Experts’ Views on using History and Philosophy of Science in the Practice of Physics Instruction Igal Galili and Amnon Hazan



Science Teaching Center, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Jerusalem 91904, Israel;




ABSTRACT. This study examined the views of a representative sample of experts in physics, physics education and history and philosophy of science (HPS) on the incorporation of HPS based materials in physics instruction.  The obtained spectrum of views addressed three areas: the rational to include HPS, the most appropriate ways of doing so, and anticipated difficulties in the new educational approach.  The elicited views, interpreted and categorized, reflect expertise accumulated by theoreticians and practitioners in both Israeli high schools and universities.  The product can guide efforts in constructing learning materials utilizing HPS contents within this specific approach to physics education.





The question of whether or not today’s instruction of scientific disciplines should include contents of history and philosophy of science (HPS), is dependent on one’s chosen educational philosophy and values, and therefore has instigated never ending debates (Matthews, 1994).  Despite the intensive discussions that have been conducted over more than a hundred years since this idea was first articulated, HPS has seldom been implemented. This indicates the complexity and controversial nature of the issue, and the necessity to invest theoretical efforts to its comprehensive analysis.

To fulfill such a goal, we elicited and analyzed the views of experts, relating to science teaching.  Our study was intended to provide much needed knowledge, and thus assist the efforts of curricula designers, theoreticians and practitioners in producing appropriate HPS materials for science education.  Although it was performed in Israel, a small country with no rich tradition in the considered trend of educational activity, we believe that it possesses a wider than local interest and validity.

As we perceive it, our subject of study is nourished from three areas of knowledge.  Accordingly, we focused on a representation of pertinent viewpoints of experts in the following areas:

physicists  – who are involved in teaching introductory physics courses at the  college-university level, science education or history and philosophy of science;

* scientists – experts in science education who are involved in empirical research in science teaching in schools and in teacher training;

* scientists – experts in the area of history and philosophy of science for whom science education presents a second subject of professional interest.

While diversity, and even controversy, within the accumulated views can be easily anticipated, it still may be considered valid to construct an inclusive view of the subject.  Even so, it is clear that we cannot find a unique, appropriate way to implement HPS to meet all goals within the educational process.  Likewise, the implementation of  any HPS program cannot be considered universally helpful or harmful for every individual or group of learners.





Edgar Jenkins (1991), in tracing the arguments in favor of inclusion of HPS in regular teaching, began with the Duke of Argyle’s call to the British Association for Advancement of Science (BAAS), in the middle of the 19th century, to teach the processes of science as well as its products, by means of history of science.  In 1917, the same association released a claim to attain an integrity of education, again, by using history of science:


History of science supplies the solvent of that artificial barrier between literary studies and science, which the school timetable sets up  (BAAS, 1917, p. 140).


Ernst Mach, in advocating HPS in physics education, suggested a “genetic” approach to teaching, incorporating an explicit exposure of the historical evolution of understanding the particular scientific subject in the regular instruction (Matthews, 1990).  Mach praised history of science as a vehicle, in his opinion unique, to reach genuine understanding of modern scientific contents, to appropriately face current problems in science, and even to make further progress in science.  Lecturing to school teachers, he said:


A person who has read and understand the Greek and Roman authors has felt and experienced more than one who is restricted to the impression of the present.  He sees how men, placed in different circumstances, judge quiet differently of the same things from what we do today.  His own judgments will be rendered thus more independent  (Mach, 1886/1986, p. 347).


At about the same time, Pierre Duhem, a prominent philosopher of science, developed his argument in favor of using HPS materials in physics teaching.  He claimed an analogy between the development of scientific knowledge and the growth of individual understanding of nature.  As in the contemporary debate regarding the role of common sense in science education, Duhem wrote:


The legitimate, sure and fruitful method of preparing a student to receive a physical hypothesis is the historical method.  To retrace the transformations through which the empirical matter accrued while the theoretical form was first sketched; to describe the long collaboration by means of which common sense and deductive logic analyzed this matter and modeled that form until one was exactly adapted to the other: that is the best way, surely even the only way, to give to those studying physics a correct and clear view of the very complex and living organization of this science [emphasis added] (Duhem, 1954, p. 268).


Sherratt (1982), reviewing British science curriculum in the first half of the 20th century, mentioned the following benefits of using HPS materials: (a) demonstration of humanistic and cultural aspects of science, (b) teaching about the nature and methods of science and (c) prevention of over-specialization by a sterilized, focused solely on the latest products, instruction.  In addition, a great benefit was specified, especially for teachers, for intellectual enrichment through their awareness of the legitimacy of alternative views and interpretations in science, whether occurring in science’s historical past, or developed by students.

The eminent pioneer of the inclusion of history of science in education was James Conant, who advocated for a case study approach.  His two volumes “Harvard Case Histories in Experimental Science (Conant, 1957) became popular.  Cultural, historical and philosophical contexts of science can reduce, in his view, the barrier of abstractness  and hostile formalism:


Only such broader perspective can give point and lasting value to scientific information and experience for the general student  (Conant, 1945, p. 155).


Conant’s case-study materials encouraged a similar approach, regarding secondary school science.  Klopfer led the project “History of Science Cases for Schools” (1964-66).  Despite its initial success, Klopfer considered it to be one of those which: “rarely persist for very long time and left little trace on the science education landscape” (Matthews, 1994, p. 56).

Harvard Project Physics Course (HPPC), developed under Rutherford, Holton and Watson (1970), is perhaps the best known project heavily loaded with HPS contents.  This feature was justified by a need to produce a physics course with a humanistic orientation, attracting and motivating students who do not intend to specialize in physics, to study it as others study history or literature (Brush, 1989).  Assessments showed that in response to such instruction, students significantly improved their attitudes to physics (Welch and Walberg, 1972).  Many were surprised to find historical-philosophical contents, contrasting the traditional image of physics being saturated with mathematical formalism.  Yet, there was no solid evidence of benefits regarding content knowledge in the subject matter (Ahlgren and Walberg, 1973).

Schwab’s idea of teaching science as an inquiry ,inspired Connely et al. (1977) in their “Patterns of Inquiry Project”, which focused on the historical examples of inquiry.  This approach touched on the philosophy of science (scientific method), students’ acquisition of inquiry skills, a crucial habit of mind “to be able to assess the status of knowledge claims”, illustration of “legitimate doubts ordinarily attached to scientific knowledge claims” (Connely et al., 1977,  pp. 6, 18).  However, in practice, the new approach, which took a lot from scientific epistemology, appeared to be not too compatible with real instruction.  In fact, the inquiry, that became a subject of learning, ceased to be real (Duschl, 1994).

DeBoer (1991, p. 229-230) mentions the role of teaching the history of scientific discovery in providing a realistic view of science and its method, “the role played by intuition, luck, and hard work, and they see that there is no simple formula that guarantees a discovery in science”.  At the same time, DeBoer reflected on teachers refraining from teaching historical contents, considering it time consuming, taking away from the “study of scientific knowledge as it is now organized”, learning to “comprehend what is no longer thought to be true”.  It causes reluctance and speculation of whether it is worth the effort.

The revived concern of scientific literacy in the Eighties-Ninetieth caused a renewed interest in using HPS.  The new society, requiring from its citizens to function in a technologically saturated environment and to decide on issues related to science which affect people both personally and collectively, presumes a wider perspective of science.  Such orientation addresses the widest audience of students, not only those specializing in sciences.  “Project 2061.  Science for All Americans” illustrates such a program.  It sees itself providing a range of para-scientific knowledge, besides specific contents.  In philosophical perspective, the course has to elucidate the nature of scientific method and enterprise.  As to the history, two perspectives are mentioned – illustration of the accumulative nature of scientific knowledge, and presentation of major scientific achievements as historical events, important ingredients of human culture, “milestones of the development of all thought in Western civilization” (AAAS, 1990).

“Science for All” project reflects the values of the movement Science-Technology-Society – STS (e.g. DeBoer, 1991, 178-184).  A number of scholars asserted the appropriateness of HPS materials for the program, which aimed at literacy and demonstrating the unity of science, technology and society (Duschl, 1990; Matthews, 1994; McComas et al., 1998).

A new philosophical support for the use of HPS came from the latest cognitive development learning theories, and the philosophy of constructivism (e.g. Staver, 1998; von Glaserfeld, 1989).  The already old idea, launched as a merely cultural claim about human understanding of the world being molded by the already possessed knowledge at each stage of its progress (e.g. Hanson, 1958), received theoretical elaboration within a sound theory.  It revived the idea of Duhem, about certain similarity of ontogenesis and philogenesis in the development of scientific thought.  The new vision of education made valid, and essential, alternative conceptions (“misconceptions”), as well as their ideas, beliefs, and epistemological commitments prior and during the learning of sciences (e.g. Nussbaum, 1983, 1998; Nersessian, 1989; Thagard, 1990, 1992).  Educational importance was asserted to present science as the exchange of competing models of description, not as a unique product discovered and accepted with finality.  It was understood that presentation of only the “end of line” knowledge in the instruction could be the way to educate (program) a computer, but not so with regard to a human.  What was a “mere” cultural and intuitive claim for Mach, has become a solid theoretical thesis.

* Matthews (1994, p. 50) summarized the reasons for the inclusion of history of science in instruction as:

* better understanding of scientific concepts and methods;

* connection between development of individual thinking with development of scientific ideas;

* cultural-intellectual validity;

* understanding of nature of science;

* counteracting scientism and dogmatism (common in science education);

* humanizing scientific contents, reduction of formalism;

* presenting integrative and interdependent nature of human achievements.

He disdained the arguments of the incompatibility of science education and history, which he felt could at best serve as a warning of inadequate use, rather than a barrier to the approach itself.

Matthews also reiterated the vision of Mach, regarding philosophical issues related to sciences (ibid., p. 98), as still relevant and deserving inclusion in science instruction:

science presents an intellectual construction of economizing thought and experience with regard to the nature;

science is fallible and does not provide absolute truth;

science is  historically conditioned intellectual activity;

scientific theory can be understood if its historical development is understood.

Seemingly, both lists (of historical and philosophical reasons) could be further extended as the community of proponents of HPS materials in education has greatly increased in size and variety.  At the same time, in reality, HPS incorporation in actual instruction of physics is very rare, at least in Israeli schools.  Observing experts’ views we might find reasons for that, and reveal differences of expectations between experts in different areas of knowledge.  The knowledge accumulated in such a study might facilitate the construction of alternative trends in using HPS in science education, matching variety of goals, cultural orientations and educational levels.





Twelve experts were interviewed with regard to their views on the practical utilization of the HPS material in physics teaching.  They represented three areas of knowledge: Subject matter – Physics (P); History and Philosophy of Science (HPS), Physics Education (PE).  Each of the subjects were invited to express his or her views on the following issues:

* Rationale to use HPS materials in regular instruction;

* The best ways of doing so;

* Difficulties anticipated in such implementation.

Each subject was interviewed with a non structured agenda for about 40-60 minutes.





Our evaluation of the collected data comprised four stages.  First, the protocols of the performed interviews were transcribed.  Then, propositions addressing the mentioned issues of inquiry were elicited to facilitate construction of a conceptual profile of the experts.  At the third stage, the arguments were categorized.  Finally,  interpretation of the results was performed independently by both researchers in order to reach a higher reliability of analysis and inference.





The analysis of the collected data enabled us to construct a complex rationale for using HPS materials in science instruction, as viewed from our subjects’ varying perspectives.   These profiles constitute our major empirical finding.


Arguments with Regard to the Main Goals of Using HPS Materials

These arguments were of several types: fostering the learning process; concern for the image of science; pragmatic (related to everyday use); addressing relevance and general interest; necessity for genuine understanding; and finally, those rejecting the use of HPS materials.



Arguments of fostering the learning process

Such arguments (by PE-2, PE-5, HPS-2) assert that presenting science as a story of conceptual revolutions creating radical conceptual changes of knowledge about the world, positively affects the learner.   Personal experience of individuals is often compatible with the historical evolution of scientific views.  History of science reveals that science progress could not be reduced to formal-logical development, but required conceptual breakthrough changes.  One may experience personal solidarity with such changes, as if they’re happening in his/her mind.  This emotional perspective may be helpful when formal-logical understanding of the subject fails, and intuition becomes the leading factor.  The arguments used by scientists in the past, for or against specific theories, may remain valid and persuasive for the contemporary learner, as they often appeal to common sense rather than formal deductive logic.  This thesis, in accord with the constructivist perception of learning, can justify the considered parallelism and the anchoring role of historical materials in the construction of individual knowledge.

HPS materials are of special value for teachers in revealing the nature of difficulties in understanding  particular subjects in science.  Such knowledge, in view of P-2, is equally helpful for students’ better understanding of the subject matter, and teachers’ pedagogical expertise and awareness of students’ problems.

HPS materials may bare a fictional form (FF) of stories or anecdotes (P-1).  Their contents are often far from scientifically formal ones, including social ecology, human passions, struggles, feelings, thoughts, hesitations, mistakes, and problems.  The emerging general intellectual interest to the discipline might awake an interest in the scientific contents.


Arguments concerning the image of science

PE-4 argued for the necessity to address the nature of science, and support the creation of its more realistic image in students.  As is known (Driver et al., 1996), many students perceive scientific products as totally objective, representing an absolute truth about nature and technology.  HPS materials can help show the non-dogmatic character of scientific knowledge, which, although addressing nature as it is observed, still presents a sequence of models which claim, with varying success, to adequately reflect nature, but never mirror it.

Another argument, by P-2, PE-4, HPS-3, addressed the cultural merit of HPS materials, in a broad sense, including their humanistic value together with the scientific one.  Education may reveal the real, not sterilized, history of science, which includes humanistic aspects of the scientific enterprise.  This can be a bridge between science and humanities, which is useful in the general educational perspective.

Expert PE-1 mentioned that very often science is perceived as a collection of formal dogmatism, possessing  formal mathematical forms, stored in the temple of science.  Such image lacks any dynamic nature, other than pure accumulation with years.  History of science shows that, in fact, science presents a permanently changing system.  People construct knowledge though studies and discoveries, a variety of views replacing each other in a mosaic of theoretical and practical contents.


Discovery of science as a profession

Some experts (PE-3, HPS-1) brought up the importance of introducing science as  a humanistic profession, beyond the need for technical mastery.  Exposure of specific conceptual contents of science could help students decide whether being a scientist  fits their future life interest.  HPS materials in high-school contain relevant and realistic information which can facilitate such an important decision.  In fact, HPS materials enculturate the learner into the community of scientists.  The noble nature of scientific knowledge, its true values, the high passion and devotion of humans  occupied with science, inherent democracy of science – all clearly emerge from the history of science.  High-school is the last opportunity to provide future physicists with such knowledge.


Arguments of relevance and general interest

HPS materials, in the view of PE-2 and HPS-2, has a high potential for conveying to the learners a broad picture combining aspects of scientific, technological and social (STS) nature.  HPS naturally bridges between these three areas, creating an integrative picture. The social and technological relevance of scientific subjects, presented in a historical background, highly increase motivation in many learners who otherwise do not show interest in science.  This STS-HPS combined approach, in the view of PE-2 and HPS-2, may promote deeper understanding of many pure scientific contents, which being considered in their historical contexts, become clear to many students, especially those with a lower ability of abstraction.  Importantly, “relevance” should not be understood as restricted to an actual sense experience, but including a much wider area-of-content which attracts the curiosity of students, such as space exploration, warfare, economical competition, ecological threat etc.


Arguments of necessity for understanding of science

This argument was brought by the expert in science history (HPS-4), and advocates incorporation of HPS materials on the basis of the claim that such materials are not only important in physics instruction, but present a completely necessary condition for understanding science.  This argument was given originally by Ernst Mach with regard to the education of future physicists.   According to it, any meaningful understanding of scientific contents presumes knowledge of their historical evolution, of which contemporary knowledge serves only as the currently final page.  The currently accepted knowledge of physics is inconceivable in isolation from its whole, like a branch cannot be understood in isolation from the tree.  This claim may sound today too categorical, and could be debated.  Mentioned as an example, were the concepts of space, motion, or life, which cannot be meaningfully taught and learned, except in historical and philosophical discussions guided by HPS materials.  Those cement the whole content to be learned in one structure, which is necessary to comprehend the subject.  For the same reason, most scientific papers start from a more or less comprehensive survey of the background in the considered area.


Arguments of rejection HPS in regular instruction

Physicists only, presented arguments for rejecting HPS materials in regular instruction.  Three kinds of arguments were mentioned. P-2 mentioned that much of the historical scenery (e.g. names of the scientists, their sex, race, social origin and status), commonly interwoven in such materials, have to appear as strange and even foreign to the eye and ear of a contemporary student.  Thus, a strong religious motivation of many prominent scientists in the past, rather than helping, may impede the modern understanding of the subject.  Repelling influence may not only impede understanding, but strongly decrease student interest toward the subject.

Another reason to refrain from using HPS materials, given by P-3, was the additional time required to cover more material (regular + HPS) in the instruction.  This time is not available in the contemporary science curriculum, which is usually already overloaded with a variety of contents.

Finally, the argument of vagueness and inaccuracy of the knowledge from the past was also mentioned (P-1 and P-3).  In their view, much of the old scientific knowledge, though contributing to the course of historical progress of science, clearly does not match contemporary scientific views. It is primitive, and often simply mistaken.  Inclusion of such in the instruction of novice learners, presents a risky game.  Although it might amuse the expert, the scientifically obsolete knowledge may cause serious confusion for the learner who cannot discriminate between the scientifically right and wrong theoretical claims.  To distinguish between such, requires scientific maturity not available by students at this stage.


Views Regarding the Ways to Implement HPS Materials

We classified these views in the following categories:

– Reproduction of historical experiments;

– Acquaintance with original texts (as amendments in teaching materials);

– Incorporation of HPS contents, embedded in the form of stories and anecdotes possessing instructive value and appearing episodically;

– Incorporation of HPS contents as an integrative part of the instruction and learning materials, built in to the whole course.

– History should appear in form of references to inventors and discoverers, which have a value of cultural literacy (“Dates and Names” approach).


Reproduction of historical experiments

This view (provided by P-1, PE-4, HPS-1) discusses reproduction of famous and important experiments with modern apparatus, or the schematic descriptions of such experiments and their results.  One of the subjects stated:


The historical experiment should be presented, not as an interesting historic event, but as a scientific solution given in the past to a real problem which students should respect and consider worthwhile.  The science laboratory, basically, should not be used to confirm already known laws, but to test hypothesis and facilitate explanations of problems  under consideration.  An experiment may either support the explanation or discover its falseness.  Historical experiments can be used to illustrate such an approach.


Acquaintance with original texts

Another way (described by HPS-2) to utilize HPS materials in science instruction, is to expose students to authentic scientific texts, original publications presenting the results of scientific research:


Original scientific texts will represent authentic research in real science, and demonstrate conceptual changes as described in these texts.  To attain such effect, instructors should carefully chose documents which will illustrate the relevant changes in the considered scientific conception, and which can be appreciated by students.


Incorporation of HPS contents, embedded in the form of stories and anecdotes possessing instructive value and appearing episodically;

In this view, which was the most popular in our sample (P-2, PE-1, PE-2, PE-5, HPS-3), the use of HPS materials is advocated in a form of an interesting story or anecdote, with a relevant content from the history of science that addresses the content of the specific instruction, in the view of the instructor.  Such use does not presume systematic integration of HPS materials, but their occasional use in cases when the chosen piece fits the idea promoted by the teacher, illustrates the principle under discussion, and so on.

Incorporation of HPS contents as an integrative part of the instruction and learning materials, built in to the whole course

Finally, a systematic infusion of the HPS materials in teaching science was suggested by PE-3 and PE-5.  Such integration obviously presumes an extensive preliminary work, invested in serious study of historical materials by the designers preparing a new kind of learning materials:


The incorporated HPS materials should be relevant, and match the goals of instruction at each of its stages.  They should be integrated in a way appearing natural to the student, and reducing to the minimum the impression of an artificial addition.  Only then, we may expect the required outcomes of using HPS.


An extreme version of this approach to teaching subject matter in its historical continuum, was given only by one subject, experienced in teaching astronomy.


“Dates and Names” approach

P-3 expressed the approach, quite common in many textbooks, to pay a “tax” of politeness to history, in the form of making references to inventors of technical contrivances and discoverers of laws.  This policy is seen as a form of cultural tribute, and literacy.  No other significance is given to historical contents, and philosophical ones are perceived as foreign in science classes.


Difficulties Anticipated in Attempting the Incorporation of HPS Materials

In the view of many, the implementation of HPS implies an essential qualitative change in teaching.  As such, numerous difficulties are expected and seemingly unavoidable.  To reduce them, adequate research efforts should be invested.  Our subjects anticipated difficulties with the following:

– the required change to a more appropriate teaching style and method of assessment;

– the required new content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge of teachers;

– the new learning materials;

– keeping HPS contents relevant to the students;

– institutional traditions and established standards of teaching sciences.


Teaching style and method of assessment

The introduction of HPS materials in regular physics instruction appears to present a challenge to the teacher.  Beyond extending personal knowledge, usually not provided in the standard instruction of pre-service teachers, such a change is inevitably related to a change in that teaching style commonly identified as required in a science class.  HPS contents presume changing to new sort of assignments, and a new kind of assessment.  It was not surprising that experts in science education were those who raised this issue (PE-2, PE-3, PE-4).  PE-3 said, for example:


Science teachers will need to change their teaching style as well as the methods of assessment they usually deploy and are comfortable with.  As I see it, the new ways of evaluation of students’ knowledge will be reminiscent of those in use in humanistic disciplines.


Content and pedagogical content knowledge

Most of our sample, and especially experts in science history and philosophy, emphasized the fact that regular programs of pre-service teachers in physics seldom provide a solid enough basis of knowledge in history and philosophy of science.  Although such a deficiency can be fixed by individual learning, teachers need to be encouraged and supported in their efforts, especially initially.   A realistic perspective believes gaining new knowledge, albeit beneficial and enjoyable, may present a barrier for a variety of reasons.  Quoting one of our HPS subjects:


Within the new approach, teachers may find their knowledge and expertise, accumulated over many years of learning and practice, insufficient again… Many were never formally instructed in HPS.  This is especially true with regard to the philosophy of science.  In such cases, teachers need to learn on their own, and then apply it as novices in their classes.  This is not at all simple.


One of our science educators defined the problem:


The main problem is teachers’ training.  The teacher should have knowledge in HPS, and he/she must recognize the importance of its use in his/her class.  There are no problems with students: the historical subjects are adequate regardless of the students’ age or level.


Learning materials

The problem of adequate learning materials incorporating HPS materials is not new in English speaking countries.  In Israel, which presently has no textbook supporting such an approach to teaching science, the problem is even greater.  This problem was emphasized more than once (P-1, P-2, PE-2, HPS-3) as an obstacle, even for positively motivated teachers.  The materials of historical or philosophical content are often not appropriate for use in the education of such a young and unprepared audience.  Original historical and philosophical texts often belong to a different culture, written in an old fashion style and language, and are difficult to understand by a contemporary reader unprepared for such an activity.  Teachers complain:


There are no adequate historical materials which would fit the school audience.  Preparation of such learning materials would surely demand great efforts, for they must equally match the demands of the discipline, and be clear enough for students.  Books written by historians, or original texts of scientists, are likewise not good enough.  As they are, they can only be supplementary to specially prepared materials.


Relevance of the materials

The relevance of learning materials encourages students, and prompts their learning.  This old and widely excepted claim may conflict, in the view of some teachers, with the nature of HPS materials.  Formal ground for this claim is related to significant, and sometimes huge, cultural, scientific, social and technological gaps between the scenery and heroes of HPS texts, and the reality of contemporary students.  Perhaps this fact motivated designers of science curriculums to mention such contents on the margins of major texts.  This policy may have lead to the following (P-1, PE-1, PE-2, PE-3):


HPS materials are not perceived as mandatory content in a science course.  Students, as well as teachers, might not see their relevance or importance in teaching/learning the major contents of the course, but as a sort of “decorative”, supplementary part.  This attitude might later lead to totally omitting of the HPS topics, even if they are directly related to the considered subject of the course.


This view implies a challenge to designers of learning materials incorporating  HP to prevent this perception.  Firstly of teachers, by showing the essential and multifaceted relationship between these materials and the true agenda of the course.  Thus, they will also restore, to the student, the perception of relevance in HPS based materials .


Institutional difficulties

Two kinds of social, or “institutional”, difficulties of teachers were mentioned by HPS-2 and HPS-3.  The ecology in the teaching community of the institution (school or college) obviously plays an important role:


Adequate atmosphere in the “teachers’ room” is likewise a necessary condition for success.  HPS leaning should be a part of a wider concern, which integrates sciences and humanities, and blunts their differences.  This may cause a problem for colleagues’ competent interaction,  which must be encouraged rather than hindered.  If the atmosphere in the “teachers’ room” is separatist, and teachers are interested solely in their own narrow discipline, the implementation of HPS in the science class will fail.


No less important is the role of the administration:


As long as school administrations encourage instruction of each discipline isolated from the others, it will be very difficult to introduce any interdisciplinary activity in science courses, since that will be considered a deviation from the curriculum.  The ordained policy of education within strictly defined, non-overlapping, areas of classical disciplines, might hinder any innovative instruction which combines areas of human activity.





Although our study was purely qualitative, and involved a limited number of interviewed experts, the accumulated spectrum of their views presents a reliable profile of opinions on the subject of utilizing HPS materials in physics (science) instruction.  This is due to the fact that our sample was representative, including a significant share of the PE and HPS experts in Israel.  Those are not only experts with a recognized competency on the subject, but in one way or another, active in the implementation of HPS materials in physics instruction, and/or the development of adequate materials.

Regarding the rational of including HPS based materials in physics (science) instruction, in general, Israeli PE and HPS (not P) experts adopted the opinions of their colleagues in other countries (see above):

* fostering meaningful learning,

* discovery of science as a profession,

* improving the image of science,

* inclusion of relevant and interesting contents (STS ideas),

* necessity of HPS for construction of a holistic view on science,

(the last three are related to the aspect of general culture).  Fostering meaningful learning and improving the image of science were mentioned by experts in all three areas.  Three of them used the argument of encouraging conceptual change in learners, a cognitive justification for using history in education.  Discovery of science as a profession and the relevance and interest were raised by PE and HPS experts by using similar arguments.  However, the necessity of HPS for understanding science was mentioned by only a single subject, who was a philosopher of science.

Importantly, the interviewed P experts showed a great deal of disdain for the discussed curricula change, and their arguments need be seriously considered.  After all, physics professors possess the greatest expertise in the subject matter being taught, and it behooves them to sponsor any changes in physics curricula.  One must study in depth any objections that may arise, and try to address the rational of their worry.  An appropriate step could be the development of high quality materials with built-in HPS contents, in close cooperation with experts in the areas of subject matter, education, and history and philosophy of science.  An absence of contribution of any one of these, may cause an unbalanced product, suffering some deficiency which may cause dissatisfaction in that area of knowledge.

What are the best ways to incorporate HPS materials in physics instruction?  In the view of our subjects, they incorporate the following:

* reproduction of historical experiments,

* presentation of original historical texts,

* infusion of stories during regular instruction,

* systematic incorporation of historical materials,

* historical references (“dates and names”) where required.

The infusion of relevant stories and anecdotes during regular instruction was seen as the most important.  Though this modest incorporation of HPS may disappoint some, this opinion was shared by experts in our subjects’ three areas of competence.  Such acceptance also occurred, though less intensively, only with regard to reproduction of historical experiments.  Only some physics educators emphasized as desirable, a systematic incorporation of historical materials in regular instruction, and nobody suggested to construct a course based on the historical developments within the subject matter.  This type of construction was recently performed by us, and analyzed elsewhere (Galili and Hazan, 1999a, b).  All but one subject perceived the inclusion of original texts as not appropriate, as tried by some educators in the past.  The “Dates and Names” approach, a custom adopted in many textbooks, was not perceived as essentially important, which again indicates for us that experts expect from HPS materials much more than a simple awareness of the great past.

Although not mentioned by even one of this study’s subjects,  one may believe that a major effect anticipated from HPS, is the cognitive resonance perceived by the learners, between the learned historically practiced views and their own.  This should lead to a more effective and meaningful learning. of this subject matter.

An important part of our results was the taxonomy of difficulties anticipated during implementation of HPS materials.  Included, were problems regarding:

* necessity of special teaching style and type assessment,

* possible need to gain additional knowledge by teachers,

* need of specially designed learning materials

* difficulty to preserve the materials’ relevance as viewed by the students,

* institutional difficulties which might arise from lack of support within the educational community and institutions.

Almost unanimously, our subjects claimed that knowledge of HPS might be a problem for teachers.  This implies the need for special effort to be invested in the training of pre-service teachers and administrating special forms of training and programs for in-service teachers (e.g. Eylon and Bagno, 1997).  Similar attention was given to the learning materials.  The few specially arranged resources (e.g. Conant, 1957; Connelley et al., 1977; Holton and Brush, 1985) do not provide sufficient coverage of the topics, are seldom available at present, and in some points, are obsolete in their interpretations.

It is understandable that each time the contents of instruction change, the issue of teaching style and assessment requires special treatment.  This bothers, first of all, physics educators.  There is still no appropriate answer to this problem, and without an appropriate solution it may, for obvious reasons, truly impede the implementation of HPS.

Mainly educators emphasized making HPS materials relevant to students, as a multifaceted problem.   Indeed, such a task is incumbent upon the educator, who must bridge between the learner and the “other world”, which is sometimes very distant and awkward, brought to the classroom for specific reasons, but entered as a whole cultural reality, much different from the world around us.  Making an historical episode relevant to the subject matter under discussion, requires a well prepared, and perhaps unusual strategy of teaching,, so as to preserve the motivation of both the learner and the teacher.  It is especially true with regard to high school students, less mature than university ones.  To not degenerate the history into a primitive support of a scientific claim (the concern of historians), and at the same time, not to lose the scientific validity of the historical episode by introducing skepticism and relativism in respect to science (the concern of scientists), is a real challenge for the physics teacher.





We conclude that with the emerging in our study perception that implementation of the HPS materials can be soundly reasoned and performed in a variety of ways, depending on the goals of instruction, that are perceived differently by experts in different areas of knowledge, and the type of audience, different in skills and level of preparation.  Still such an approach to physics education is perceived as feasible and desirable, worthy of investing expanded effort and resources.  While a team of experts in complimentary areas may be desirable in constructing the new learning materials, the problem has no “one” solution, and we should not expect a product universally fitting for every individual or classroom situation.  The spectrum of views on the subject presented here, though not exhaustive, can be useful in the construction of a variety of HPS base materials, thus leading to higher quality in physics instruction, and greater appeal to a wider audience.




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This article is based on a paper given at the Volta 99 Conference “Science as Culture” and will appear in Science and Education (Editor Prof. Michael Matthews).