An historical approach to physics instruction


Student success is a main interest of concerned educators. Much research has been conducted to investigate strategies and instructional methods that may affect student performance. One such method is that of using an historical approach to physics instruction. The question I wish to investigate is this: How does using an historical approach to physics instruction affect student performance, student attitudes towards science courses, and the maturation of students' "epistemological expertise" (Elby, 2001, p.S54)?

I have used historically based instructional materials to develop a unit on gas laws. This unit was taught to 10th and 11th grade Chemistry students at a mid-level socioeconomic Central Florida high school. At the conclusion of the instruction, a twopart test written using examples from the students' textbook was used as an assessment to measure the performance of the students. Also the Epistemological Beliefs Assessment for Physical Science (EBAPS) survey was used to measure changes in the students' epistemological expertise. The EBAPS survey was given as a pre and post assessment. The Maryland Physics Expectations (MPEX) survey has also been utilized as a pre and post survey to measure the changes in the students' attitudes towards the course and to show a bridging of the "two-cultures gap".

The MPEX survey indicated no significant changes in student attitudes. Intellectually, it seems as though they still regard physics "as a separate and more-than equal discipline which exists and operates apart from all other activities of the human mind" (Gosselin, 1975, p.15). This is in line with the findings of Abd-El-Khalick and Lederman (2000) in history of science courses where "very few and limited changes in participants' views [ on Nature of Science] were evident at the conclusion of the courses" (Abd-El-Khalick, p.1 ). However, after instruction, the descriptive statistics seem to indicate a shift in the epistemological expertise of the students who received the historically based instruction. They appear to have been able to further develop a pool of "fine-grained epistemological resources" to draw from and activate (Elby, 2003, p.55).

The maturation of the students' epistemological expertise may have led to their higher performance on the unit test. . Students who received the historically based instruction made gains of an average of 6.5% on their tests, with the students showing high epistemological expertise making gains of an average of 12%. By comparison, students in the courses receiving traditional instruction showed no improvement.

Conducting this research has offered an appropriate look at using an historical approach to physics instruction. In my teaching, using an historical approach proved a useful tool; a tool which is often overlooked in secondary physics classrooms. If utilized, this approach to physics instruction may become a key for greater success in the sciences and across the entire academic spectrum.


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Thesis Completion





Jeanpierre, Bobby


Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


College of Education

Degree Program



Dissertations, Academic -- Education;Education -- Dissertations, Academic







Access Status

Open Access

Length of Campus-only Access


Document Type

Honors in the Major Thesis

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