Foundations of Science

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Introduction[edit | edit source]

The purpose of this project is to develop learning resources for science with the principle aim of proceeding from the known to the unknown by means of, as much as is possible, rational explanation. This worthy goal has been expressed many times through history, yet science educators, as a whole, have not found it expedient to follow this maxim. Indeed, a common complaint amongst science teachers is that there are too many topics that need to be covered and not enough time in which to do it. As a result, most of science is learnt as a body of facts and ideas that must be memorized with occasional forays into experiments or investigations meant to validate a particular idea and reveal the methods of science. These are often unconvincing.

It has frequently been remarked that science education should focus less on the factual content and more on the methods of science. It is, after all, the habits of thought, i.e., the curiosity, questioning and rational justification based on observational evidence, that are the hallmarks of science and which students must possess when they have completed their general education. That is not to say that it is not important what facts and knowledge are covered in a general science education. Despite frequent attempts to constrict our views of the purpose and purview of science, it cannot be denied that the fundamental motivation behind science is to understand the universe and our place in it. And while science does not comment directly on the purpose of our lives and how we should live, it provides a fundamentally important basis that provides perspective and context for these considerations. Topics to be covered in a complete science education must reveal how science has altered these perspectives throughout history and consequently impacted philosophical and ethical considerations of how we live our lives.

The history of science, while certainly not the focus of this exposition, will be immensely helpful as a guide to developing material, not just in dealing with these big perspectives, but also for individual scientific concepts and ideas. Many of the questions and difficulties encountered by scientists during the historical development of a concept can be perceived in students today learning it for the first time.

Let’s begin then with the most ancient and the grandest of all the sciences, astronomy. We shall restrict ourselves at first to the solar system and branch our from there to the basic physics of forces and motion. After that, we will have to cover a lot of ground before we can once again look up to the heavens in an effort to understand the nature of the stars.

First Steps – Astronomy