Zombies in the classroom: some problems with representations of canonical experiments in physics educationPeter Heering (Europa-Universität Flensburg)
A number of experiments from the history of physics is materially present in science classrooms, students’ labs or lecture theatres. Teaching devices such as Millikan’s oil drop apparatus, the Franck-Hertz experimental set-up, the rotating mirror set-up to measure the speed of light according to Foucault or Michelson, or Cavendish’s gravitational balance are frequently found in education – some as demonstrations, others as students experiments. Even though these teaching devices have a relation to the history of physics, they are frequently decontextualized and thus not representing adequately the history of physics.
Nevertheless, they appear to have some relevance in the understanding of physics, at least this should be expected due to their frequent presence in educational settings. This claim shall be questioned in my presentation. In doing so, I will discuss some historical experiments in detail and particularly address the process of experimenting. Subsequently, I shall discuss historical teaching demonstrations that represent these experiments. In doing so, I will demonstrate that some devices addressed the procedural aspects of the historical experiment, whilst others focused on the product of the experiment. Finally, I will draw some conclusions with respect to modern teaching devices and their role in creating misunderstandings and misconceptions with respect to the nature of science and the production of scientific knowledge.