Historical and Current Developments in Science Curricula

In order to appraise the value of HPS to science teaching, it is useful to be
aware of the history and diversity of school science curricula, and of the major
debates that have occurred in efforts to improve classroom instruction. This
and the following two chapters will outline the development of school science
with a view to understanding present claims for contextual or liberal pedagogy
and curricula. The fact of diversity and change prompts questions about the
justification of different curricular orientations, and about the degree to which
change is driven by educational versus other considerations.1
Natural Philosophy in the Curriculum
Science, then called ‘natural philosophy’, was introduced into schools, the few
that there were, in the middle of the eighteenth century. Its introduction was
not universally lauded. Theology, the classics and humanities were regarded
as appropriate subjects for the elite, and basic literacy, numeracy and religion,
along with simple trade and domestic skills, were thought appropriate for the
masses. In the nineteenth century, Thomas Huxley, Henry Armstrong and
Thomas Percy Nunn in England, John Dewey in the United States, Ernst
Mach and Johann Friedrich Herbert in Germany and, earlier, the mathematician de Condorcet in France were some who championed a popular
presence for science education.2 No sooner was science included in the
curriculum than debate began about its contents, objectives, teaching methods
and clientele. The clientele debate revolved around what is now called the
‘Science for All’ issue: whether science should be the same for all students, or
whether there should be different programmes depending upon whether
students were proceeding with university studies or terminating their education
at the end of school, or simply having zero interest in studying science.
In Britain, a practical approach was widespread. Science was a servant of
the Industrial Revolution, and this was reflected in educational endeavours
(Uglow 2002). A noteworthy text was James Ferguson’s Natural Philosophy
(1750), which went through many editions, was revised in 1806 by Sir David
Brewster and was published in America in 1806. Brewster’s introduction says,
‘The chief object of Mr. Ferguson’s labours was to give a familiar view of
physical science and to render it accessible to those who are not accustomed
Chapter 3
to mathematical investigation’ (Woodhull, 1910, p. 18). Brewster went on to
say that, ‘No book upon the same subject has been so generally read, and so
widely circulated, among all ranks of the community’. Sixty-two pages of the
text were devoted to machines, and forty pages to pumps. This applied,
technical, everyday emphasis was repeated in other widely used texts, such
as the twenty-two editions of R.G. Parker’s The School Compendium of
Experimental Philosophy (1837), the seventy-three editions of J.L. Comstock’s
System of Natural Philosophy (1846), and J.W. Draper’s Natural Philosophy
for Schools (1847).
Draper stated what was to be a long-standing dilemma in the teaching of
science when he said:
There are two different methods in which Natural Philosophy is now taught: (1)
as an experimental science; (2) as a branch of mathematics. I believe that the
proper course is to teach physical science experimentally first.
(Woodhull 1910, p. 21)
US colleges and British universities did not agree. Natural philosophy
disappeared from American schools around 1872, to be replaced by high-school
physics and texts that increasingly were filled with algebra and mathematical
formulae, in which diagrams of common machines were replaced by abstract
line drawings. Along with the new texts came the long-standing problem of
the over-stuffed curricula. The New York State Department of Education issued
its Topical Syllabus in Physics in 1905; it contained 260 topics, which, for a
course of 120 hours, meant a new topic each half-hour of class time (Mann
1912, p. 66). This was the harbinger of the long-lamented US preference for
‘mile-wide and inch-deep science curricula’.
Not all agreed that the new science teaching was an improvement on the
old, and, at the end of the nineteenth century, many, gathered under the banner
of ‘The New Movement in Physics Teaching’, advocated a return to the
applied, experimental focus of the old natural philosophy courses and texts.3
A part of this advocacy was for the teaching of the principles of science in
science programmes, and it was reasonably held that a topic every 30 minutes,
discussed in essentially a foreign language, was not conducive to children
learning the principles of science. An example of the sort of science that the
new movement opposed was the setting of questions such as, ‘A force of 5,000
dynes acts for 10 seconds on a mass of 250 grams; what momentum is
imparted to the body?’, without students knowing experientially what a force
of 5,000 dynes meant in everyday life. Could such a force, for instance, knock
an adult down? Is it sufficient to move an orange on a table? (Mann 1912,
p. 89).
US Science Education to the 1950s
There have been three competing traditions in US science education up to the
present time: theoretical, stressing the conceptual structure of the disciplines;
Developments in Science Curricula 59
applied, stressing the science and workings of everyday things; and liberal or
contextual, stressing the historical development and cultural implications of
science. These traditions have, of course, not been exclusive; like many
borders, they are porous.
A significant trend in the development of science education up to the 1950s
was the increasing recognition of the practical, vocational, social and
humanitarian aspects of science, and the inclusion of these aspects in the
curriculum. In many respects, this was a return to the past – a swing of the
educational pendulum. Biology teaching, for instance, became less theoretical
over this period (Hurd 1961, Rosenthal 1985). One teacher in 1909
complained that school biology texts were so encyclopaedic and theoretical
that they were more appropriate for doctoral exams. After observing a class,
the teacher wondered what meaning ‘oogonia’, ‘antheridia’ and ‘oospore’
conveyed to students (Rosenthal 1985). During the first half of the twentieth
century, in response to a multitude of pressures – among them the Progressive
Education Society, business and industrial demands, environmental problems,
demographic changes and health concerns – school biology increasingly
diverged from university biology. Finley wrote a 1926 text that stressed the
‘practical, ecological, economic, human welfare aspects of biology’. He
observed that generally ‘the aim of biology teaching . . . changed from “biology
for the sake of biology” to “biology in relation to human welfare”’ (Rosenthal
1985, p. 105). A review of these developments is aptly titled: ‘Emergence of
the Biology Curriculum: A Science of Life or a Science of Living’ (Rosenthal
& Bybee 1987).4
World War Two gave further impetus to practical biology: disease prevention, hygiene and agriculture were all part of the practical applications that
guided course design. Columbia Teachers College developed a curriculum that
stressed the ‘content and methods of science in dealing with personal and social
issues that have been raised largely as a result of advances in science’. The
aim was to give a ‘clearer understanding of society [and] of the social function
of science’ (Layton & Powers 1949). This concern with making science
personally relevant can be seen in a report of the Consumer Education Society
of the National Association of Secondary Principals. This report, The Place
of Science in the Education of the Consumer, was published in 1945 by the
National Science Teachers Association. It urged that science teaching should
focus on knowledge that helps consumers purchase wisely and on procedures
useful in the solution of consumer problems (Hurd 1961, p. 85).
It was not only biology that developed more practical concerns: physics texts
up to the mid 1950s were also concerned with applied questions and gave
everyday illustrations of physical principles. As Douglas Roberts (1982) has
pointed out, it was common for the chapters on electricity to discuss the
workings of the telephone, the electric iron, home circuits and fuses and
everyday electrical appliances; the chapters on liquids dealt with town water
systems, hydraulic brakes and other such matters.
There were predictable tensions in this applied science tradition. Some
stressed applications at the personal level – hygiene, consumer decisions,
60 Developments in Science Curricula
planting gardens, hobbies and so on; others responded to the demands of
business for vocational skills and stressed the social applications of science
(Callahan 1962). Others stressed understanding of the interaction of society
and science. Present-day science–technology–society (STS) programmes are in
the same tradition as these interwar applied science courses.
The applied tradition was criticised from two sides: on the right, so to speak,
were advocates of teaching the theoretical, disciplinary structure of science,
and on the left were advocates of the humanistic, cultural aspects of
science. The Union of American Biological Societies criticised the tendency to
teach biology, not as a science, but as ‘a way to pleasing hobbies, and a series
of practical technologies’ (Rosenthal 1985, p. 109). It championed specialist,
disciplinary courses. This call was echoed in the 1947 report of the AAAS
titled, ‘The Present Effectiveness of our Schools in the Training of Scientists’.
It stated:
The report is based on the premise that our people should take such steps as may
be necessary to ensure (1) enough competent scientists to do whatever job may
be ahead, and (2) a voting public that understands and supports the scientists’
role in defense and in the design for better living.
(In Klopfer & Champagne 1990, p. 137)
In contrast, the Harvard Committee (1945) advocated a science programme
in which, ‘the facts of science must be learned in another context, cultural,
historical, and philosophical’. The committee produced a manifesto for liberal
science education. It claimed:
Science instruction in general education should be characterized mainly by
broad integrative elements – the comparison of scientific with other modes
of thought, the comparison and contrast of the individual sciences with one
another, the relations of science with its own past and with general human history,
and of science with problems of human society. These are areas in which science
can make a lasting contribution to the general education of all students. . . . Below
the college level, virtually all science teaching should be devoted to general
(Conant 1945, pp. 155–156)
In 1944, the National Educational Association issued a report, Education
for All American Youth, that proposed a liberal approach to the sciences for
precollege programmes. In addition to knowledge of specific subject matters,
science, by the tenth grade, should introduce students to the role of science
in human progress, to the scientific view of the world and of man, to the
history of science and an imaginative association with the great scientists and
their major experiments (Hurd 1961, p. 83). Clarence Faust, speaking at a
1958 national conference of presidential science advisers held at Yale
University, stressed this contextual approach:
Developments in Science Curricula 61
What American life most needs, is a new respect for intelligence, for intellectual
achievement, for the life of the mind, for books and for learning, for basic science
and for philosophic wisdom . . . education cannot realize its promise if it is viewed
merely as a means to individual advancement, social achievement, and national
power . . . we need wisdom, not merely power . . . a commitment to the basic
function of education.
(Elbers & Duncan 1959, p. 178)
Thus, at the time of the mid 1950s Sputnik crisis, at least three competing
views about the nature, purposes and emphases of school science can be
1 a practical, technical, applied emphasis;
2 a liberal, generalist, humanistic emphasis;
3 a specialist, theoretical, disciplinary emphasis.
These are akin to what Elliot Eisner (1979) calls ‘curricular orientations’.
Roberts (1982), in his survey of numerous science curricula, identified seven
‘curriculum emphases’. The above three correspond, approximately, with his
‘everyday coping’, ‘the self as explainer’ and ‘correct explanations’. Neither
Roberts’s distinctions, nor the above tripartite divisions, are meant to be
mutually exclusive. Curricula that stress one usually include something of the
others. What is in contention between the views is the general orientation of
the science programme and the goals that it seeks to achieve.
The serious educational issue is to identify the grounds for these curricular choices and then to justify the choice. Are there educational and
philosophical grounds for the decisions, or does a society’s curriculum just
take the shape of the last political, economic or special interest group’s foot
that trod upon it? It is obvious that efforts to justify choices will lead
to philosophy of education; justifications will need to appeal to the aims
of education, to what is required for individual growth and flourishing,
and to political understandings about the mutual relationship of individuals
to their society.5
National Science Foundation Curricula
In the early 1950s, American academics, scientists and professional associations, with physicists at the forefront, led agitation for the reform of US
science education. These groups were concerned about the decline of science
and mathematics in schools. In the 40 years between 1910 and 1950, the
number of non-academic subjects (cooking, typing, driving and so on) in US
schools increased from 8 to 215, separate physics and chemistry courses were
amalgamated into general science, and algebra became part of general
62 Developments in Science Curricula
On 4 October 1957, the Soviet Sputnik went into orbit, and its shock
waves swept across the US political and educational landscape. Dianne Ravitch
The Soviet launch . . . promptly ended the debate that had raged for several years
about the quality of American education. Those who had argued since the late
1940s that American schools were not rigorous enough and that life adjustment
education had cheapened intellectual values felt vindicated, and as one historian
later wrote, ‘a shocked and humbled nation embarked on a bitter orgy of
pedagogical soul-searching’.
(In DeBoer 1991, p. 146)
Sputnik brought the claims of reformers of science education to national
prominence. The launch triggered a flurry of legislation, the principal one being
the 1957 National Defense Education Act, which gave $94 million for science
education in the 3 years from 1958 to 1961, and a further $600 million in
the years from 1961 to 1975. Conferences and meetings occurred across the
country. A representative one was the above-mentioned Yale conference,
sponsored by the President’s Committee on Scientists and Engineers (Elbers
& Duncan 1959).
The National Science Foundation (NSF) was instrumental in the transformation of school science into proto-university science, a process sometimes called
the professionalisation of school science. The NSF’s first school curriculum
grant was for $1,725 in 1954; its 1956 grant to the Physical Science Study
Committee (PSSC) was $300,000. The National Defense Act transformed this
meagre level of funding and subsequently transformed US science education.
In 1957, the NSF said that its curriculum projects:
Seek to respond to the concern, often expressed by scientists and educators, over
failure of instructional programs in primary and secondary schools to arouse
motivating interest in, and understanding of, the scientific disciplines. General
agreement prevails that much of the science taught in schools today does not reflect
the current state of knowledge nor does it necessarily represent the best possible
choice of materials for instructional purposes.
(Crane 1976, pp. 56–57)
In 1956, Jerrold Zacharias,7 a physicist at MIT, used a small grant from
the National Science Foundation to set up the PSSC. This was a case of ‘from
small grants, big projects grow’, especially when fuelled by a national Sputnik
fear. This committee produced the PSSC Physics text, which was eventually
to be used by millions of students in the US and throughout the world. With
its multiple translations, it was the most utilised science textbook in history.8
It was the MacDonald’s or Coca-Cola of education. The Spanish and
Portuguese translations, along with scholarships to bring Latin American
teachers to the US for training, shaped the form of Latin American physics
Developments in Science Curricula 63
teaching for decades. The intention of PSSC physics was to focus upon the
conceptual structure of physics and teach the subject as a discipline: applied
material was almost totally absent from the text. As Zacharias stated:
One should always design a curriculum by picking out the end point and working
back. . . . We should like them [students] to understand the whole notion of
quantization, the whole notion of particles and waves . . . working backwards,
we said it was necessary, clearly, to understand the electrical nature of matter . . .
and then of course working back, Newtonian mechanics. It is also necessary to
know why one believes Newtonian mechanics. One believes Newtonian mechanics
because of celestial mechanics, not because of blocks of wood on tables.
(Zacharias 1964, p. 67)
With this curriculum theory or educational compass, it is easy to understand
that teachers and classes sometimes never got back to blocks of wood on tables
or, as will be mentioned later, ‘where to put a soufflé in the oven’; the allocated
time ran out. As will be illustrated in Chapter 4, air pressure, for instance, is
not mentioned in the PSSC index; it is discussed in the chapter on ‘The Nature
of Gases’, and the chapter proceeds entirely without mention of barometers
or steam engines, the former making their first appearance in the notes to the
chapter. And, as will be shown in Chapter 6, Zacharias commends beginning
to teach pendulum matters with a coupled pendulum and trusting that the
class will want to understand the simple pendulum, but even this latter
understanding will not encompass the multitude of applied uses of the
The NSF put scientists firmly in the saddle of curriculum reform, teachers
were at best stable hands, and the education faculty rarely got as far as the
stable. The PSSC project epitomised ‘top–down’ curriculum development; its
maxim was ‘Make physics teacher-proof’. Zacharias stated that PSSC physics
must ‘have the materials in a form which is refractory, which cannot be
changed easily’ (Zacharias 1964, p. 69). In a 1962 explanation of its policies,
the NSF said that, ‘Projects are directed by college-level scientists, and grants
are made to institutions of higher learning and professional scientific societies.
Emphasis is placed on subject matter rather than pedagogy’ (Klopfer &
Champagne 1990, p. 139).
Trialing of projects did not always have the significance that the policy gave
it. One teacher who participated said:
My own experience with that process suggests the results of classroom tryouts
had little effect on subsequent versions. Scientists were usually hesitant to accept
the criticism of their ‘science’ from school teachers unless very convincing
substantiating data were provided.
(Welch 1979, p. 288)
The NSF supported the explosion of ‘alphabet curricula’ in the late 1950s
and early 1960s. The first curriculum to be widely used was MIT’s PSSC. Then
64 Developments in Science Curricula
followed the Chemical Bond Approach (CBA), Biological Sciences Curriculum
Study (BSCS), Chemical Education Materials (CHEMS), Earth Science
Curriculum Project (ESCP), Introductory Physical Science (IPS), Project Physics
and a host of others. By 1975, the NSF supported twenty-eight science
curriculum reform projects. A number of these were directed at the elementary
school: Elementary Science Study (ESS), Science Curriculum Improvement
Study and Science – A Process Approach (SAPA). During the boom period,
millions of students studied these NSF-supported curricula: PSSC (1 million
in 1956–1960), CHEMS (1 million in 1959–1963), BSCS (10 million in
1959–1990), IPS (1 million in 1963–1972), ESS (1 million in 1961–1971) and
SAPA (1 million in 1963–1974). These constituted the major league of
curricula. In 1976–1977, it was estimated that 19 million students were using
the new curriculum materials; this number represented 43 per cent of the
school population.10
Most of the NSF-funded projects neglected practical and technological
applications of science. One review said:
There is little or nothing of STS in currently available textbooks. Our group
reviewed a number of widely used textbooks . . . and found virtually no references
to technology in general, or to our eight specific areas of concern. In fact, we found
fewer references to technology than in textbooks of twenty years ago. The books
have become more theoretical, more abstract with fewer practical applications.
They appear to have evolved in a context where science education is considered
the domain of an ‘elite’ group of students.
(Piel 1981, p. 106)
The success of the Russian Sputnik, along with the vocal demands of science
professionals, created enormous legislative and commercial pressure to use
school science as a means of preparing students for tertiary science studies.
In the 30 years between 1957 and 1987, the practical and the liberal
curriculum emphases progressively gave way to the academic, or professional,
model of curriculum design. And, as to be expected, these took on what their
writers saw as the settled orthodoxy about scientific method. An inductiveempiricist view of science, for instance, dominated the curricula reforms of
the 1960s. This can be seen in representative documents, such as the 1966
Education and the Spirit of Science, published by the Education Policies
Commission. There, it is stated that, in science: ‘generalizations are induced
from discrete bits of information gathered through observation conducted as
accurately as the circumstances permit’, and that science seeks for ‘verification’
of its claims (Education Policies Commission 1966, p. 18). Just a little bit of
HPS input could have corrected this glaring mistake: science does not proceed
by induction, nor does it seek to verify its claims; more modestly, it seeks to
confirm them.
Two important exceptions to the general ahistorical, professional curricula
supported by the NSF were the Harvard Project Physics course and the Yellow
Developments in Science Curricula 65
version of the BSCS high-school biology course. Another small-scale example
of a historical–philosophical science programme was the Klopfer and Cooley
‘Use of Case Histories in the Development of Student Understanding of Science
and Scientists’. These case histories were consciously aimed at replicating
the well-established Harvard Case Studies in Experimental Science, used
successfully at the college level. One review of the utilisation of the case-study
approach said that, ‘the method is definitely effective in increasing student
understanding of science and scientists when used in biology, chemistry, and
physics classes in high schools’ (Klopfer & Cooley 1963, p. 46).11
Appraisal of the NSF Reforms
By the mid 1970s, after 20 years of energetic involvement, and $1.5 billion
in financial support, the NSF withdrew from school curriculum development.
In 1975, federal funding for the NSF’s curriculum developments was below
what it had been in 1959. The times had changed: the Soviet threat had
receded, the US had its man on the Moon, school enrolments were falling,
and there was a state and local authority backlash against the de facto
introduction of a national curriculum – such federal interference was (and still
is) a matter of grave concern to the more than 16,000 fiercely independent
local school boards in the US.
Numerous studies were done on the effectiveness of the massive federal
intervention. Among the more prominent was that of Helgeson, Blosser and
Howe, which reviewed all research appearing between 1955 and 1975
(Helgeson et al. 1977), and Project Synthesis, directed by Norris Harms,
which scrutinised hundreds of studies (Harms & Yager 1981). These studies
found that the curricular reforms were only partially successful in meeting
their own objectives and in fulfilling the hopes that government and society
held for them. In 1979, the original director of the PSSC project lamented
that the curriculum reform movement was suffering a ‘deadening sense of
frustration and near defeat’. To this proponent, it was a time of ‘despair and
confusion’ (Jackson 1983, p. 152).
Fifty years later, when school science reform is once more on the political
and educational agenda, it is timely to know how much of this failure and
confusion was due to the curriculum materials, how much to teacher
inadequacies, how much to implementation and logistic failures, how much
to general anti-intellectual or anti-scientific cultural factors, and how much
to a residue factor of faulty learning theory and inadequate views of scientific
method that the schemes incorporated. It may be, however, that there are no
overall answers to the question; perhaps the reasons for failure may be
localised, varying from curriculum to curriculum, from school district to
school district or even school to school.
One respected physics teacher, researcher, textbook writer and curriculum
planner, Arnold Arons, has drawn attention to the fact that ‘curricular
material, however skilful and imaginative, cannot “teach themselves”’ (Arons
66 Developments in Science Curricula
1983, p. 117). He believed that, ‘a substantial body of interesting, imaginative,
and educationally sound material was developed’ in the NSF-sponsored
curricula. He attributes the failures to two causes: first, inadequate logistic
support for schoolteachers; second, and more importantly, the inadequate
training of teachers.
The first factor covers such commonplace things as the absence of laboratory
assistants in schools and of money for equipment or films, little free time to
set up experiments and maintain displays, and minimum study-leave provisions. The second factor covers such things as lack of knowledge of subject
matter, failure to appreciate the psychological requirements for science
learning – particularly the need for experience and familiarity with reality to
precede theory and concepts – poor in-service courses, where teachers were
‘given more of the same rapidly paced, irrelevant, and unintelligible college
courses that had had no visible intellectual effect in the past’ (Arons 1983,
p. 120), and the failure of science teachers to appreciate and convey the rich
intellectual and cultural import of their subject. Science was taught as a
rhetoric of conclusions, to use Schwab’s term, and the fluid nature of scientific
enquiry and conclusions was seldom apparent.
Other studies support Arons’s reluctance to blame the NSF curricula. Wayne
Welch concludes that, ‘when compared to teacher effectiveness, student ability,
time on task, and the many other things that influence learning, curriculum
does not appear to be an important factor’. He cites studies that show that
only 5 per cent of the variance in student achievement was due to curriculum/
non-curriculum treatments. Welch reports that his Project Physics team
‘eventually concluded that 5% was an acceptable return on our investment
since we could seldom find greater curricular impact on the students’ (Welch
1979, p. 301).
One way of looking at these results is that, although curriculum is
important, it is not important by itself: the mere change of curriculum, without
change of teacher education, assessment tasks, resources and support, is
not going to have any dramatic effect on student engagement, interest and
learning of science, or of any other subject. It is of little use to set up highpowered curriculum committees that devise curricula that are then sent in
the mail to schools. A curriculum without appropriate texts, examinations,
teacher commitments and systematic support is like a car without petrol – it
looks nice, but doesn’t go anywhere. What many have said is that results such
as Welch’s and analyses such as Arons’s, point to the fundamental importance
of teachers – their knowledge, enthusiasm, attitudes, educational philosophy
and views about their subject, science – for successful teaching.
Current US Curricula Reforms
By the early 1980s, it was apparent to all that there was a second-generation
crisis in US science education; it was variously labelled ‘the science literacy crisis’
or ‘the flight from science’ (Bishop 1989). Despite all the money and effort that
Developments in Science Curricula 67
had been expended since Sputnik, the bulk of American high-school graduates
and citizens had minimal scientific understanding. A few knew a great deal;
the vast majority knew very little. This state of affairs had been documented
in countless research articles and government reports. But what brought it to
popular attention in the US, and galvanised the government to action, was the
publication in 1983 of A Nation at Risk (NCEE, 1983). Its conclusion was
stark: ‘the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded
by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and as
a people’.12 It expressed a particular concern about the abysmal state of the
scientific and mathematical knowledge of high-school graduates.
In the 5 years after the publication of A Nation At Risk, more than 300
reports documented the sorry state of US education. In 1983, twenty bills were
put before Congress designed to offer solutions to the national crisis in science
education. These bills and reports all urged the adoption of ‘scientific and
technology literacy for all’ (Mansell 1976) as the goal of school science
instruction.13 Science for All has been adopted as a goal for science education,
not just in the US (Rutherford & Ahlgren 1990), but in the UK, Canada,
Australia, New Zealand and most other countries.
Of course, it should not be thought that the crisis was entirely one of
curriculum, or of instruction, or that the schools should be able to counteract
major cultural, social or economic forces. The fact that the US has 500 lawyers
for each engineer, whereas Japan has 500 engineers for each lawyer, is not
something that schools can control; nor can schools influence the massive
disparity in salaries paid to lawyers, fund managers and accountants, in
contrast to science teachers or engineers. Further, schools have little effect on
a mass culture that is anti-intellectual and operates at the sound-bite level of
analysis. Boyer, in his influential 1983 report, High School, drew attention
to this:
After visiting schools from coast to coast, we are left with the distinct impression
that high schools lack a clear and vital mission. They are unable to find common
purposes or establish educational priorities that are widely shared. They seem
unable to put it all together. The institution is adrift.
(Boyer 1983, p. 63)
An enriched understanding of science, its methods, achievements and
cultural interactions, in other words of HPS, can contribute a little to the ‘clear
and vital mission’ of which Boyer wrote, as can some articulation of a
philosophy of education that can guide classroom, curricular and organisational decisions. Such recourse to HPS and philosophy of education has been
taken up in various national science-education reform proposals, from the
AAAS’s Project 2061 of the late 1980s through the National Science Education
Standards and now the Next Generation Science Standards.
14 The outcomes
at each of these stages could only be improved by the engagement of historians
and philosophers with educators.
68 Developments in Science Curricula
Project 2061
In 1985, the AAAS established an extensive national study called Project
206115 to stimulate and promote an overhaul of science education in schools
(its brief included mathematics, technology and social science, along with
natural sciences). Recognising that, in the US, educational decisions are
made by thousands of different entities, including 16,000 separate school
districts, and federal and state courts constantly mandate, and then reverse,
major programmes, the project realistically said of itself that, ‘Project 2061
constitutes, of course, only one of many efforts to chart new directions in
science, mathematics, and technology education’ (AAAS 1989, p. 155). The
explicit recourse to history and philosophy in this project is noteworthy.
The first report, Science for All Americans, was published in 1989 (AAAS
1989, Rutherford & Ahlgren 1990). It advocates the achievement of scientific
literacy by all American high-school students. Its proposals were based on the
belief that:
The scientifically literate person is one who is aware that science, mathematics,
and technology are interdependent human enterprises with strengths and
limitations; understands key concepts and principles of science; is familiar with
the natural world and recognises both its diversity and unity; and uses scientific
knowledge and scientific ways of thinking for individual and social purposes.
(AAAS 1989, p. 4)
As explained in Chapter 2, the final clause – ‘uses scientific knowledge and
scientific ways of thinking for individual and social purposes’ – links Project
2061 to the Enlightenment tradition in science education.
The report has a chapter on philosophy of science and another on history
of science. These are among twelve chapters that range over topics such
as mathematics, technology, the physical world, the living environment, the
human organism, human society and the designed world. The history and
philos ophy chapters are encouraging to those who advocate the inclusion of
HPS in the school science curricula.
Philosophical Commitments
All science curricula contain views about the NOS: images of science that
influence what is included in the curriculum, how material is taught, and how
the curriculum is assessed. The image of science held by curriculum framers
sets the tone of the curriculum, and the image of science held by teachers
influences how the curriculum is taught and assessed. When spelled out,
these images of science become statements about the NOS, or more narrowly
about the epistemology of science.
Project 2061’s view of the NOS can be found in its Chapter 1, titled ‘The
Nature of Science’, where there are discussions on objectivity, the mutability
of science, the demarcation dispute about how science is distinguished from
Developments in Science Curricula 69
non-science, evidence and how it relates to theory appraisal, scientific method
as logic and as imagination, explanation and prediction, ethics, social policy
and the social organisation of science. These themes are intended to be
developed in science courses; it stresses that the themes are to be developed
within the subject matter of science, and not treated as ‘add-ons’. The
following philosophical theses are advocated in Chapter 1 of Science for All
Americans. These could be regarded as items in the AAAS ‘nature of science’
list, or, as will be argued in Chapter 11, more expansively they can be
understood as ‘features of science’ (FOS):
1 Realism: There is an existing material world apart from, and independent
of, human experiences and knowledge. This ontological position is in
contrast to varieties of idealism that maintain that, either there is no world
outside human experience, or that such a world, and human experience,
is all ideational. The report says that, ‘Science assumes that the universe
is . . . a vast single system in which the basic rules are everywhere the same’
(AAAS 1989, p. 25). Realism is only committed to the existence of an
external world. The claim that its laws are everywhere the same is an
elaboration of the basic realist position. To what extent the ‘basic rules’
are assumed to be everywhere the same, and to what extent they are
discovered to be the same, is a moot point even among realists.
2 Fallibilism: Humans can have knowledge of the world, even though such
knowledge is imperfect, and reliable comparisons can be made between
competing theories or opinions. Fallibilism is an epistemological position
that is opposed, on the one hand, to relativism, which holds that no
reliable comparison can be made between competing views, and, on the
other hand, to absolutism, which holds that current theory constitutes
absolute, unimprovable knowledge. The report says that, ‘Scientists
assume that even if there is no way to secure complete and absolute truth,
increasingly accurate approximations can be made to account for the
world and how it works’ (AAAS 1989, p. 26). The notion of ‘approximate
truth’ is much debated, with many philosophers preferring to simply
speak of better, or more progressive, theories.
3 Durability: Science characteristically does not just abandon its central
ideas. The simple falsificationist picture of scientists examining and
rejecting ideas in some sort of quality-control process does not hold up.
The report says, ‘The modification of ideas, rather than their outright
rejection, is the norm in science, as powerful constructs tend to survive
and grow more precise’ (AAAS 1989, p. 26). The philosopher Otto
Neurath first gave picturesque expression to this view when he spoke of
the correction of scientific theory as the fixing of a leaking boat at sea:
the entire hull is not taken out; rather, planks are examined and replaced
one at a time. Willard van Orman Quine gave wide currency to the image:
We are like sailors who on the open sea must reconstruct their ship but are
never able to start afresh from the bottom. Where a beam is taken away a
70 Developments in Science Curricula
new one must at once be put there, and for this the rest of the ship is used
as support. In this way, by using the old beams and driftwood the ship can
be shaped entirely anew, but only by gradual reconstruction.
(Quine 1960, p. 3)
Imre Lakatos formalised this conception with his idea of science as a series
of research programmes, with hard-core commitments that were very
resistant to change, and protective belt commitments that changed to
accommodate discordant or falsifying data (Lakatos 1970).
4 Rationalism: The report holds to a modified form of rationalism, saying
sooner or later scientific arguments must conform to the principles of logical
reasoning – that is, to testing the validity of arguments by applying certain
criteria of inference, demonstration, and common sense.
(AAAS 1989, p. 27)
The old view was that science was always rational in its deliberations
among competing views, theories or research programmes. As a result of
research in history, philosophy and sociology of science, this old view has
been modified, and the roles of personal and external interest have been
recognised in the short-term resolution of disputes; the long-term
resolution is not so easily accounted for by interests. The Christian
churches finally accepted the Copernican solar system, and Soviet
agriculture finally accepted Mendelian genetics. This topic will be further
developed in Chapter 5, in the section ‘Sociological Challenges to the
Rationality of Science’.
5 Antimethodism: Although rationalist in its justification of scientific theory,
the report rejects the idea that there is a single method of scientific dis –
covery, saying that, ‘There simply is no fixed set of steps that scientists
always follow, no one path that leads them unerringly to scientific know –
ledge’ (AAAS 1989, p. 26). The report stresses the creative dimension of
science, saying,
Scientific concepts do not emerge automatically from data or from any
amount of analysis alone. This aspect is often overlooked in schools. Inventing
hypotheses or theories about how the world works and then figuring out how
they can be put to the test of reality is as creative as writing poetry, composing
music, or designing sky-scrapers.
(AAAS 1989, p. 27)
6 Demarcationism: Science can nevertheless be separated from non-scientific
endeavours. This is a contentious and debated matter that lay at the heart
of the 1981 creationist trial, when creation scientists were arguing that
their activity was every bit as scientific as mainstream science, and so they
Developments in Science Curricula 71
ought to have a place in the school science curriculum. Whether creation
science falls inside or outside the divide is one question, that there is a
divide is another, and the report is unambiguous about it, saying: ‘There
are, however, certain features of science that give it a distinctive character
as a mode of inquiry’ (AAAS 1989, p. 26).16
7 Predictability: The report says:
It is not enough for scientific theories to fit only the observations that are
already known. Theories should also fit additional observations that were
not used in formulating the theories in the first place; that is, theories should
have predictive power.
(AAAS 1989, p. 28)
A part of the distinctiveness of science is its concern with predicting
phenomena and having the results count. There are problems with this
idea, and it is known that testing is not a simple matter; yet there is
reasonable agreement on one aspect, namely that good scientific theories
should uncover phenomena not currently known. They cannot merely
keep accounting for what other theories bring to light, or what common
sense has already ascertained.
8 Objectivity: It is recognised that science is a far more human activity than
it was once conceived to be. Francis Bacon’s (1561–1626) Idols of the
Mind have persisted long after he urged their eradication in 1620. But
the report, although recognising this human face of science, nevertheless
maintains that science at its best tries to correct for, and rise above,
subjective interests in the determination of truth. It says:
Scientific evidence can be biased in how the data are interpreted, in the
recording or reporting of the data, or even in the choice of what data to
consider in the first place. Scientists’ nationality, sex, ethnic origin, age,
political convictions, and so on may incline them to look for or emphasize
one or another kind of evidence or interpretation . . . but scientists want to
know the possible sources of bias and how bias is likely to influence evidence.
(AAAS 1989, p. 28)
The possibility of objectivity in science has been challenged by some
feminists, some constructivists and most philosophical postmodernists.
The issue is further discussed in Chapter 5 of this book.
9 Moderate externalism and interests: The attempt to eliminate subjectivity
and interest from the determination of truth claims is not the same as
saying that various interests should not influence what spheres of
knowledge science should investigate. Whether research is conducted on
space travel or cheaper public transport, on nuclear energy or solar energy,
on chemical insecticide development or biological controls will be a
function of personal, social and commercial interests. Science does not
72 Developments in Science Curricula
proceed in a political vacuum; most countries draw up lists of national
priority areas and will only release public funds for scientific research in
these areas. Being on or off the list is a political matter. The report
recognises that:
As a social activity, science inevitably reflects social values and viewpoints
. . . The direction of scientific research is affected by informal influences
within the culture of science itself, such as prevailing opinion on what
questions are most interesting or what methods of investigation are most
likely to be fruitful. . . . Funding agencies influence the direction of science
by virtue of the decisions they make on which research to support.
(AAAS 1989, p. 29)
When decisions about truth or otherwise are made in order to serve the
interests of funding or political bodies, then science has moved from
moderate to complete externalism. Although some sociologists of science
argue the latter view, it is rejected in the report. The question is
investigated in Chapter 5 of this book in the section ‘Ethics, Values and
Science Education’.
10 Ethics: The report recognises that scientists do not determine the ethical
values of society; it rejects a triumphal or scientistic ‘leave it all to the
scientists’ view, but it does show how scientific work is crucial to informed
ethical deliberations. It says:
Nor do scientists have the means to settle issues concerning good and evil,
although they can sometimes contribute to the discussion of such issues by
identifying the likely consequences of particular actions.
(AAAS 1989, p. 26)
The question is also investigated in Chapter 5 in the section ‘Ethics,
Values and Science Education’.
From the foregoing sketch, it is clear that Project 2061’s image of science
is informed by current history, philosophy and sociology of science. As the
document is meant to be a curriculum framework, and not an academic
treatise, it does not contain detailed arguments for the theses advanced.
However, as the project intends that local bodies will reflect on and respond
to the document, then these theses will have to be more fully developed at
the local level. On just about every point listed above, philosophers, historians and sociologists of science will be aware of a body of contending
literature. Nevertheless, the document is a valuable starting point for reflection, and it clearly requires that teachers and decision-makers be comfortable with philosophising about science. The latter is going to be done better,
the more there is engagement between the education and philosophy
Developments in Science Curricula 73
Historical Perspectives
Curriculum proposals usually do say something about philosophy of science,
although not as explicitly as Project 2061. This project is distinctive in the place
it gives to the history of science in school science teaching. In introducing
Chapter 10 on ‘Historical Perspectives’, the report says:
The emphasis here is on ten accounts of significant discoveries and changes that
exemplify the evolution and impact of scientific knowledge: the planetary earth,
universal gravitation, relativity, geologic time, plate tectonics, the conservation
of matter, radioactivity and nuclear fission, the evolution of species, the nature
of disease, and the Industrial Revolution.
(AAAS 1989, p. 111)
Project 2061 says of these that, ‘although other choices may be equally valid,
these clearly fit our dual criteria of exemplifying historical themes and having
cultural significance’.
Project 2061 advances two types of argument for bringing history into
school science, both of which are of interest to philosophers of science and
to educators. The first is that:
Generalizations about how the scientific enterprise operates would be empty
without concrete examples. Consider for example, the proposition that new ideas
are limited by the context in which they are conceived; are often rejected by the
scientific establishment; sometimes spring from unexpected findings; and usually
grow slowly, through contributions from many different investigators. Without
historical examples, these generalizations would be no more than slogans, however
well they might be remembered.
(AAAS 1989, p. 111)
The second reason for bringing the history of science into science classrooms
is that:
some episodes in the history of the scientific endeavor are of surpassing significance
to our cultural heritage. Such episodes certainly include Galileo’s role in changing
our perception of our place in the universe; Newton’s demonstration that the same
laws apply to motion in the heavens and on earth; Darwin’s long observations of
the variety and relatedness of life forms that led to his postulating a mechanism
for how they came about; Lyell’s careful documentation of the unbelievable age
of the earth; and Pasteur’s identification of infectious disease with tiny organisms
that could be seen only with a microscope. These stories stand among the
milestones of the development of all thought in Western civilization.
(AAAS 1989, p. 111)
These comments underline the unfortunate fact that the history of science
has fallen between academic stools. Arguably the greatest achievement of
74 Developments in Science Curricula
Western civilisation, and that which has undoubtedly been responsible in large
part for the shape of world history, is usually not dealt with in school (or
university) history departments, because it is thought too technical or difficult,
and it is not dealt with in science departments because it is thought irrelevant.
Bringing HPS into science programmes can in part rectify this situation.
It can spur cooperation between school history and science departments. It
can assist the integrative goals of education.
Project 2061 devotes one and a half pages to Galileo and his achievement
in physics – ‘Displacing the Earth from the Center of the Universe’. It is an
informed treatment of the complexities of astronomical evidence at the time,
the role of sense perception in Aristotelian science, the status of mathematical
models in ancient astronomy, the tradition of realist versus instrumentalist
interpretations of scientific theory, the interplay of metaphysics and physics
at the beginning of the scientific revolution, the function of technology in the
establishment of the new science, Galileo’s use of rhetorical argument to
establish his position, and the complex role of theological considerations in
the evaluation of Galilean science. It deals with other historical episodes,
providing material for teachers, programmers and curriculum developers to
There are philosophical and educational problems with these recommendations. As in its first chapter on philosophy, it could be asked: Whose nature
of science is going to be taught? So, with its historical chapter, it could
be asked: Whose history of science is to be taught? Whigs, internalists,
externalists, idealists, Marxists – all have different accounts of the major
episodes that Project 2061 commends to teachers. There is a great deal of
unresolved controversy in the history of science: after nearly 400 years, the
intellectual dust has still not settled on the trial of Galileo – as can be evidenced
in the recent Vatican collection on the matter (Poupard 1987) and other
studies of the episode.18 The report does recognise that it deals with milestones
in the development of Western civilisation, but in multicultural classrooms
there may be need for other milestones to be recognised and investigated. Some
other specifically educational problems created by the inclusion of history of
science in the science curriculum will be discussed in the following chapter.
Habits of Mind
Science for All Americans includes a final chapter on ‘Habits of Mind’, which
deals with values, attitudes, communication, reasoning, manipulation skills
and so on. This topic raises the perennial issue of whether being scientific is
meant to extend beyond the laboratory? As outlined in Chapter 2, the
Enlightenment tradition hoped that learning to be scientific in investigation
of nature would have a natural flow-over effect on how people thought about
social and cultural problems. This expectation was voiced by John Dewey,
and it was enshrined in the Indian Constitution’s requirement that the state
promote ‘Scientific Temper’. As with Project 2061’s philosophical and
Developments in Science Curricula 75
historical sections, this final chapter is yet another occasion for educators to
work with historians, philosophers and psychologists in fleshing out and
defending the attributes of a ‘scientific habit of mind’.19 Beyond this task, the
chapter moves discussion towards a very old question, namely: What are the
qualities of an educated person? Education is far more than instruction in
science, or even the sum of instruction in various disciplines. Teachers need
to provide such instruction, but they need to recognise that the goals of
education are far wider, and they have to contribute to these wider goals
within the teaching of their own subjects.
National Science Education Standards
Following the AAAS report, in the US, the first ever National Science
Education Standards were published by the National Research Council in
1996 (NRC 1996). They recognise the centrality of philosophical and
historical knowledge in the teaching of science, maintaining, for instance, that
students should learn how:
• science contributes to culture (NRC 1996, p. 21);
• technology and science are closely related: a single problem has both
scientific and technological aspects (NRC 1996, p. 24);
• curriculum will often integrate topics from different subject-matter areas
. . . and from different school subjects – such as science and mathematics,
science and language arts, or science and history (NRC 1996, p. 23);
• scientific literacy also includes understanding the nature of science, the
scientific enterprise and the role of science in society and personal life
(NRC 1996, p. 21);
• effective teachers of science possess broad knowledge of all disciplines and
a deep understanding of the disciplines they teach (NRC 1996, p. 60);
• tracing the history of science can show how difficult it was for scientific
innovators to break through the accepted ideas of their time to reach
conclusions that we currently take for granted (NRC 1996, p. 171);
• progress in science and technology can be affected by social issues and
challenges (NRC 1996, p. 199);
• if teachers of mathematics use scientific examples and methods,
understanding in both disciplines will be enhanced (NRC 1996, p. 218).
These aspirations for science classrooms cannot be achieved without
teachers who care about HPS and have some competence in it. A position
paper of the US Association for the Education of Teachers in Science, the
professional association of those who prepare science teachers, has recognised
this in its recommendation: ‘Standard 1d: The beginning science teacher
educator should possess levels of understanding of the philosophy, sociology,
and history of science exceeding that specified in the [US] reform documents’
(Lederman et al. 1997, p. 236).
76 Developments in Science Curricula
Next Generation Science Standards
For the past 3 years in the US, a new national science-education standards
document, called the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) (NRC 2012,
2013), has been progressively developed.20 As the NGSS say:
The impetus for this project grew from the recognition that, although the existing
national documents on science content for grades K-12 (developed in the early to
mid-1990s) were an important step in strengthening science education, there is
much room for improvement. Not only has science progressed, but the education
community has learned important lessons from 10 years of implementing
standards-based education, and there is a new and growing body of research on
learning and teaching in science that can inform a revision of the standards and
revitalize science education.
(NRC 2012 p. ix)
The NGSS incorporate and build on the ‘existing national documents’, but
a novel feature is the conscious effort to connect science learning to engineering
and to scientific practices, and to make it progressive and cumulative from
the beginning of elementary school. These are seen as its differentia from ‘the
existing national documents’. As previously mentioned, after two decades of
consultation and trialling, the US National Research Council, in its much
anticipated A Framework for K-12 Science Education, writes:
Epistemic knowledge is knowledge of the constructs and values that are intrinsic
to science. Students need to understand what is meant, for example, by an
observation, a hypothesis, an inference, a model, a theory, or a claim and be able
to distinguish among them.
(NRC 2012, p. 79)
These sentences need only be read for us to realise that HPS is required for
their realisation in classrooms and curricula. If students need to know and
understand what is meant by ‘an observation, a hypothesis, an inference, a
model, a theory, or a claim and be able to distinguish among them’, then surely
teachers must know and be able to promote interest in these topics. If so, the
immediate question is, where do they acquire such knowledge? Where does
HPS come into the programme of pre-service or in-service teacher education?
This question will be returned to in Chapter 12.
British Science Curricular Reform
Natural philosophy entered British schools, such as they were, in the mid
eighteenth century.21 By the middle of the nineteenth century, the ‘science of
everyday things’ was common in primary schools (Jenkins 1979). The work
of the Reverends Charles Mayo and Richard Dawes was influential. Not
surprisingly, given the widespread enthusiasm for Paley’s The Evidences,
Developments in Science Curricula 77
much of this science of everyday things, and nature study, was used to promote
religious perspectives such as creation, design and providence. However, this
religious uplifting did not save science from those who thought that the lower
classes were being dangerously over-educated and becoming far too critical.
The Revised Curriculum Code of 1862 basically removed all science from
state-funded primary schools. The Clarendon Commission, in 1864, supported
the importance of classical studies, but it also lamented the absence of scientific
studies in the education of the upper classes. In 1867, the British Association
for the Advancement of Science (BAAS) threw its influence behind efforts to
have science reinstated and reconstituted in the curriculum. Thomas Huxley,
in his influential address, ‘A Liberal Education; and Where to Find it’ (Huxley
1868/1964), given at the opening of the South London Working Men’s
College, focused attention on the importance of science to education and
ridiculed contemporary curricula that excluded science. The philosopher
C.E.M. Joad typifies the circumstance Huxley railed against:
I left my public school in 1910, an intelligent young barbarian. . . . My
acquaintance with the physical sciences was confined to their smells. I had never
been in a laboratory; I did not know what an element was or a compound. Of
biology I was no less ignorant. I knew vaguely that the first Chapter of Genesis
was not quite true, but I did not know why. Evolution was only a name to me
and I had never heard of Darwin.
(Joad 1935, p. 9)
Henry Armstrong and the Heuristic Method
At the turn of the century, Henry Armstrong (1848–1937),22 professor of
chemistry at Imperial College, London, led a crusade against the dry, verbal,
didactic pedagogy that then prevailed in science classrooms, indeed all
classrooms. Armstrong said of this scholastic approach that:
I have no hesitation in saying that at the present day the so-called science taught
in most schools, especially that which is demanded by examiners, is not only
worthless, but positively detrimental.
(Armstrong 1903, p. 170)
In contrast to these didactic methods, Armstrong advocated the heuristic
method (or what might loosely be called the discovery method), which he
characterised thus:
Heuristic methods of teaching are methods which involve our placing students as
far as possible in the attitude of the discoverer – methods which involve their
finding out instead of merely being told about things. It should not be necessary
to justify such a policy in education . . . discovery and invention are divine
prerogatives, in some sense granted to all, meant for daily usage and that it is
78 Developments in Science Curricula
consequently of importance that we be taught the rules of the game of discovery
and learn to play it skilfully.
(Armstrong 1903, p. 236)
Armstrong’s views ought not to be identified with the extreme ‘discovery
ex nihilo’ view or the ‘Robinson Crusoe’ view, advocated by some enthusiasts
of discovery learning. To place students as far as possible in the attitude of
the discoverer does mean that students have to have some stock of concepts,
of techniques, of instruments, of calculating abilities and so on – the things
that the discoverer surely starts out with. Armstrong said:
It is needless to say that young scholars cannot be expected to find out everything
themselves; but the facts must always be presented to them so that the process
by which results are obtained is made sufficiently clear as well as the methods by
which any conclusion based on the facts are deduced.
(Armstrong 1903, p. 255)
In contemporary terms, for Armstrong, discovery has to be guided by teachers;
teachers need to transmit concepts, methods and methodologies to students;
and the more and better guidance by teachers, the more and better learning
by students.
Armstrong also believed that the heuristic method should be historical. In
this, he acknowledges an 1884 paper of Meiklejohn, who had said:
This view has its historical side; and it will be found that the best way, the truest
method, that the individual can follow is the path of research that has been taken
and followed by whole races in past times.
(Armstrong 1903, p. 237)
So, for Armstrong, the discovery method was something that stressed pupil
activity and individual reasoning, but this was in a context created by the
teacher, and this context was designed to follow the historical path of the
development of science.
Armstrong’s crusade had mixed results: some victories, many defeats, some
converts, many unmoved. Nevertheless, he started a tradition in British science
education that has emphasised enquiry teaching, historical study, pupil activity
and investigation. The fortunes of this tradition have fluctuated during the
past century. At different times and with different people, different aspects of
Armstrong’s ideas have been emphasised: enquiry learning can be ahistorical;
practical work can be didactic and reduced merely to the following of
cookbook recipes; historical study can be just a sweetener for technocratic
science. Edgar Jenkins surmises that:
Despite the virtual eclipse of the heuristic method of teaching science, many of
Armstrong’s ideas were to continue to influence school science education. An
emphasis on practical experimental teaching and a belief in the importance of
Developments in Science Curricula 79
learning by doing became established features, and science curriculum reform, a
generation after his death in 1937, was to incoprporate Armstrong’s view that
science could best contribute to liberal education by initiating pupils into its
greatest professional mystery, its method.
(Jenkins 1979, p. 52)
Between the Wars
Between the wars, there were some significant contributions to both the theory
and practice of HPS-informed science education. Three individuals stand out:
Federick Westaway (1864–1946), E.J. Holmyard (1891–1959) and John
Frederick Westaway was one of ‘His Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools’ in
the UK in the 1920s and also authored substantial books on history of science
and philosophy of science.23 In a widely used teacher training textbook, he
wrote that a successful science teacher is one who:
knows his own subject . . . is widely read in other branches of science . . . knows
how to teach . . . is able to express himself lucidly . . . is skilful in manipulation
. . . is resourceful both at the demonstration table and in the laboratory . . . is a
logician to his finger-tips . . . is something of a philosopher . . . is so far an historian
that he can sit down with a crowd of [students] and talk to them about the
personal equations, the lives, and the work of such geniuses as Galileo, Newton,
Faraday and Darwin. More than this he is an enthusiast, full of faith in his own
particular work.
(Westaway 1929, p. 3)
One wonders whether 90 years of educational research and debate have added
significantly to this account of a good science teacher.
E.J. Holmyard was another influential figure in between-the-wars English
science education. As with Westaway, he combined being a science teacher
and prolific textbook writer with making his own contributions to the history
of science.24 He argued that:
The historical method is not, I believe, one of several equally good alternative
schemes of teaching chemistry in schools: it is the only method which will
effectively produce all the results at which it is at once our privilege and duty
to aim.
(Holmyard 1924, p. 229)
Elsewhere, he argued against a merely ‘utilitarian standpoint’ in the teaching
of science, saying that science needed to be regarded as the greatest of the
humanities (Holmyard 1922).
John Bradley, at the University of Hull, was one of the finest exponents of
Armstrong’s heurism.25 He had a passionate commitment to teaching
chemistry in a manner that allowed students to fall in love with it:
80 Developments in Science Curricula
This falling in love with chemistry is the Real Right Thing about learning
chemistry; and it is the only item of educational psychology which the teacher of
chemistry needs to know.
(Bradley 1964, p. 364)
He was an admirer of Ernst Mach and wrote an important book on Mach’s
philosophy of science (Bradley 1971). Bradley endorsed Mach’s instrumentalist
view of theory, insisting that theoretical discussion be X-rated, and that
children not be exposed to it until the final school years. He colourfully said:
‘The young people of this country come hopefully to school asking for the
bread of experience; we give them the stones of atomic models’ (Bradley
1964, p. 366).
Bradley built an introductory chemistry course around the celebrated
‘copper problem’ (oxidation), where students begin with heating copper and
noticing that it puts on two coats – a scarlet inner one and a black outer one.
From there, the course takes off, with students suggesting reasons for this,
testing them, asking whether copper gains or loses weight on heating and why,
devising ways to heat copper without air, the investigation of oxygen,
reduction problems and so on. All of this is very low-technology teaching. He
was a resolute opponent of the ‘Post-Sputnik NSF Education’ that swept the
US, and most of the rest of the Western world, after 1957 and that still has
a commanding presence. He wrote:
By returning from the far country [US] with its painted Jezebels of atomic models
to the homeland and pure gospel of Armstrong, the teaching of chemistry could
be immensely improved without the expenditure of a penny. Indeed money could
be saved, because sulphuric acid is cheaper than models of models of models.
(Bradley 1964, p. 366)
Nuffield Science
By the 1960s, disquiet was being expressed at English science achievement
levels and participation rates. The major response to this was the Nuffield
science courses. Like the NSF courses, a number of the Nuffield courses
advocated discovery learning and the enquiry method of teaching. The
Nuffield schemes were developed at the time of the Plowden Report (1967),
which recommended child-centred teaching for British primary schools. The
Nuffield schemes resurrected the enquiry portion of the Armstrong tradition,
while largely neglecting the historical dimension.
As with the NSF courses, the Nuffield courses held an inductivist view of
scientific method (Stevens 1978). This is seen in the Physics Year 4 Teachers
Guide where, discussing Newton’s Second Law, the advice is given that:
Students should be left on their own to draw conclusions from their graphs. It is
much less valuable, though much quicker for the teacher to impose a well-taught
conclusion. What the pupils find out for themselves from the slopes of these
Developments in Science Curricula 81
graphs (without ever being told to look at the slopes) will remain in their minds
as one of their great discoveries in physics – particularly if we can tell them that
they are finding out part of the story of Newton’s great Laws of Motion.
(Harris & Taylor 1983, p. 285)
The Physics Year 3 Guide says: ‘what [students] need are simple general
instructions, where to look but not what to look at’ (Harris & Taylor 1983,
p. 278).
The Nuffield courses dominated British school science teaching in the 1960s
and 1970s. As in the US, the idea was to produce ‘little scientists’ by having
students engage in scientific discovery. Some of the problems with the
approach surfaced very early. The Association for Science Education (ASE),
in its 1963 Training of Graduate Science Teachers, stressed the obvious
problem of teachers who did not understand, or have an interest in, the nature
of science itself. Of graduate teachers, it said: ‘Many behave and think
scientifically as a result of their training but they lack an understanding of the
basic nature and aims of science’ (ASE 1963, p. 13).
Contextual and STS Science
In the decade after its adoption, voices were increasingly raised against the
Nuffield approach. The sociologist Michael Young observed, in 1976, that,
‘Despite a decade of unprecedented investment in curriculum innovation,
school science displays many of the manifestations of a continuing “crisis”’
(Young 1976, p. 47). The ASE, in its 1979 report, Alternatives for Science
Education, advocated science education for all students to the age of 16 years,
saying that such a curriculum should ‘incorporate a reasonable balance
between the specialist and generalist aspects of science’ and should ‘reflect
science as a cultural activity’. In a later report, Education through Science
(1981), the teaching of science as a cultural activity was spelled out as:
the more generalized pursuit of scientific knowledge and culture that takes account
of the history, philosophy and social implications of scientific activities, and
therefore leads to an understanding of the contribution science and technology make
to society and the world of ideas.
(ASE 1981)
The ASE recognised the importance of HPS in its own ‘Science in Society’
project, which includes a reader on the subject.
English National Curriculum
The British Education Reform Act (1988) provided for the establishment in
England (but not Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) of a national school
curriculum to replace the variety of university entrance curricula, local
education authority curricula and other courses of study and examinations
82 Developments in Science Curricula
that had characterised British secondary education. The National Curriculum Council recommended that science constitute 20 per cent of the
curriculum for all students aged from 5 to 16 years. Its first report, Science
in the National Curriculum, was produced in 1988 (NCC 1988) and revised
in 1991 (NCC 1991). In the original 1988 document, the importance given
to HPS and the detail with which HPS goals were spelled out were exemplary
– an HPS advocate’s educational dream come true.26
A study of educational and political struggles over the place of history and
philosophy in the national curriculum is a rewarding if sobering exercise for
all advocates of HPS in science programmes.27 A significant feature of the
science curriculum was that about 5 per cent of it was devoted to HPS. This
was the last of seventeen ‘attainment targets’ in the first report. The NCC, at
the beginning of its first report, draws attention to this field. It says that the
is concerned with the nature of science, its history and the nature of scientific
evidence. Council recognises that this aspect has not enjoyed a traditional place
in science education in schools. . . . Since this target may be relatively unfamiliar
to teachers, several examples have been given for each level to illustrate the area
of study.
(NCC 1988, p. 21)
The committee elaborates its intentions when it says of Attainment Target 17
pupils should develop their knowledge and understanding of the ways in which
scientific ideas change through time and how the nature of these ideas and the
uses to which they are put are affected by the social, moral, spiritual and cultural
contexts in which they are developed.
(NCC 1988, p. 113)
Although, in the first report, the history and philosophy of science were
singled out as a separate attainment target, the expectation was that the
themes identified would be taught as they arose in the context of the other
attainment targets; this is made explicit in the second report.
Concerning the programme of study for 11–14-year-olds, the first report
said that students should, through their investigations of the life of a famous
scientist and/or the development of an important idea in science, be given the
opportunity to:
• study the ideas and theories used in other times to explain natural
• relate these ideas and theories to present scientific and technological
understanding and knowledge;
• compare these ideas and theories with their own emerging understanding
and relate them to available evidence.
Developments in Science Curricula 83
For 14–16-year-olds, the committee recommends that pupils continue the
course of study outlined above, but, in addition, they should also:
• distinguish between claims and arguments based on scientific data and
evidence and those that are not;
• consider how the development of a particular scientific idea or theory
relates to its historical and cultural, including the spiritual and moral,
• study examples of scientific controversies and the ways in which scientific
ideas have changed (NCC 1988, p. 113).
Beyond providing a programme of study, the NCC report also itemised
expected competence levels. The report says pupils should at:
• Level 4, be able to describe the story of some scientific advance, for
example, in the context of medicine, agriculture, industry or engineering,
describing the new ideas and investigation or invention and the life and
times of the principal scientist involved.
• Level 7, be able to give a historical account of a change in accepted theory
or explanation and demonstrate an understanding of its effects on people’s
lives – physically, socially, spiritually, morally; for example, understanding
the ecological balance and the greater concern for our environment; or,
the observations of the motion of Jupiter’s moons and Galileo’s dispute
with the Church.
• Level 10, be able to demonstrate an understanding of the differences in
scientific opinion on some topic, either from the past or the present,
drawn from studying the relevant literature (NCC 1988, pp. 114–115).
The NCC said of these levels of attainment that they are ‘pitched both to
be realistic and challenging across the whole ability range’ (NCC 1988,
p. 117). There is no doubt that they were challenging, and not just for students.
How realistic they were would depend in large measure on the HPS knowledge
and interest of teachers, and thus on how much HPS figured in their own
scholarly formation. How realistic also depends on the demands of the
examination system – if something is not examined, it will not be taught.28
The first revision of the NCC eliminated Attainment Target 17 by collapsing
it into Attainment Target 1, which dealt with practical work and investigations
in science.
The subsequent history of the National Curriculum, especially the chequered
career of ‘NOS’, is detailed and discussed by Edgar Jenkins (2013) and also
by James Donnelly, who remarks that:
I have suggested that the curricular emphases associated with the nature of science
represents potentially more than a collection of disparate issues. . . . These domains
represent the main possibilities for a reform of the science curriculum which is
other than cosmetic or instrumental. Yet, without some sense of coherence and
84 Developments in Science Curricula
underlying educational purpose they are likely to retain that marginality which
their unruly educational provenance has promoted.
(Donnelly 2001, p. 193)
The importance of being clear about educational purpose, or philosophy of
science education, is a recurrent theme in all serious science-education debate;
unfortunately, it is not something that teachers are prepared well for, and they
are less and less prepared as foundation courses are stripped from teacher
education programmes.
The Perspectives on Science Course
The most recent concerted UK effort to teach NOS material is the new optional
Upper Level Perspectives on Science course for England and Wales (Swinbank
& Taylor 2007). The course has four parts:
• Part 1: Researching the history of science;
• Part 2: Discussing ethical issues in science;
• Part 3: Thinking philosophically about science;
• Part 4: Carrying out a research project.
The textbook for this course, on its opening page, says:
Perspectives on Science is designed to help you address historical, ethical and
philosophical questions relating to science. It won’t provide easy answers, but it
will help you to develop skills of research and argument, to analyse what other
people say and write, to clarify your own thinking and to make a case for your
own point of view.
(Swinbank & Taylor 2007, p.vii)
The Philosophy section begins with sixteen pages outlining fairly standard
matters in philosophy of science – NOS, induction, falsifiablity, paradigms,
revolutions, truth, realism, relativism, etc. Importantly, the book then introduces the subject of ‘Growing your own philosophy of science’ by saying:
Having learned something about some of the central ideas and questions within
the philosophy of science, you are now in a position to evaluate the viewpoints
of some scientists who were asked to describe how they viewed science. The aim
here is to use these ideas as a springboard to develop and support your own
(Swinbank & Taylor 2007, p. 149)
This is a key element of all competent proposals for the inclusion of HPS into
classrooms, curricula and teacher education: the HPS is not to be learned
catechism-like, but is to be utilised, developed and evaluated.
Developments in Science Curricula 85
Beyond 2000
In the United Kingdom, a group of prominent science educators, reflecting
on Britain’s National Curriculum and the most appropriate form of science
education for the new millennium, wrote a report with ten recommendations,
the sixth of which said that:
The science curriculum should provide young people with an understanding of
some key-ideas-about science, that is, ideas about the ways in which reliable
knowledge of the natural world has been, and is being, obtained.
(Millar & Osborne 1998, p. 20)
In elaborating this recommendation, the writers say that pupils should also
become familiar with stories about the development of important ideas in
science that illustrate the following general ideas:
• that scientific explanations ‘go beyond’ the available data and do not
simply ‘emerge’ from it but involve creative insights (e.g. Lavoisier and
Priestley’s efforts to understand combustion);
• that many scientific explanations are in the form of ‘models’ of what we
think may be happening, on a level which is not directly observable;
• that new ideas often meet opposition from other individuals and groups,
sometimes because of wider social, political or religious commitments (e.g.
Copernicus and Galileo and the Solar System);
• that any reported scientific findings, or proposed explanations, must
withstand critical scrutiny by other scientists working in the same field,
before being accepted as scientific knowledge (e.g. Pasteur’s work on
immunisation) (Millar & Osborne 1998, pp. 21–22).
Science–Technology–Society Curricula
In looking at the contributions of HPS to curriculum development and debate
in science education, it is useful to identify the vicissitudes of STS curricula.
There are points of connection between the two traditions that ought to have
been more fully explored and utilised.29
Contemporary (post-1980s) STS education had its origins in the failures of
the discipline-based curricular reforms of the 1960s. Many saw the flight from
science as a demand for more useful and relevant science courses: courses that
would capture the attention of students and give them some understanding
of the myriad technical devices that they lived among and of the transport
and manufacturing technology that drove modern economies. In this regard,
however, STS courses adopted one of the chief tenets of the progressivism of
the 1930s – make education relevant to the lives of students; they continue
the tradition of the science of everyday life that was common in the US
between the world wars, and the science of common things that was prevalent
in the UK between the wars.
86 Developments in Science Curricula
The educational STS movement drew intellectual inspiration and support
from the academic field of STS studies that, from the 1970s, had began to
differentiate itself from orthodox HPS studies in universities, that formed its
own academic society – Society for the Social Studies of Science (4S) – and
that had its own ‘in-house’ journal – Social Studies of Science.
30 The
international spread of STS curricula and research was reflected in the creation
of the International Organisation of Science and Technology Education
(IOSTE) in the late 1970s.31
Rodger Bybee (1985, 1993), Paul DeHart Hurd (1985) and Robert Yager
(1993, 1996) were three prominent US advocates of STS-informed science
education. The US National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) endorsed
the STS orientation to science in its 1971 statement, School Science Education
for the 1970s (NSTA 1971). The 1985 NSTA Yearbook dealt with the
rationale and content of such STS programmes (Bybee 1985), and the NSTA
publication The Science, Technology, Society Movement (Yager 1993)
reviewed their implementation. STS made significant inroads in Canadian
provincial science eduction programmes, with Glen Aikenhead being perhaps
its most prominate advocate (Aikenhead 1994, 2000).32
In England, STS education was championed by, among others, John Lewis
and Joan Solomon and found expression in the SATIS (Science and Technology
in Society) and SISCON (Science in a Social Context) courses. The UK ASE
funded two curriculum projects, the 1981 ‘Science and Society’ course
(ASE 1981), and the 1983 ‘Science in its Social Context’ (SISCON) course
(Solomon 1985). The latter course was influenced by successful university STS
programmes, of which an exemplary textbook was John Ziman’s Teaching
and Learning About Science and Society (Ziman 1980).
An energised contemporary manifestation of the STS tradition, but one that
consciously goes ‘beyond STS’, is the Socio-Scientific Issues (SSI) movement.33
This movement recognises that philosophical discussion of ethics and politics
cannot be avoided – the core concern of social justice cannot be elaborated
without engagement with moral theory, political theory and economic theory.
The educational task is to see that such discussion avoids indoctrination and
manipulation of students to have them commit to whatever the teacher believes
is a good cause; it needs also to rise above slogans and immersion in whatever
the current cultural fashion might be. These caveats are aided by teachers
having a better grounding in historical and philosophical subject matter. Even
cursory thinking on the difference between education and indoctrination is
of great value for SSI teaching.
Clearly, the STS and HPS orientations to science education should be
complementary: pure science and applied science have gone together;
technology and technology-related social issues have a history and they clearly
have philosophical and cultural dimensions; both considerations need to be
incorporated in good educational programmes. A 1990 Alberta, Canada,
departmental guide to STS education, Unifying the Goals of Science Education
(Alberta Education 1990), laid out one of the basic continuing tensions in STS
Developments in Science Curricula 87
education, namely how much can and should STS education be conducted
independently of HPS education? The Alberta guide made explicit a
commitment to teaching about the nature of science, insisting that this
‘includes teaching the concepts that philosophers of science have developed
to describe the nature of the scientific endeavour and the origins, limits and
nature of scientific knowledge’. Often, the classroom practice of STS falls far
short of the curriculum HPS rhetoric.
Enquiry Teaching and Discovery Learning
The US, British and most other curricular reforms from the 1960s to the
present aimed at more than just specifying content areas or laying down
topics to be taught; they were also concerned to develop scientific attitudes
and methods among students. Reformers wanted students to become scientific,
not just learn science. To this end, ‘enquiry’ or ‘discovery learning’ was a
prominent feature of the US NSF and the UK Nuffield reforms, one advocate
saying, ‘All of modern science curriculum developments stress teaching science
as inquiry’ (Sund & Trowbridge 1967, p. 22).34 The appraisal of enquiry
learning is interesting for the light that it sheds on a number of important
educational and philosophical matters – concept acquisition, social dependence
of learning and so forth – but it is especially interesting for those promoting
HPS in science education.35
Enquiry in the 1960s
In the 1960s, the enquiry or discovery approach to teaching and learning was
separately advocated by two very prominent theorists – Joseph Schwab, a
University of Chicago educationalist involved with the BSCS project,36 and
Jerome S. Bruner, a Harvard cognitive psychologist. Schwab’s first publication
on the subject was in 1958; he elaborated upon it in 1960 in what was to
become a classic of enquiry theory (Schwab 1960). Bruner was director of a
working party of thirty-five that the National Academy of Sciences convened
in the summer of 1959 at Woods Hole on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to
investigate the rash of new curricula and to see whether basic principles of
learning and curriculum construction could be elucidated.37
Bruner’s main contribution was to bring to educational discussion and
research the ‘cognitive turn’ that was taking place in psychology. He was in
large part responsible for initiating this turn with his 1956 The Study of
Thinking. At the time, psychology had been taken over by behaviourism, and
his own Harvard department was ‘locked in a standoff between Skinner’s
operant conditioning and Steven’s psychophysics’ (Bruner 1983, p. 122).
Whatever the advances of the cognitive turn were in psychology departments,
it was much slower in departments of education, where some such departments
in the 1960s made successful pigeon training a precondition for the award of
the doctorate in education. Joseph Novak (1977) outlines the lingering grip
of behaviourism on educational psychology. Bruner also brought a concern
88 Developments in Science Curricula
with classrooms, teachers and educational practices, at a time when
educational psychologists preferred to think of ‘learning theory’ in terms of
rats, pigeons, stimulii and reinforcement schedules, and of human learning
only in experimental situations. In this context, he introduced the cognitive,
human-centred ideas of Jean Piaget to the group. He also stressed the
importance of ‘structure’ for learning. This was connected with his idea of
the ‘generativeness’ of knowledge:
‘Learning’ is, most often, figuring out how to use what you already know in order
to go beyond what you currently think. There are many ways of doing that. Some
are more intuitive; others are formally derivative. But they all depend on knowing
something ‘structural’ about what you are contemplating – how it is put together.
Knowing how something is put together is worth a thousand facts about it. It
permits you to go beyond it.
(Bruner 1983, p. 183)
There is an ambiguity here between the material object of knowledge and
the theoretical object of knowledge. The structures of disciplines that Bruner
and Schwab elevate to the forefront of science learning are structures in the
theoretical objects of science: the structure of interrelating definitions and
concepts contained in Newton’s Principia, the structure of geometry as
contained in Euclid’s Elements, the structure of evolutionary theory in
Darwin’s Origin, the structure of Brönsted’s acid/base theory or of plate
tectonic theory. Once these structures are grasped, then distant theorems
can be derived from axioms, and predictions can be made about likely inter –
vening species or the acidity of new chlorides and so on. But these are not
the objects contemplated by neophytes: they contemplate material objects,
such as falling stones, triangles or a range of flora. There are two very different
senses of ‘structure’ being used here: the structure of objects and processes,
and the structure of disciplines. The structure of a leaf is one thing; the
structure of photosynthesis theory is quite another, and two very different
modes of contemplation and manipulation are required for the different
objects: one is turned around in the hand; the other is turned over in the mind.
Aristides Baltas well noted this:
The concept, say, of a ‘material point with a determinate mass’ does not constitute
the common essence of apples, planets and projectiles. It is rather a concept of
the conceptual scheme of physics which is produced together with the other
concepts of this system and which is, precisely, attributed to such real objects so
that their movement may be accounted for by this system as a whole.
(Baltas 1988, p. 216)
Bruner’s 1961 Harvard Educational Review article, ‘The Act of Discovery’,
popularised discovery learning. With its popularisation came its inevitable
distortion. In 1966, Bruner wrote a follow-up essay, ‘Some Elements of
Discovery’, distancing himself from the educational excesses touted in the
Developments in Science Curricula 89
name of discovery learning. He confided that, ‘I am not sure any more what
discovery is’ (Bruner 1974, p. 84), and complained that, ‘Discovery was being
treated by some educators as if it were valuable in and of itself, no matter
what it was a discovery of or in whose service’ (Bruner 1974, p. 15). This
was a crucial recognition that should have been heeded by all naive advocates
of ‘science is fun’ or students being ‘scientists for a day’.
Discovery learning aimed to promote thinking and reasoning skills and
independent research. In the words of one advocate:
It gives students more opportunities to think and learn how to think critically.
As inquirers, students learn to be independent, to compare, to analyze, to
synthesize knowledge, and to develop their mental and creative faculties.
(Sund & Trowbridge 1967, p. 22)
More specifically, discovery learning was welcomed as a way for students to
grasp the nature of scientific enquiry. Students would learn about the nature
of scientific discovery and reasoning by themselves, participating in enquiry.
Jerome Bruner, in his classic The Process of Education, optimistically writes
that, ‘The schoolboy learning physics is a physicist’ (Bruner 1960, p. 14), and
his emphasis on ‘is’ seems to take degree out of the claim and places it in the
already swollen ranks of educational hyperbole – is someone learning the
piano to be called a pianist? Many other texts and curricula took up this theme
of students doing enquiry and so being ‘scientists for a day’ (Harlen 1996).
Much was written on the theory and practice of discovery learning.
Numerous conferences on the subject were convened, with one conference in
particular drawing together many prominent critics of the programme
(Shulman & Keislar 1966). The convenors of this conference pointed to a
major problem:
Examination of both the exhaustive reviews of the literature and deliberations of
the conference lead to an inescapable conclusion: The question as stated is not
amenable to research solutions because the implied experimental treatment, the
discovery method, is far too ambiguous and imprecise to be used meaningfully
in an experimental investigation.
(Shulman & Keislar 1966, p. 191)
One major study did document better performance for US students in the
NSF curricula, compared with extant curricula (Shymansky et al. 1990), but
this study only dealt with curricula, not with teaching methods. It may have
been that the curricula were better, the teachers of it were more innovative
and enthusiastic, the support materials were richer, and so on. The performance may well have had nothing to do with supposed enquiry methods. This
big study is strangely silent on this vital matter. Fifty years later, this is the
very same problem that bedevils efforts to evaluate contemporary constructivist and enquiry-based pedagogy. More generally, poor design, Hawthorne
effects and lack of control groups, or even just controls, are all good reasons
90 Developments in Science Curricula
for examining carefully any conclusions drawn from educational research
(Shavelson & Towne 2002).
At one level, the enquiry approach was very attractive. For students to
discover by experiment and manipulation what materials are attracted to a
magnet and what materials are not, what makes one hour-glass empty quickly
while another empties slowly, rather than being told this by a teacher, is an
advance on rote learning or textbook learning. Bruner said that discovery
methods were preferable because they promoted an increase in intellectual
potency, they involved a shift from extrinsic to intrinsic rewards, they taught
the heuristics of discovering, and they were an aid to memory processing
(Bruner 1961).
However, the theoretical promise of enquiry teaching was not always
fulfilled. One extensive review of the American enquiry-based programmes
and curricula of the 1960s concluded: ‘In spite of new curricula, better trained
teachers, and improved facilities and equipment, the optimistic expectations
for students becoming inquirers have seldom been fulfilled’ (Welch et al.
1981, p. 33).
The reviewers said that the problem lay in large part with teachers:
Science was something teachers took in college, but it was not something they
experienced as a process of inquiry. . . . The values associated with speculative,
critical thinking were often ignored and sometimes ridiculed.
(Welch et al. 1981, pp. 38–39)
Other reviewers documented the positive effects that participation in NSF
teacher programmes had on student performance in those teachers’ classes
(Shymansky et al. 1990). How much this was due to a Hawthorne effect, how
much to the teacher being a more enthusiastic and capable teacher, was not
teased out.
Philosophers and psychologists in the 1960s and 1970s detailed many flaws
in the fundamental assumptions of enquiry teaching; they indicated that the
problems of discovery learning, the gap between promise and fulfilment, were
not just ‘practical’ ones that could be overcome with money or more resources:
they were theoretical ones.38 These are the same problems that recur with
contemporary constructivism and enquiry learning. One critic located the
flaw with discovery learning in the image of science, or the epistemology of
science, that infused the curriculum:
A basic flaw in the process is the apparent assumption that science is a sort of
commonsensical activity, and that the appropriate ‘skills’ are the primary
ingredients in doing productive work. There seems to be no explicit recognition
of the powerful role of the conceptual frames of reference within which scientists
and children operate and to which they are firmly bound. These general views of
the physical world demand careful nurture . . . by a variety of means.
(J. Myron Atkin, in Glass 1970, p. 20)
Developments in Science Curricula 91
David Ausubel, who, with Bruner, was largely responsible for bringing the
‘cognitive turn’ to education (Ausubel 1968), was sceptical of the whole NSF
curricular endeavour and its underpinnings. Of the endeavour, he observed
that: ‘Despite their frequent espousal of discovery principles, the various
curriculum projects have failed thus far to yield any research evidence in
support of the discovery method’ (Ausubel 1964/1969, p. 110). Of the
theoretical underpinnings, he observed that:
Actually, a moment’s reflection should convince anyone that most of what he really
knows and meaningfully understands, consists of insights discovered by others
which have been communicated to him in meaningful fashion.
(Ausubel 1964/1969, p. 98)
A persistent problem was the very meaning of ‘discovery’ in discovery
learning. There is an inescapably epistemological aspect of the concept. Not
every propositional belief that students entertain or come to, or agree upon,
deserves to be called a ‘discovery’, just those beliefs or claims that are true.
Someone might come to the belief ‘that 2 + 2 = 5’ or ‘that Moscow is the
capital of Finland’, but these cannot be discoveries, because they are both false
beliefs. And, as these judgements about truth and falsity are public, not
private, it cannot be individuals alone or groups in isolation that made
discoveries. Not all groups that come together and generate sound are making
music. Not all combinations of sounds are music; just sounds competently
judged to be so are music. To say that all sound is music means some other
term will need be introduced, ‘sound +’, to pick out what we mean by music.
Sound is necessary for music, but not sufficient. In practice, it is going to be
some external authority that sifts the convictions from the discoveries.
Eventually, making sounds is not good enough for learning music; likewise
with enquiring and being scientific.
Further, there is an inescapably process aspect to the ‘discovery’ concept;
a discovery means that the individual or the group has to make the discovery.
There is an element of engagement and intention required. And, in education,
there needs be some element of rationality or at least good reason-giving
involved in the process. If a student does not understand the proposition or
claim they enunciate, then they have not discovered it, even if it is true; they
may have learned it, but not discovered it. Similarly, if they do understand
the proposition, but have been forced to believe or enunciate it, then they
cannot be said to have discovered it. If a student discovers that ‘2 + 2 = 4’
and, when asked why, says that ‘4’ is their favourite number, then, although
the answer is correct, it has not been a discovery in the educational sense. In
education, ‘discovery’ is closer to ‘finding out’. There is a process connected
to legitimate discovery, and elucidating this process is a philosophical
endeavour, whether done by philosophers or not.
92 Developments in Science Curricula
Contemporary Enquiry Programmes
In the US, the National Science Education Standards are explicitly committed
to enquiry teaching, with the title of its teachers’ guide being: Inquiry and the
National Science Eduation Standards: A Guide for Teaching and Learning
(NRC 2000). There, it is confidently stated that:
Inquiry is a central part of the teaching standards. The standards say, for example,
that teachers of science ‘plan an “inquiry-based” science program’, ‘focus and
support inquiries’ and ‘encourage and model the skills of scientific inquiry’.
(NRC 2000, p. 21)
Many make the link between enquiry and constructivism:
Hence, the current teaching standards in the US call for teachers to embrace a
social constructivist view of learning and teaching in which science is described
as a way of knowing about natural phenomena and science teaching as facilitation
of student learning through science inquiry . . . In particular, the reform emphasizes
teacher education by promoting social constructivist teaching approaches.
(Kang 2008, p. 478)
All European Union science and mathematics education ‘renewal’ projects
are premised on the efficacy of enquiry teaching, or enquiry-based science
education (EBSE) as it is labelled. Currently, there are at least half-a-dozen
major EBSE projects being supported, with nearly €100 million of EU
funds. Among them are the following projects: PRIMUS, Pollen, SinusTransfer and Fibonacci, which together involve more than twenty countries,
hundreds and hundreds of schools, hundreds of teachers, and multiple
thousands of students. The Fibonacci project alone involves sixty universities,
3,000 teachers and 45,000 students.39 The 2007 Rocard Report aggregated
the rationales and programmes of these enquiry-based projects. It requested,
and received, a ‘not unreasonable budget of 60 million euros over 6 years’ to
pursue its policy (among others):
Improvements in science education should be brought about through the new
forms of pedagogy: The introduction of the inquiry-based approaches in schools
and the development of teachers’ networks should actively be promoted and
(Rocard et al. 2007, p. 17)
In an editorial in Science magazine, it was reported that the above €60
million was just ‘seed money’, and that:
In all four nations, the ‘science as inquiry’ pedagogy encourages students (ages 5

to 16) to develop a sense of wonder, observation, and logical reasoning. Because
of their interactions with scientists, as well as new assessment and professional
Developments in Science Curricula 93
development methods, teachers gain increased confidence and a better understanding of science as a process.
(Léna 2009, p. 501)
We are not told to what degree the laudable ‘increased confidence and better
understanding’ flows over into more enquiry teaching; nor are we told how
much the latter, of itself, is responsible for whatever increase there might be
in student enrolment in science or students’ learning. This requires fine-grained
and controlled educational research, which is too seldom conducted.
The PRIMAS project (, involving twelve European
countries – Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Hungary, Malta, The Netherlands,
Norway, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Switzerland and the UK – says in its
published report:
Fourteen universities from twelve different countries are working together to
further promote the implementation and use of inquiry-based learning in
mathematics and science. PRIMAS provides materials for direct use in class and
for professional development.
(PRIMAS 2013, p. 1)
Revealingly, the PRIMAS website says that:
A common misunderstanding is to confuse IBL [inquiry-based learning] with
doing experiments or some practical work in the classroom. If the knowledge
needed to conduct the experiment is provided by the teacher or by the task as a
kind of cookbook recipe, the experiment can hardly be called inquiry-based. The
degree of inquiry depends on the openness of the situation as well as on the
distribution of responsibilities between the teacher and the pupils.
That is, it is committed to the view that the ‘less guidance, the better the
enquiry’. This, then, skirts around the question of whether better enquiry (so
defined) results in better learning; overwhelmingly, the evidence is that it does
not: learning is a function of guidance, and, the more guidance that is given,
the more learning will occur.
Neither the current US nor European enquiry programmes pay much
attention to the critics of 50 years ago. In the 200 glossy pages and 150
references of the US Teachers Guide, there is no mention of any of the abovelisted educational, psychological or philosophical critiques of discovery
learning and enquiry teaching; no mention of Bruner, Ausubel, Strike, Dearden
or any other of the major critics or of their lines of criticism. Nor is there
mention of the extensive contemporary critiques of ‘minimally guided
instruction’ (Kirschner et al. 2006, Mayer 2004). These latter will be taken
up in Chapter 8, when the efficacy of constructivist teaching methods is
94 Developments in Science Curricula
discussed; at present, it suffices to repeat the conclusion drawn in one major
Pure discovery did not work in the 1960s, it did not work in the 1970s, and it
did not work in the 1980s, so after these three strikes, there is little reason to
believe that pure discovery will somehow work today.
(Mayer 2004, p. 19)
It surely is a mistake to concentrate on pedagogy as the solution to
acknowledged problems of science education. The problems are many, as are
the solutions. Seeking the Holy Grail in pure discovery or minimally guided
enquiry sets teachers and everyone else off down the wrong path. As a blanket
ideal, it presents an unattainable standard for teachers, and it has no input at
all to make on the subject matter of the curriculum, on what enquiry will be
James Rutherford, early in the 1960s, made a prescient observation that
went largely unheeded at the time, and continues to go unheeded:
Science teachers must come to know just how inquiry is in fact conducted in the
sciences. Until science teachers have acquired a rather thorough grounding in the
history and philosophy of the sciences they teach, this kind of understanding will
elude them, in which event not much progress toward the teaching of science as
inquiry can be expected.
(Rutherford 1964, p. 84)
This book endorses Rutherford’s claim that teachers’ familiarity with HPS
is essential for the improvement of science teaching. Such familiarity would
have enabled past and present teachers to avoid much of the naivety associated
with the claims of discovery learning – naive and false views such as: that
scientific method is inductive, that observation does not depend upon
conceptual understanding, and that messing about with real objects can reveal
the structure of the scientific theories that apply to those objects.
With lessons learned from the curriculum reforms of the 1960s and from the
science-education crisis of the 1980s, and with better comprehension of how
children learn science, curricular projects in most of the world are at present
attempting to embody the following ideas:
• Less content should be taught, but it should be taught and evaluated in
a way that encourages understanding and comprehension rather than
memorisation and rote leaning.
• Some of the connections between science, technology and society need to
be appreciated. This is independent of whether full STS programmes are
Developments in Science Curricula 95
• The cultural dimensions of science, its history and philosophy, its moral
and religious implications, need to be appreciated; a science course should
entail some learning about science, as well as learning of science.
• Curriculum change will only be effective if it is accompanied by widespread systematic changes involving teacher education or re-education
programmes, funding, assessment schemes and texts.
These ideas are not without their problems and internal tensions. It is
probably the case that the curriculum documents overestimate the amount
and sophistication of HPS material that can be conveyed in a school
programme that is devoted principally to the teaching of science. The topics
mentioned in Project 2061 and in the first version of the British National
Curriculum are very complex, and teachers and students need to realise that
there are few simple answers. It may be that an interest in the questions and
some appreciation of the complexity are as much as can realistically be
conveyed to most students, given the demands of the syllabus and of other
subjects. Although a modest ambition, it is nevertheless an important one.
Curriculum development and classroom teaching need to be cognisant
of the psychological preparedness of students. Mature scientific thinking
requires formal thought processes in the Piagetian scheme of sensorimotor,
preoperational, concrete operational and formal operational modes of think –
ing. These thought processes are late in developing. In the US, it is estimated
that most first-year college students have not reached the stage of formal
operational thought. One US study showed that fewer than 6 per cent of
17-year-olds can solve simple algebra problems (Cromer 1993, p. 26). In the
UK, it is estimated that fewer than 20 per cent of 16-year-olds in comprehensive schools are in the formal stage of reasoning (Black & Lucas 1993, p. 34).
This is a powerful reason for science teaching to initially be as phenomeno –
logical and concrete as possible, and for explicit attention to be paid to the
promotion of formal and abstract reasoning.
Teachers concerned with the HPS dimensions of science need also to
be sensitive to the realities of psychological development. Teachers and
curriculum framers need to seek in the HPS sphere the equivalent of
phenomenological material. Things should be kept simple, concrete and
focused. The big questions – What is the nature of science? How does science
relate to religion? Is knowledge of the world truly possible? Is science just a
social product? – should be approached very slowly. Meaningful discussion
of these questions requires sophisticated thinking and a good stock of basic
information about particular parts of the history of science and the philosophy
of science.
Premature attention to the big questions in HPS can cheapen and devalue
intellectual activity. This happens enough in society, with sound-bite-level
analyses of complex economic, political and ethical questions the norm.
Depressingly, it happens enough in schools too, where children are encouraged
to give opinions about all sorts of issues, independently of any knowledge of
96 Developments in Science Curricula
them. This educational practice systematically devalues knowledge acquisition
and sustained thought. Good HPS-informed science teaching can counteract
these narcissistic practices by showing that things are more complex than they
1 George DeBoer (1991) provides a comprehensive history of leading ideas in science
education. Other accounts of the history of science education are Glass (1970), Hodson
(1987), Rudolph (2002, 2008) and Waring (1979). Good sources for charting the
history of US science education are the occasional yearbooks published by the National
Society for the Study of Education. These include the third, Nature Study (1904), the
thirty-first, A Program for Teaching Science (1932), the forty-sixth, Science Education
in American Schools (1947) and the fifty-ninth, Rethinking Science Education (1960).
2 Some of this seminal debate can be read in Armstrong (1903), Dewey (1910), Huxley
(1885/1964), Mach (1886/1986) and Nunn (1907).
3 Accounts of this turn-of-the-century debate can be read in Mann (1912) and Woodhull
4 The titles of other commonly used texts were: Applied Biology, Bigelow & Bigelow,
1911; A Civic Biology, Hunter, 1914; Practical Biology, Smallwood, Reveley, & Bailey,
1916; Civic Biology, Hodge & Dawson, 1918; Biology and Human Welfare, Peabody
& Hunt, 1924.
5 For a comprehensive review of literature on the engagement of science education with
philosophy of education, see Schulz (2014).
6 The history of this 1950s crisis, and its attendant educational reforms, can be found
in numerous sources. Some useful ones are: DeBoer (1991), Jackson (1983), Klopfer
and Champagne (1990), Raizen (1991), Rudolph (2002) and Welch (1979).
7 Jerome Bruner says of Zacharias that, ‘it was Zack more than anybody else who
converted Sputnik shock into the curriculum reform movement that it became rather
than taking some other form’ (Bruner 1983, p. 180).
8 In 1963, at the IUPAP International Conference on Physics Teaching, held in Rio de
Janeiro, Zacharias reported that there had been translations into Spanish, Portuguese,
Hebrew, Japanese, Turkish, Thai, Swedish, Danish, French and Norwegian, with more
pending (Zacharias 1964, p. 68).
9 A discussion of the educational theory behind PSSC can be found in Rudolph (2002,
Chapter 5).
10 Expository papers on each of these curricula are gathered in Andersen (1969, section
11 Another review of these case studies can be found in Klopfer (1964).
12 The NCEE publication received wide media coverage. Articles appeared with headings
such as ‘Can American Schools Produce Scientifically Literate High School Graduates?’
and ‘Can Democracy Survive Scientific Illiteracy?’ (Bauer 1992, p. 1).
13 Gerald Holton, a member of the National Commission for Excellence in Education
(NCEE), which prepared the report, has provided an account of its disturbing contents
that document the ‘tide of mediocrity’ in US education and its recommendations for
turning the tide (Holton 1986).
14 William McComas (2014) provides a detailed history and commentary on these
15 The project began in 1985, which was the year of the Halley’s Comet visitation, and
2061 was the year of its next visitation. AAAS realistically thought that science
education could be improved over that time span.
16 On the demarcation dispute in philosophy of science, see at least: Laudan (1983),
Mahner (2007) and Pennock (2011).
Developments in Science Curricula 97
17 The Biological Sciences Curriculum Study published a collection of background papers
on HPS for teachers that can assist this engagement; the paper of Peter Machamer (1992)
on ‘Philosophy of Science: An Overview for Educators’ is particularly useful.
18 See at least Fantoli (1994, Chapter 7), Finocchiaro (1989, 2005), McMullin (2005)
and Redondi (1988).
19 For some discussion on this matter, see Gauld (2005) and Good (2005).
20 The 320-page draft is available free from the National Academies Press website; it is
titled A Framework for K-12 Science Education. Background studies for the NGSS are
in NRC (2007).
21 It was not until the Education Act of 1870 that state-funded primary education
appeared, and not until the Acts of 1902 and 1903 that state secondary schools
appeared. On the history of British science education, see at least: Brock (1989, 1996),
Jenkins (1979, 2013), Layton (1973) and Taylor and Hunt (2014).
22 Accounts of the life, times and achievements of Armstrong can be found in Brock (1973)
and Jenkins (1979). A collection of twenty-four of his own articles and addresses were
published as The Teaching of Scientific Method and Other Papers on Education
(Armstrong 1903).
23 An extensive account of the life, writings and achievement of Westaway can be found
in Brock and Jenkins (2014).
24 Details of his life, work and achievements can be found in Jenkins (2014).
25 Bradley’s views are presented in numerous The School Science Review articles over a
span of 40 years. His first journal article was in 1933. He elaborated his approach to
molecular chemistry in a series of articles in 1957 Vol.39, 1958 Vol.39, 1959 Vol.40
and 1961 Vol.42. His famous ‘The Copper Problem’, where he defends Armstrong’s
heurism against Nuffield science, is elaborated in eight articles in The School Science
Review: 1963, 1964, 1964, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1967 and 1968. G. van Praagh’s
Chemistry by Discovery (1949) is another example of Armstrong’s heurism.
26 In a reminder that HPS endorsements in curricula need to be elaborated and appraised,
the historian Stephen Pumfrey published a detailed critique of the HPS assumptions
in the NCC documents (Pumfrey 1991).
27 The unpleasant politics of the NCC revisions are described by Duncan Graham, the
first chairperson of the NCC (Graham 1993). There are serious questions about
the degree to which the clear HPS attainments of the 1988 report can be met within
the guidelines of the second and subsequent NCC reports. The political origins and
educational implications of the 1988 Act are discussed in Flude and Hammer (1990)
and Taylor and Hunt (2014).
28 Martin Monk and Jonathan Osborne (1997) shed light on these considerations.
29 A comprehensive account of the commonalities in the STS and HPS traditions can be
found in Vesterinen et al. (2014).
30 Studies in STS were not new; they had long been part of Marxist-influenced histories
of science, where the work of Bernal (1939) and Hogben (1940) is exemplary. John
Ziman’s work dealt with many of the core philosophical and disciplinary issues of STS
(Ziman 1968, 1980, 1994).
31 A recent study of the effectiveness of STS education is Bennett et al. (2007).
32 Canadian STS/HPS initiatives are reviewed in Metz (2014).
33 Discussion can be found in Sadler (2011) and Zeidler and Sadler (2008).
34 Among the vast literature on the enquiry approach of the 1960s, the following are
particularly useful: Ausubel (1964/1969), Bruner (1961), Rutherford (1964), Schwab
(1960) and contributions to Shulman and Keislar (1966).
35 These aspects of enquiry teaching have been extensively canvassed in Kelly (2014).
36 For the role of HPS in Schwab’s work, see DeBoer (2014).
37 Bruner wrote a chairperson’s report on the Woods Hole conference, which was
published as The Process of Education (Bruner 1960). This immediately became an
international bestseller, being translated into nineteen languages, and was described in
the New York Herald Tribune as a ‘classic, comparable in its philosophical centrality
98 Developments in Science Curricula
and humane concreteness to Dewey’s essays on education’. A more personal account
of the conference can be found in Bruner’s autobiography In Search of Mind (1983,
pp. 181–188).
38 For discussion of some of the fundamental problems of enquiry learning that emerged
from these early efforts, see: Atkinson and Delamont (1977), Ausubel (1964/1969),
Dearden (1967), Harris and Taylor (1983), Herron (1971), Strike (1975), Wellington
(1981) and contributions to Shulman and Keislar (1966). For a contemporary review
of the field, see Kelly (2014).
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