In his recent book Teaching the Nature of Science: Perspectives & Resources, Douglas Allchin presents a compelling pedagogical approach for using episodes from the history of science toward improving students’ understanding of aspects of the nature of science (NOS). The text admirably synthesizes Allchin’s expertise in both the philosophy and history of science, including his understanding of recent research in education that strives to both capture and improve students’ NOS conceptions.
Allchin admits in the opening pages that the majority of the text can be found elsewhere as separate works, and while this is the case, two notable features of this book make it particularly worthwhile. First, Allchin has admirably synthesized the separate works and included additional chapters to create a rather comprehensive argument for why and how teachers should use history of science as a tool toward helping students learn NOS. Second, while the individual chapters stand alone in helping the reader to understand some facet of how to use the history of science in this way, throughout each there are frequent explicit references to the themes contained in other chapters. Allchin is careful to help the reader see how one or more themes from earlier chapters connect with one another, and this technique indeed synthesizes his points well.
The text is divided into two large sections, with the first half of the book designed to help the reader understand some of the philosophical emphases, both historical and recent in education reform designed to improve students’ NOS understanding. In this first section, Allchin draws attention to the increasing emphasis placed on having students learn the nature of science, though he is critical of both research in science education and pedagogical efforts that tend to treat NOS “tenets” as decontextual conceptions that students should learn. Allchin develops his “whole science” model as embodying the notion that NOS should be learned within the confines of an engaging and realistic context and further that the history of science, when properly framed, can be an important tool toward fostering students to learn NOS explicitly, reflectively and meaningfully. His ultimate claim is that such learning will promote a more effective transfer of NOS understanding in the real world, when students encounter situations that require them to be functionally literate about how science works.
In the second section, Allchin illustrates his synthesis across several chapters by providing the reader with three different and detailed examples of how to incorporate the history of science with the “whole science” approach (a case study, role play, and problem-solving inquiry). Again, throughout the text, Allchin explicitly highlights how various aspects of the model he has presented in the first section apply, including attention to how teachers can/should avoid incorrect or inappropriate ways of using history of science.
Two chapters are particularly noteworthy. One is devoted to assessment of students NOS views, and here Allchin highlights several approaches teachers can use to authentically capture students’ understanding. The second is his final chapter, written expressly for those teachers who are themselves interested in creating their own lessons that use history of science in the manner Allchin describes. With this chapter, Allchin provides several exemplars readily available for teachers to use, and he gives detailed suggestions for those interested in developing their own.
Throughout, Allchin is sensitive of his readership. He understands the constraints of contemporary science teaching, of the emphasis on high-stakes testing with its unfortunate pressures. He is realistic about the frequency to which teachers have sufficient time to incorporate history of science, and the text nicely argues how it is possible on occasion to use history both to teach relevant science concepts and nature of science at the same time.
Teaching the Nature of Science: Perspectives & Resources is targeted with instructional design in mind, toward best practice for producing scientific literacy, and though the first section may be a little deep for the novice regarding the problems/pitfalls/philosophy of science teaching for nature of science, it is worth reading carefully. Throughout the text are numerous examples from the history of biology, physics, earth science, and chemistry. Readers will appreciate these examples toward supporting the nuances Allchin makes in advocating the whole-science approach. High school and college science teachers should strongly consider reading this text.
ELIZABETH COWLES teaches freshman-level biology, biochemistry, and entomology at Eastern Connecticut State University. She has taught at the undergraduate and graduate college levels for over 20 years. Her interests include insect toxicology, protein characterization, and astrobiology. Cowles holds degrees in biology and biochemistry from Cornell University and Michigan State University. Her address is Department of Biology, ECSU, 83 Windham St., Willimantic, CT 06226; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.