Academic Exchange Quarterly††† Summer† 2004: Volume 8,† Issue 2
The Cosmos Corner
Michael J. Bossť,††† David Morrison,††† Stephen Williams,††† Brandi Nowakowski,
Kristin Arrigenna,††† Laurie Davis
Bossť teaches in the Doctoral Program in Mathematics and
Science Education at
Secondary and university students are perennially bombarded with confusing historic theories regarding celestial mechanics.† Most textbook discussions are guided by either strict historic chronology or conceptual frameworks and are generally devoid of the historic philosophical and theological developments which accompanied the work of the respective scientists.† Without an understanding of theological and philosophical debates concurrent with scientific hypotheses and discoveries, the significance of the scientific discussions becomes hollow.† In the form of a play, this paper seeks to provide an understanding of the science, philosophies, and theological viewpoints which surrounded scientists in their historic work.† This fictitious dialog seeks to open the investigation of the history of celestial mechanics by allowing seminal historic participants to discuss their ideas with others who may have predated or postdated them by a millennium or more.
Play Development and Purpose
Writing Plays.† Plays have had a fertile heritage within the history of mathematics and science.† Arguably, one of historyís most influential plays may have been Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World - Ptolemaic and Copernican (1632) by Galileo Galilei (1564-1642).
Publications from mathematics and science education reform efforts repeatedly promote the pedagogical and epistemological value of writing for both learning and assessment (NCSE, 1995; NCTM, 2000, 1995, 1991, 1989).† The approach to teaching and learning through both role playing and play writing is not novel; both practices have been touted as valuable activities for the learning of mathematics and science ideas (Bonnet, 2000; Duveen & Solomon, 1994; Francis & Byrne, 1999; Harwood, McKinster, Cruz & Gabel; 2002).† Play writing† and role-play may be particularly valuable in assisting students to learn more esoteric concepts.† Recently, both methodologies have been used to make mathematics and science more understandable to students (Bossť & Nandakumar, 1998; Duveen & Solomon, 1994; Francis & Byrne, 1999).
The Experience of This Project.† The following play was written as a collaboration between five students and the instructor in a college History of Mathematics course.† The assignment was initially intended to assist those students master the morass of culture, science, mathematics, religion and philosophy within the development and evolution of theories of celestial mechanics.† Group planning and delineation of individualized investigatory tasks led each student to study people, ideas, and events associated with the topic; thus, each student wrote individual reports and became expert in certain aspects of the study.† Through frequent group meetings, students hashed out hypothetical dialogs constructed upon their findings.† Although the student-authors found this task much more challenging than they had anticipated, they took great pleasure as they saw separate components and ideas become integrated.† The participating student-authors reported the process of collecting, analyzing, and synthesizing data into the usable, coherent, and user-friendly form of a play to have been instrumental in assisting them to master the complex material.† Prompted by the instructional success of this endeavor, the play was later used to teach the historical development of celestial mechanics in sections of History of Mathematics and Liberal Arts Mathematics in a novel and fresh manner.† Herein, the play was used as both a read-only homework assignment and acted out as a play by student actors.†
The play writing process was found to have two primary uses.† First, the development of the play required the synthesis of great volumes of scientific, mathematical, philosophic, theological, and biographical information.† This allowed students to construct a thorough understanding of salient factors affecting the historic development of the topic.† Second, students in other classes who later read the play were introduced to a novel and interesting rendition of the material.† In the format of a play, the material became animated and inspired far more interest than previous encounters of static encyclopedic facts.
The Cosmos Corner and other plays can act as models for teacher and students for creating new plays to study other mathematic and scientific concepts.† For teachers considering the assignment of play writing in their classes, it should be understood that the task is profoundly more difficult than other forms of instruction and investigation and that this difficulty is only eclipsed by the depth of student understanding that ensues.
The Purpose of The Cosmos Corner Play.† Theories regarding celestial mechanics have been a significant part of human intellectual and cultural evolution for more than two millennia.† Often secondary grade students find the plethora of scientific theories which have been developed by noted philosophers, scientists and mathematicians to be a tangled, nearly undecipherable, knot.† Added to the complexity of simple scientific theories are cultural and theological interactions which exponentially complicate the study.† Without an understanding of theological and cultural debates concurrent with scientific hypotheses and discoveries, the significance of the scientific discussions becomes hollow.
This play seeks to open the investigation of the history of celestial mechanics by allowing seminal historic participants to discuss their ideas with others who may have predated or postdated them by a millennium or more.† Through a feat of cosmic intervention, seminal participants are free to debate each otherís position in person.† These discussions bring light to the historic cultural and theological debates surrounding respective scientific discussions.† All too frequently, historic personalities are recognized by modern students as inert rather than animated and conjoined with the Zeitgeist of their day.† It is hoped that this play will vivify a historic investigation encountered by many secondary mathematics and science students.
The bulk of the dialog within this play is necessarily fictitious.† Some lines, however, are adapted from statements directly attributable to the seminal characters.† Since some of these quotations are relatively well known, and so as to avoid altering the flow of the play, precise citations and references for these specific quotations are not provided within the play.
Note: For the† text of the play, see †Summer 2004 issue.
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Bossť, Michael J.; Nandakumar, N. R. (1998).† Calculus Ideas Generated through Cooperative Learning.† Mathematics and Computer Education Vol 32, No. 1, 52-61.
Duveen, J. and Solomon, J. (1994).† The great evolution trial: Use of role-play in the classroom. Journal of Research in Science Teaching Vol. 31, No. 5, 575-582.
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Harwood, W.S., McKinster, J.G., Cruz, L. and Gabel, D. (2002).† Acting out science.† Journal of College Science Teaching Vol. 31, No. 7, 442-447.
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