PSA2016: The 25th Biennial Meeting of the Philosophy of Science Association

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Perspectival modeling in primary schools

Our poster illustrates thematic goals of the European Research Council-funded project Perspectival realism. Science, Knowledge and Truth from a Human Vantage Point (University of Edinburgh, 2016-2020). The project’s goal is to re-assess long-standing questions concerning realism and perspectivism by looking at current scientific practice (i.e. Beyond Standard Model Searches at LHC and Dark Energy Survey), the history of science (i.e. Chemical revolution and the discovery of the electron), and the history of philosophy. Can our knowledge be perspectival and situated (Giere 2006), while also being knowledge of the world as it is? This research project tackles this question by looking at the role of perspectivism in current and past scientific practice.

But it is the teaching and outreach component of the project that will feature center-stage in the poster. In May 2016, my team (post-doctoral fellow, PhD student, and myself as PI) run a week-long summer school in a local school on the importance of perspectival modeling in science. We taught over 100 eleven-year-old pupils across all Primary 7 classes. The Deputy Head of the School allowed us to teach the science curriculum, which for that week featured the topic of “inheritance”. Instead of approaching the science curriculum in the usual way, the school gave us freedom to follow an integrated history and philosophy of science approach, which was completely novel to the teaching staff and the pupils and was extremely well received.

Each of the five P7 classes had three sessions (of over 1 hour each) run by myself and my team (Monday through Friday 9am to 3pm). The first session focused on Mendel’s work on pea plants and Mendel’s laws (children found it fascinating as they did not suspect that plants might have traits too). In the second session we explained the discovery of the DNA by looking both at Rosalind Franklin’s work on X-ray crystallography and Watson-Crick model. In the third session, we drew the philosophical lesson coming from classical and molecular genetics and how it challenges intuitive images about scientific knowledge (as a tree or a pyramid of knowledge; with or without dissent). More importantly, we drew attention to the perspectival role of models in improving our understanding of inheritance mechanics, and how genes can be looked at from different perspectives (pre- and post-DNA).

The summer school featured many hands-on activities, such as “build your own DNA model”, “match the chromosomes”, and “the Sherlock Holmes games”, which children hugely enjoyed. In the written feedback, they commented on how they never suspected that philosophy and science might be related and expressed a desire to learn more. The poster will feature photos of the class activities and a demonstration of some of them live (where feasible). We hope this teaching and outreach project can provide an helpful example of how to bring philosophy of science in schools, and integrate it with science curricula.

R. Giere (2006) Scientific Perspectivism (University of Chicago Press).

Author Information:

Michela Massimi    
School of Philosophy, Psychology, and Language Sciences
University of Edinburgh

Casey McCoy    
University of Edinburgh

Franklin Jacoby    
University of Edinburgh


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