Johannes KeplerI’ve recently been reading about theories and strategies to introduce narrative in K12 science education. Much of the research concerns efforts to develop students’ appreciation of the “aesthetics” of scientific inquiry. One suggestion is to include more narrative accounts of how scientists go about the business of scientific inquiry. I don’t believe this is unprecedented, it’s simply not the way we’ve come to expect a scientific experience to occur in the classroom.Yet there is a rich history of scientists who weave their personal learning and experience into the accounts of their findings.

One of my favorites is Johannes Kepler, who would often write lengthy accounts describing his own failed experiments. Critics complained he did this to exaggerate the difficulty of his work but I believe that a blend of narrative and inquiry is important. It presents a picture of not just achieved results but the grit, focus, and unquenchable curiosity that characterizes much of our scientific heritage. Why we conduct science and what we feel we are achieving (or perhaps meant to achieve) is a subjective human element that students have a right to explore when they are asked to participate in science education.

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  • Tracy Russo

    Thomas Armstrong also wrote about storytelling and narrative as one of the original ways that scientific inquiry was transmitted in his older work on Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, with the bonus of engaging that unquenchable curiosity you mention. 

    • William Cain

      Thanks Tracy, that’s a great added perspective to my thoughts on narrative. I’m becoming more convinced that scientific explanations through narrative may be harder to achieve than communicating the work and nature of scientific inquiry by similar means. Thanks for reading!