People Behind the Science: Using Historical Science Stories to Teach about Scientists and How Science Works
Kruse, Jerrid, Borzo, Sarah, Science and Children
We diligently encourage our students to think and act like scientists. Making observations, discussing ideas with others, designing fair tests, and creating new ways to organize and display data are regular aspects of our students' work. However, we want our students to do more than think like scientists, we want them to think about scientists. Although we consistently ask students to reflect on their own strategies and thinking, we find that having students reflect on stories about real scientists helps students better engage in discussions about how science works and what scientists are like. In addition to meeting National Science Education Standards (NSES) related to the history and nature of science (NOS), reading or hearing about real scientists helps students connect with science emotionally. We have even noticed increased student interest in science concepts during history of science discussions. Toward these efforts, and to tackle misconceptions, we have made use of historical science stories in our classes. Below we describe how we developed and used a historical science story during an upper elementary life science unit.
History and Nature of Science Instruction
Nature of science understanding requires consideration of the processes, assumptions, and values of science. That is, how and why scientists carry out their work. For elementary students, the NSES note:
"Students can learn some things about scientific inquiry and significant people from history, which will provide a foundation for the development of sophisticated ideas related to the history and nature of science that will be developed in later years. Through the use of short stories, films, videos, and other examples, elementary teachers can introduce interesting historical examples of women and men (including minorities and people with disabilities) who have made contributions to science. The stories can highlight how these scientists worked ..." (NRC 1996, p. 141).
Yet, simply using historical stories will not likely lead to increased understanding of how science works. Students' attention must be drawn to specific ideas related to the processes of science exemplified in the stories (Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman 2000). Rather than using history alone to teach NOS ideas, we should encourage students to reflect on a continuum of experiences, including puzzle-solving games, students' own investigations, and historical stories (Clough 2006).
Figure 1. Studying animals science story. Imagine your favorite animal. Where does the animal live? What does the animal eat? Some scientists study how animals live in the wild. This kind of science is called ecology. Aristotle and Theophrastus were probably some of the first ecologists. They lived almost 2,400 years ago. Theophrastus studied the way animals acted in nature. He watched how animals behaved with other animals. He also watched how animals lived in their habitats. Two thousand years later, people were still studying animals. In the 1700s people traveled the world. They wanted to explore and trade goods with far-off lands. Scientists often came on these journeys. Two scientists from Europe noticed something interesting. They noticed that the plants they found in other places were not the same plants they saw in France and Germany. About that same time, a Dutch scientist studied how animals and plants work together. He was curious about how energy moves through nature. This scientist came up with the idea of the food chain. The food chain helps us understand what animals eat. Knowing what different animals eat can help us understand how energy moves through nature. In Sweden, Carl Linnaeus studied living things another way. Linnaeus saw that many living things have features in common. He used his observations to put plants and animals into groups. One hundred years before, John Ray organized animals into groups based on their teeth and feet. …