(2014) International handbook of research in history, philosophy and science teaching, Dordrecht, Springer.
Teaching about thermal phenomena and thermodynamics
the contribution of the history and philosophy of science
Concerning the use of history and philosophy in science teaching, the topic of thermal phenomena and thermodynamics is fertile because it relates to various epistemological and philosophical themes, which can be accessible and useful for secondary education, and its history shows interesting debates among scientists and strong relationships between science, technology and socio-economic problems. Moreover, many students' conceptions are similar to ideas and reasoning of ancient theories, and residues of these theories are still present in current scientific language and in textbooks. The debate about the meaning and implications of the second law of thermodynamics involved broad scientific and philosophical problems. Entropy was connected with the theory of information, and thermodynamic ideas were assumed in other fields, such as economy, ecology and sociology. After a general introduction on the role of history and philosophy in science teaching, the chapter presents the main results of research on students' conceptions and difficulties about thermal phenomena, a review of research concerning the use of history and philosophy in teaching thermodynamics and a discussion of historical and philosophical themes having valuable conceptual and cognitive implications that can be appropriate for teaching. Philosophical themes of didactic interest are discussed together with their teaching and learning implications. These themes include the meaning, interpretations and implications of the second law (irreversibility, time arrow, statistical and probabilistic laws and determinism); the relationships between macroscopic properties and microscopic structures; the nature of thermodynamics, its characteristics, language and explanations and its relationships and differences with mechanics; and the relationships between science, technology and general cultural context in the case of thermodynamics. Some case histories useful for teaching are presented, including the theories on the nature of heat; the discovery of thermal radiation, the debate on its nature and the search for its law; the calorific and frigorific rays in thermal radiation; the discovery of the second law; the history of steam engines; the Carnot cycle and its connections with caloric theory and entropy; the history of the cooling law and the definition of a good temperature scale; and the construction of the physical quantity temperature.
Besson, U. (2014)., Teaching about thermal phenomena and thermodynamics: the contribution of the history and philosophy of science, in M. R. Matthews (ed.), International handbook of research in history, philosophy and science teaching, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 245-283.
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