History and Philosophy in Science Teaching
Curriculum Modules K-12

One of the most exciting aspects of teaching science is conveying how science is done and engaging students in the process of discovery for themselves. History of science is one of the best resources for this (see below). Here are several ready-to-use curriculum modules, organized by grade level and subject, shared by a group of Minnesota teachers under the sponsorship of SciMath-MN and The Bakken Museum.


Middle School

Physical Science



A Role for History and Nature of Science in the Classroom

History is not a stranger to the science classroom. Teachers often include stories about famous discoveries and scientists--adding a human dimension (and sometimes a bit of humor) to the scientific concepts. What student does not hear of Charles Darwin and the theory of evolution, Dmitri Medeleev and the periodic table, Marie Curie and radioactivity?

But history can be valuable for other reasons, as well. First, historical case studies allow teachers to convey an understanding of the nature of science--how scientists pose questions, design experiments, interpret results, generate alternative hypotheses and decide between them. They also provide an excellent opportunity for talking about the cultural, economic and ethical contexts of science--and how scientific discoveries, in turn, fit in society and relate to other fields of study. History also shows how scientific knowledge changes, leading students to appreciate both the achievements and limits of science.

Even more important, perhaps, history provides a context for understanding how students learn fundamental concepts. Students, like their historical counterparts, are learning concepts for the first time--without prior knowledge about the significance of those concepts. History shows what originally motivated various investigations, often in ways that students today can appreciate. History can also reveal common preconceptions of various topics, conceptions that must be transformed if teaching is to be effective. Historical debates often show how to address such misconceptions. History is thus an important tool for a constructivist classroom, where students "construct" their own knowledge by confronting and developing new explanations for discrepant events drawn from history.

The important role of history and nature of science among objectives in science education has been recognized in several emerging national standards for science education. The National Research Council's National Science Education Content Standards , for example, specify standards for learning:

These complement other standards for learning "science as inquiry" and "science in personal and social perspectives."

These historical and philosophical themes guided the teachers who assembled the curriculum modules listed above. We hope that you will find them valuable tools for teaching specific concepts more effectively, while also conveying something about the process of science.


All the teachers in this project attended the Third International Conference on History, Philosophy and Science Teaching in Minneapolis, Minnesota, October 29-November 1, 1995. The conference brought together historians and philosophers of science and science educators from over 25 countries to discuss practice, educational philosophy, teacher education, and science education policy. Copies of the Proceedings of this conference (2 volumes, 1318pp.) are available. The teachers were supported by a generous grant from SciMath-MN, with additional support from the Bakken Museum and Library.

For more information and resources on history and philosophy of science in science teaching is available at the SHiPS Resource Center.

Project Coordinator and Editor: Douglas Allchin
last updated 12/99