Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Joan's post - week 2

All three readings illustrate the relationship between inquiry (observation, modeling, investigation) and the creation of knowledge. Hazen &Trefil (2009) give a brief history of science as a “way of knowing”. They begin with the birth of science as a tool to solve practical problems, discuss the invention of the scientific method and its central importance in new discoveries. In “Two New Sciences”, we learn of Galileo’s theories through the voices of two fictional characters; one character uses logic to show another character the truth behind Galileo’s theories. Finally, Lehrer (2009) uses the history and philosophy of scientific inquiry to design a new way to teach Science as a way of knowing. According to Lehrer, “knowledge and activity co-originate’; science should be taught as a form of inquiry rather than as a final product.

Considering that Galileo is seen as the father of the scientific method, I was surprised by the style in which the book was written. I wrongly assumed that Galileo’s book would explain the experiments he carried out in detail and present some kind of data; instead, Galileo’s discovery is framed within a dialogue between two characters in which one character uses logic to lead the other character to a certain conclusion. Although we have not seen any of Galileo’s data, we also know that he tested his hypotheses through experimentation and drew conclusions based on the data collected. Why is this scientific process missing from the book? It may be that in Galileo’s day, logic rather than observation was seen as the basis for discovery.

In contrast, Hazen & Trefil (2009) illustrate that the invention of the scientific method - in which thinking was refined into something that was linked with and informed by materials in the natural world - was a crucial step for the advancement of science. Unlike the “armchair scientists” of their day, Galileo, Newton, and Kepler learned about the world by interacting with it. Not only did they interact with the natural world, but they created models that other scientists could understand and use to investigate further. Without models, Newton may never have seen the connection between Kepler and Gallileo’s work.

According to Lehrer, modeling is central to developing a real understanding of math and science. Lehrer makes the interesting point that although students may carry out experiments, they only rarely encounter “the material problem of developing conditions or instruments for investigation typical of the natural sciences”. Thus, students are given few opportunities to solve problems in creative ways. I feel that Lehrer’s design for teaching science is ideal if prerequisites are met - the classroom would have to be well managed, students would have to know how to cooperate with each other, and students’ motivation would have to be intrinsic.


  1. Joan, I think you bring up part of Lehrer's paper that I also took note of ("the material problem of developing conditions or instruments for investigation typical of the natural sciences"), and you hit on some of the real struggles with trying to implement this in a classroom. I was fortunate to have an AP Biology teacher that was able to implement this in our curriculum. We had to come up with a research question, design a protocol, collect data, analyze it, and present our findings to the class. However, as you pointed out, these were students that were highly motivated, cooperative, and had taken prior coursework that assisted in classroom management. Do you think there's a way we could begin to implement this on a smaller scale though? For example, if you posed a question to the students, gave them a number of materials that may or may not be useful, and did not provide them with a protocol, would this be a similar enough situation to allow them to begin developing investigative skills?

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