the National Science Education Standards, the nature of inquiry, its role in science teaching, and how to best introduce it into the science curriculum has been a focus of research (Duschl and Grandy, 2008). A new consensus appears to be reflected in the formulation of the relevance of HPS as provided by the The Framework for K12 Science Education (NRC, 2011). This is summarized in the Framework as:

The idea of science as a set of practices has emerged from the work of historians, philosophers, psychologists, and sociologists over the past 60 years. This work illuminates how science is actually done, both in the short term (e.g., studies of activity in a particular laboratory or program) and historically (studies of laboratory notebooks, published texts, eyewitness accounts). Seeing science as a set of practices shows that theory development, reasoning, and testing are components of a larger ensemble of activities that includes networks of participants and institutions; specialized ways of talking and writing; the development of models to represent systems or phenomena; the making of predictive inferences; construction of appropriate instrumentation; and testing of hypotheses by experiment or observation. (p. 43)

In this context, the history of science is the source of examples of model building and the human activity of such model building in science, and the methods of argumentation based on evidence and reason.

  • Exploration of historical episodes in science can provide opportunities for students to identify the ideas, evidence, and arguments of professional scientists. In so doing, they should be encouraged to recognize the criteria used to judge claims for new knowledge and the formal means by which scientific ideas are evaluated today. In particular, they should see how the practice of peer review and independent verification of claimed experimental results help to maintain objectivity and trust in science. (p.60)
  • Examples from history of how scientists developed and argued about evidence for different scientific theories could support students’ understanding of how their own classroom scientific practices play a role in validating knowledge. (p. 238)

Despite the references in the Framework to the importance of history and philosophy for understanding science and its practice, in 1996 in the National Science Education Standards the NRC (1996) wrote that “[l]ittle research has been reported on the use of history in teaching about the nature of science.” (p. 200). Generalizing the meaning of the nature of science to include the nature of inquiry and model building in science and engineering, it remains the case that there is no research-based science and engineering curriculum that utilizes HPS. Much excellent development work has been done (e.g., Clough, 2010; Chang, 2011; Coelho, 2010; Stinner et al., 2003; Seroglou et al., 1998; Fowler, 2003; Morse, 2004) demonstrating the potential for the use of HPS in the classroom. However, systematic classroom results that verify that HPS can provide the basis for understanding the nature of scientific inquiry remain lacking. As a result, materials for widespread professional development and classroom adoption have not been developed. Developing a program of research on student learning with HPS, and the subsequent necessary professional development programs, are the principal goals of the proposed conference.


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