Teaching H. C. Ørsted's Scientific Work in Danish High School Physics – Københavns Universitet

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Teaching H. C. Ørsted's Scientific Work in Danish High School Physics

Ida Marie Hindsholm defends her MSc thesis

Supervisors: Ricardo Karam (IND) og Steen Hansen (NBI)

Censor: Keld Nielsen (AU)

Abstract

There is an apparent paradox in the way the history and philosophy of science (HPS) is viewed in science teaching: On one hand it is supported by research as a central approach to teaching methodology and nature of science (NoS), but on the other hand there is very little actual implementation of HPS in science teaching on all levels. This master project is a case study in developing and teaching an HPS sequence to a Danish high school physics class, in order to find the central obstacles and advantages that this approach has. The aim of the sequence is to shift focus in physics teaching from facts and finished models to science as a process, and thereby to teach the students a more nuanced view on how scientific knowledge is created.

The theoretical basis is a constructivist view on learning and an inquiry based approach to experiments. The project is inspired by the results and strategies of a large European research project on HPS (HIPST) and uses concrete strategies from this project, where emphasis is laid on experimental work, reconstruction of historical apparatus, and interpreting data in relation to a specific philosophical framework. I have chosen the case of H. C. Ørsted’s scientific work as content, focusing on his experimental work and metaphysical ideas about electricity. H. C. Ørsted was guided by romanticism and Naturphilosophie in all of his scientific research, and through his career he experienced failures and mistakes before his great success in discovering electromagnetism, which makes him very suitable for the aim of my sequence. I have undertaken a qualitative analysis of transcripts of the lessons and of open writing exercises given to the students before and after the sequence. Based on the results from this I conclude that the overall idea of using HPS to teach about the NoS aspects is fully applicable and that the strategies presented by HIPST were mostly effective for the students’ learning and reflection about science. A point to be improved in future use of the sequence was that it did not stress the importance of mathematical descriptions in science. In the end, I discuss how HPS can play a bigger role in Danish high school teaching in general. The main suggestion is that the curriculum could support this more fully by presenting ideas for concrete implementation of HPS.