The Cosmos Corner

By Bosse, Michael J.; Morrison, David et al. | Academic Exchange Quarterly, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

The Cosmos Corner

Bosse, Michael J., Morrison, David, Williams, Stephen, Nowakowski, Brandi, Arrigenna, Kristin, Davis, Laurie, Academic Exchange Quarterly


Secondary and university students are perennially bombarded with confusing historic theories regarding celestial mechanics. Most textbook discussions are guided by either strict historic chronology or conceptual frameworks and are generally devoid of the historic philosophical and theological developments which accompanied the work of the respective scientists. Without an understanding of theological and philosophical debates concurrent with scientific hypotheses and discoveries, the significance of the scientific discussions becomes hollow. In the form of a play, this paper seeks to provide an understanding of the science, philosophies, and theological viewpoints which surrounded scientists in their historic work. This fictitious dialog seeks to open the investigation of the history of celestial mechanics by allowing seminal historic participants to discuss their ideas with others who may have predated or postdated them by a millennium or more.


Play Development and Purpose

Writing Play Plays have had a fertile heritage within the history of mathematics and science. Arguably, one of history's most influential plays may have been Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World--Ptolemaic and Copernican (1632) by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642). Publications from mathematics and science education reform efforts repeatedly promote the pedagogical and epistemological value of writing for both learning and assessment (NCSE, 1995; NCTM, 2000, 1995, 1991, 1989). The approach to teaching and learning through both role playing and play writing is not novel; both practices have been touted as valuable activities for the learning of mathematics and science ideas (Bonnet, 2000; Duveen & Solomon, 1994; Francis & Byrne, 1999; Harwood, McKinster, Cruz & Gabel; 2002). Play writing and role-play may be particularly valuable in assisting students to learn more esoteric concepts. Recently, both methodologies have been used to make mathematics and science more understandable to students (Bosse & Nandakumar, 1998; Duveen & Solomon, 1994; Francis & Byrne, 1999).

The Experience of This Project The following play was written as a collaboration between five students and the instructor in a college History of Mathematics course. The assignment was initially intended to assist those students master the morass of culture, science, mathematics, religion and philosophy within the development and evolution of theories of celestial mechanics. Group planning and delineation of individualized investigatory tasks led each student to study people, ideas, and events associated with the topic; thus, each student wrote individual reports and became expert in certain aspects of the study. Through frequent group meetings, students hashed out hypothetical dialogs constructed upon their findings. Although the student-authors found this task much more challenging than they had anticipated, they took great pleasure as they saw separate components and ideas become integrated. The participating student-authors reported the process of collecting, analyzing, and synthesizing data into the usable, coherent, and user-friendly form of a play to have been instrumental in assisting them to master the complex material. Prompted by the instructional success of this endeavor, the play was later used to teach the historical development of celestial mechanics in sections of History of Mathematics and Liberal Arts Mathematics in a novel and fresh manner. Herein, the play was used as both a read-only homework assignment and acted out as a play by student actors. The play writing process was found to have two primary uses. First, the development of the play required the synthesis of great volumes of scientific, mathematical, philosophic, theological, and biographical information. This allowed students to construct a thorough understanding of salient factors affecting the historic development of the topic.

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