Workshop 2: Medieval Science and the Modern Curriculum: Part 3b SECONDARY

Chris, Mary, Hannah and Sam at thought
Brian, Vanessa, Gemma and Sigbjorn similarly

Alongside the Primary Group the two other activity groups came up with ideas for using Grosseteste’s conceptual expression, and the world in which he lived, as anchoring points for lessons. Vanessa’s group, which included Chris Harris from Northumberland Church of England Academy and Mary Howell, Education Consultant and former Head of Biology at Richmond School, as well as Gemma Wain, Sam Sargeant and Sigbjorn Sonnensyn (medievalists from Durham and Bergen/Copenhagen respectively), Brian Tanner, Hannah Smithson and Pierre Dechanet from Durham Mathematics department, created two sorts of task designed for GCSE level students. The first involved activity based around an element of re-enaction of the past through imagined characters. To introduce the history of geometric optics, experimentation, and the transient quality of scientific knowledge it would be more meaningful through personal engagement than simply abstract statements. An exercise on how and why the impact of Aristotle on medieval learning

The Philosopher
The Philosopher

culture was so great, particularly in terms of the natural world would take the form of a medieval debate, drawing on accounts of medieval pedagogical practice. A second and more specific exercise took the form of a class-plan fixed around some of the content of Key Stages 3 and 4, to explore at GCSE optics, parallax and lenses, and at A Level issues in and background to optical physics. At Key Stage three topics on reflection, refraction and the importance of angles would make use of Grosseteste, with experiments to show why he might have come up with the answers that he did, and how these can be refined and corrected. Without drifting towards a linear view of historical development, the notion of different, deeper and more accurate modern investigations of subjects addressed in the past. Grosseteste did not have an Apple Mac, however much we can imagine what he might have done with one! That said, a real question emerged in Vanessa’s group on the lack of emphasis in the current curriculum on the chronology of science and of scientific theory, and whether this culturally-located approach might be useful in this context.

What was striking about these activities, was the similarity in approach to the primary group; the need to contextualise first, to locate the questions being asked about the world in a cultural context. The nature of question-asking, and of the frameworks within which we understand this process, or those within which we instinctively operate, are opened up for debate as a result. Clearly the issues of curriculum requirement and guidelines are prominent at the later key stages – pupils need to pass examinations; but within those circumstances getting to the heart of cultural assumptions, and long-lived questions can only help.

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