Baroque Tower on a Gothic Base: A Lakatosian Reconstruction of Students' and Teachers' Understanding of Structure of the Atom

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The main objective of this study is a reconstruction of students' and teachers' understanding of structure of the atom based on the following framework: a) history of science can be conceived as that of competing rival research programs; b) some of the greatest scientific research programs progressed on inconsistent foundations; c) in actual scientific practice, counter-examples would be considered as mere anomalies; d) work of Thomson, Rutherford and Bohr led to the postulation of atomic models based on competing frameworks of understanding. This study is based on 171 freshman students enrolled in General Chemistry I and 7 chemistry teachers at the Instituto Universitario de Tecnología, El Tigre, Venezuela. All the students and teachers were asked to respond to a 11 item questionnaire and explain their responses. The questionnaire was administered about a month after the students/teachers had finished the topic of atomic structure. Students' and teachers' responses were classified in the following categories: Positivist/inductivist, Transitional and Lakatosian. Results obtained show that students and teachers: a) have a very similar positivist understanding of the progress of science; b) are inconsistent in their responses by switching from a positivist response on one item to a Lakatosian on an another; c) also showed some consistent response patterns by resisting changes in some of their core beliefs by invoking “auxiliary hypotheses”; and d) consider that observable hard experimental facts give science its objective status, whereas the interpretations being subjective perhaps go beyond the fold of science.

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