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On Idealizations and Models in Science Education

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Idealizations are omnipresent in science. However, to date, science education research has paid surprisingly little attention to the use of idealizations in fostering students’ model competence and understanding of the nature of science (NOS). The starting point for the theoretical reflection of Junior-Prof. Dr. Jan Winkelmann in a paper published in Science & Education is that insufficient consideration of idealizations in the science classroom can lead to learning difficulties. The following discussions should help to clarify the terms idealization and model and their relationship to each other. An example is drawn from physics. At least two cases can apply when considering model usage in the classroom. In the first case, to understand an observed phenomenon, a model (as a representation) of the situation to be explained is constructed. At this point, it is necessary to perform idealization. Seemingly, this step is still neglected in much of the science education literature but is well addressed in the philosophy of science. In the second case, existing models to work with are introduced, perhaps alongside a real experimental situation. This approach is called working with models in science education. This paper focuses primarily on the first case. Against the background of model building, a positioning and conceptual approximation of idealizations take place. To organize the idealization process, a framework of several categories of idealization adopted from science philosophy is offered. The framework is intended to stimulate explicit reflection about how models are constructed. The construction of a model by idealization is illustrated through an example from geometrical optics. Finally, the considerations presented are discussed in the context of the literature, and suggested research topics are provided.

Winkelmann, J. On Idealizations and Models in Science Education. Science & Educaction (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-021-00291-2