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Assessing the Development of Critical Thinking in Greece through an Approach

of Teaching Science to Primary School Students which Incorporates Aspects of

History of Science

Katerina MALAMITSA, Ph.D. in Science Education, Faculty of Primary Education,

National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece, Email:
Panagiotis KOKKOTAS, Professor, Faculty of Primary Education, National and
Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece, Email: kokkotas@primedu.uoa.gr
Michael KASOUTAS, Ph.D. student, Faculty of Primary Education, National and
Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece, Greek State’s Scholarship (IKY), Email:
Efthymios STAMOULIS, Ph.D. student, Faculty of Primary Education, National and
Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece, Greek State’s Scholarship (IKY), Email:
Abstract: In this paper a) we have tried to define critical thinking by analyzing it in its
components or characteristics, b) we are presenting the argumentation about the
importance of incorporating aspects of History of Science in science education and c)
we discuss our attempt to shape a proposal for teaching science by using aspects of
History of Science and especially the Galvani – Volta controversy with the aim to
cultivate sixth grade Greek primary school students’ critical thinking.
Key Words: critical thinking teaching program, conceptual change, electromagnetism,

Theoretical Framework
In spite the necessity of developing student’s critical thinking proposed by
academics, researchers and educators there is great difficulty in defining critical
thinking and consequently in assessing it. The concepts advanced by R. Ennis (1987),
R. Paul et al. (1995), M. Lippman (1991), H. Siegal (1988) and R. Sternberg (1985a,
1985b, 1987) among others were prominent and influential. In the relevant literature
critical thinking is conceptualized according to where emphasis is given each time:
i.e. as logical fallacies (Dreyfus & Jungwirth, 1980; Jungwirth & Dreyfus, 1990;
Jungwirth, 1987), as formal reasoning processes or skills (Blair & Johnson, 1980;
Lawson, 1982, 1985; Obed, 1997), as scientific reasoning in general (Friedler et al.,
1990) etc.
An historical benchmark in conceptualizing critical thinking is the consensus
of a panel of 46 leading theoreticians, teachers and critical thinking assessment
specialists from several disciplines as it is described in the conference proceedings of
the American Philosophical Association (APA) widely known as the “Delphi Report”
(Facione, 1990a: 12). Based on the APA Delphi consensus conceptualization of
critical thinking a series of psychometrical instruments were created and the “Test of
Everyday Reasoning” (TER) which was used in our researchi.
In this context for critical thinking, we believe that science education could
constitute an appropriate field promoting critical thinking skills by challenging students
to question the bases of knowledge, by stimulating critical reflection on the
knowledge and experience gained inside and outside the classroom, by promoting
awareness of subjective and ideological biases and by developing the ability to
analyze evidence expressed in rational argument.
Furthermore, Roth and Lucas (1997) point out that “meaningful learning in
scientific classrooms appears to require that students’ world views are commensurable
with that of the science they experience in and through the reenacted curriculum ”. In
general students hold views different or alternative to those that they will be taught in
their courses.
A common problem is that many of the contemporary science programs focus
on teaching the content of science and not the methodology of science, or its
development, history and effect on our society. In our point of view, History of
Science can provide content material which could be used in science teaching
(Matthews, 1994; 1998a; 1998b; Stinner et al, 2003, Stinner & Williams, 1998)
enhancing the way students understand how science works and promoting the
development of the thinking skills needed to critically analyze ideas and compare
them with observations about nature.
According to Monk and Osborne (1997) it is crucial to incorporate the role of
epistemology in the History of Science - because the answer to the question “how we
know” is an important aspect of our account of science and the evidence for our
ontological commitments. Additionally, in the context of science education scientific
epistemology is a central concept and an essential critical skill required to participate
in any scientific discourse.
In our proposal, we have designed and implemented a teaching project which
explicitly tackles issues in the broader context of History of Science, together with
aspects of the Nature of Science in a pronouncedly non-authoritarian and student-
centred approach. During the implementation we took into account the possibility to
provide opportunities to the students who participated to our project to directly address
values connected to science, its history and its nature.

Research Design – Methodology and Findings

The purpose of our research is to examine whether the exploitation of cases of
History of Science and especially the Galvani - Volta controversy in science teaching
contributes towards sixth grade primary school students’ critical thinking skills
development (Binnie, 2001, Seroglou et al, 2001).
We decided to develop a project by using concepts of electromagnetism as
well as presenting some of its historical aspects (Galvani and Volta, Oerstead and
The duration of the project was thirty hours of which twenty six hours were
devoted to teaching and four hours to the evaluation of the project. We designed
twelve worksheets through which we have tried to transform our theoretical
background into “hands on and minds on activities” for the students. During the
implementation of the project for example, the teacher was trying to cultivate critical
thinking by requiring students “How, Why and What If” questions in order to redirect
their thinking.
The evaluation of our project consisted of three interlinked strategies (classroom
observation, evaluation of the students’ answered worksheets and TER scores) in order
to measure and assess the development of students’ critical thinking skills who
participated to the teaching project which used aspects of History of Science (for
example the Galvany-Volta controversy). Pre-post testing procedures were also used
were appropriate. In this paper we are presenting results of the students’ answers in the
questionnaires before and after the implementation of the teaching project.

Our study expresses mainly the need to create opportunities for students to help
them develop their understanding of how scientific ideas are accepted and/or rejected on
the basis of empirical evidence, and how scientific controversies can arise from different
ways of interpreting such evidence.
We support that in this way science learning is viewed as a process of active
individual construction (of knowledge), as a social process which involves others in this
construction (students, teacher, parents, experts, etc) and finally as a process of
enculturation into the scientific practices of the wider society (Cobb et al. 1996).
The results of our research showed that students generally respond positively
both to the introduction of History of Science (practical work with real materials) and
to the learning environment that our project created (constructivist approach focused
on developing critical thinking). Our findings support that the use of aspects of
History of Science: (a) creates instructional tools the use of which could improve
science teaching in classrooms by adopting a pluralistic methodology (formulating
questions, seeking answers, interpreting data, problem solving, decision making and
developing arguments), (b) supports learning by conversing for discussing, arguing
and building consensus among members of a learning community and (c) contributes
towards students’ critical thinking development.

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We translated the TER (into Greek) and a field-test was arranged which included 350 persons,
including primary school students, secondary education students and undergraduate students. The
sample was collected from urban, suburban and rural areas of Greece. For data storage and analysis we
used SPSS 13.0 for Windows (SPSS Inc. Chicago, IL, USA).