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The Application of Historical Narrative in Science Learning: The Atlantic Cable Story



The use of historically based stories to teach science has both theoretical and practical support. This paper outlines how the historically based story may be utilized effectively in the classroom and, as an illustration of this, presents the story of Lord Kelvin’s role in the laying of the first trans-Atlantic communications cable during the period from 1857 to 1866. Expected and observed classroom benefits that accrue from this approach are summarized. The paper concludes with an outline of a program of research which incorporates the development of historically based stories.
The Application of Historical
Narrative in Science Learning:
The Atlantic Cable Story1
Stephen Klassen2
The use of historically-based stories to teach science has both theoretical and practical
support. This paper outlines how the historically-based story may be utilized effectively in
the classroom and, as an illustration of this, presents the story of Lord Kelvin’s role in the
laying of the first trans-Atlantic communications cable during the period from 1857 to
1866. Expected and observed classroom benefits that accrue from this approach are sum-
marized. The paper concludes with an outline of a program of research which incorpo-
rates the development of historically-based stories.
1 Introduction ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 2
2 What can the Historical Science Story Achieve? --------------------------------------------------------------- 2
3 How Should History be Incorporated in the Story ------------------------------------------------------------- 3
4 How Can the Story Incorporation Process be Modeled? ------------------------------------------------------ 3
5 Lord Kelvin and the Atlantic Cable Story ---------------------------------------------------------------------- 5
6 Questions Raised ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ 9
7 Observations ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 10
8 Future Development Plans ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 11
9 Appendix: A Literary Story ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 13
1 Author preprint DOI: 10.1007/s11191-006-9026-x. The original publication is available at
Klassen, S. (2007). The Application of Historical Narrative in Science Learning: The Atlantic Cable Story. Science
& Education, 16, 335352.
2 e-mail:
2 S. Klassen
1 Introduction
The discovery of a good historically-based story
is like the discovery of a hidden treasure. Per-
haps the fascination arises from the romance of
far-removed events with participants who had
the same kinds of hopes, dreams, and struggles
as we, and yet, in a very different environment.
Good teachers often employ such stories in their
teaching. They have found, like Swiss science
educator Fritz Kubli, that bare bones do not
make an appetizing mealfor students (Kubli
2005, p. 520). Historically-based stories (some-
times called cases) are a valuable, some would
say essential, part of providing a rich and di-
versely-connected context for student learning.
One such story is that of the laying of the
first trans-Atlantic communications cable dur-
ing the period from 1857 to 1866, with emphasis
on the role of Lord Kelvin. While the Atlantic
cable story qualifies as one of the great episodes
in the history of science and technology, to the
best of my knowledge, this story has never been
published in the form of an historical case for
use by science teachers and students. Yet, as
Matthews (1994) points out, [i]mportant epi-
sodes in the history of science and culture
should be familiar to all students(p. 50). Of rel-
evance in the presentation of such a story is the
advice of Monk and Osborne (1997) that
[t]o comprehend the importance and signifi-
cance of scientific ideas, it is essential to have
some insight into the social context, the domi-
nant forms of thinking, the numerous blind alleys
of pursuit, and the difficulties of persuading oth-
ers of the validity of any new theoretical interpre-
tations. (p. 409)
This paper includes a discussion of the issues
involved in the designing and use of historically-
based stories, the historical case in the form in
which it has been used in the classroom, and a
description of expected and observed classroom
benefits that accrue from the approach. It con-
cludes with an outline of a program of research
of which includes the development of histori-
cally-based stories.
2 What Can the Historical Science Story Achieve?
There is good evidence that in order to engender
meaningful learning, it is essential that teaching
and learning methods be imbedded in appropri-
ate contexts (Kenealy 1989; Martin and Brouwer
1991; Roth and Roychoudhury 1993). Histori-
cal contexts address the whyand howas-
pects of the development of science and tech-
nology in a way that includes the scientists as
living, breathing persons who are concerned
with personal, ethical, sociological, and political
issues. It is generally accepted that this form of
presentation is likely to engender increased mo-
tivation in students. Such historical materials
must not consist of mere chronologies, but ra-
ther expose the settings in which discoveries
were made in the form of narratives and stories
(Stinner et. al. 2003). The use of stories to teach
science has both theoretical and evidential sup-
port apart from the contextual argument (Egan
1986, 1989; Helstrund and Ott 1995; Kubli 2005;
Miall and Kuiken 1994; Norris et. al., 2005). It is
the literary story form, in particular, that is
known to produce consistent affective engage-
ment (Miall and Kuikin 1994). Narrative tech-
niques in the literary story accentuate… activ-
ity in cortical areas specialized for affect(Miall
and Kuikin 1994, p. 392). Teachers hope to cap-
italize on affective arousal in the form of in-
creased student motivation.
Beyond motivational effects, the story
should raise compelling questions or leave the
student with unresolved problems. These ques-
tions arise not only from the story itself, but
from the scientific issues and science concepts
that the story contains. The identification of
questions or problems as central to the purpose
of the story is in agreement with the views of
Gil-Pérez et. al. (2002), who see the generation
The Application of Historical Narrative in Science Learning 3
of questions as an essential element of the con-
structivist approach to teaching and view of
learning. In their words, [f]rom a scientific
point of view it is essential to associate
knowledge construction with problems: as
Bachelard (1938) stresses all knowledge is the
answer to a question (p. 566). Student ques-
tions are essential to the model of student as
novice researcher which is implicit in the ap-
proach of this paper.
3 How Should History Be Incorporated in the Story?
It is essential that history of science be incorpo-
rated into the story in a manner that does justice
to original sources and sound historical inter-
pretation. Although poetic license is a part of
writing any story, even a historically-based one,
imaginary details must be consistent with the
historical record. History must be placed in its
original context while relating it to our current
views in a manner that respects the originators
and portrays them in a fair and balanced way.
The objective of accuracy or faithfulness to the
historical record must, in turn, be balanced
against the demands of a curriculum that limit
the depth to which the history can be probed. It
should be realized that the place of history is not
only to make a conceptual point but also to in-
troduce the humanistic element into the process
of learning science. Portraying scientists as hu-
man beings, thereby giving students the oppor-
tunity to become affectively involved in the story
of science is a worthy goal in itself. Reading and
researching history of science yields an abun-
dant supply of interesting stories that relate in a
meaningful way to the science that students
4 How Can the Story Incorporation
Process be Modeled?
Like Kubli (2005), I view the story as a door-
openerto the study of a scientific concept and
as only one dimension (although an essential
one) of a contextual approach to teaching. I ar-
gue elsewhere that an effective contextual ap-
proach contains at least five elements, namely,
the (1) practical, (2) theoretical, (3) social,
(4) historical, and (5) affective contexts (Klas-
sen, 2006). These contexts, to the degree that
they are present in a learning situation, interact
with one another and cannot be considered in
isolation. It is possible and, indeed, desirable for
learning to take place in more than one context
at a time.
The approach is summarized in a diagram-
matic fashion in Figure 1 and is called the Story-
Driven Contextual Approach or SDCA (Klassen,
2006). Students will bring their ideas, attitudes,
prior knowledge, and experiences to the whole
learning process and, if the experience is to be
considered a success, they will leave with some-
what changed or new ideas, attitudes,
knowledge, and skills.
The SDCA visualizes the learning process as
beginning with the story. The main role of the
story is to generate interest and raise important
questions about the scientific subject matter of
the story (Metz, Klassen, McMillan, Clough,
and Olson, 2007). After hearing the story, stu-
dents are encouraged to formulate a set of prob-
lems that come to mind which they might ad-
dress. Alternatively, the teacher might supply
questions that are to form the basis for a stu-
dent-group investigation (these could be both
theoretical and experimental in nature). The su-
pervisory role of the teacher is crucial in medi-
ating between initial student concepts as elicited
4 S. Klassen
by the story and the target concepts of the in-
structional unit. Finally, the students will pre-
sent a report on their investigations.
The SDCA is not the only model for incor-
porating history of science with teaching. The
model of Monk and Osborne (1997) gives an-
other perspective. In their model, the emphasis
is on the process of teaching, and they begin
with an activity that elicits the ideas of students.
Elicitation is implicitly included with the SDCA
in the form of the story (a door-opener). Sto-
ries tend to leave certain aspects to the imagina-
tion and by this and other literary means raise
questions and issues in the minds of the listen-
ers. Creatively portrayed stories may also in-
clude illustrations (demonstrations) with an
historical flavor. Monk and Osborne emphasize
experimental tests of questions and hypotheses
and the discussion and evaluation of these activ-
ities by students and teacher. Experimental ac-
tivities (the practicalcontext) are expected to
be a part of the SDCA, and the evaluation of
them will be a part of the preparation for the
presentation of results. The main difference be-
tween Monk and Osborne’s model and the
SDCA is the prominence given to the story in
the SDCA that is intended to help elicit students’
preliminary ideas, stimulate the generation of
questions and problems, and, generally, to en-
hance student motivation.
Some practical questions arise during the
designing and teaching of an instructional unit
that incorporates a science story. The reader
might well ask whether a story should be told to
the class or whether it is all the same if students
read the story for themselves. Cognitive re-
search using MRI has shown that there are sig-
nificant differences in the way the brain pro-
cesses read and told story-like sentences (Mi-
chael, Keller, Carpenter, and Just, 2001). Lis-
tened-to stories produce a significantly greater
degree of semantic processing (Michael, Keller,
Carpenter, and Just 2001), which involves a
heightening of expectations for what will come
next in the story (McDonald and Brew 2001).
Listeners generally respond to oral stories by at-
tempting to determine the point of the story
(Vipond and Hunt 1984) which results in the
generation of a number of questions. The effec-
tiveness of the oral story approach is also sup-
ported by research showing that learning is im-
proved when students generate their own ques-
tions and, subsequently, also their own answers
(Cox and Ram 1999). The raising of questions in
the Atlantic Cable Story was part of the instruc-
tional process as it was initially conceived.
Figure 1 A Schema for the Story-Driven Contextual Approach
The Application of Historical Narrative in Science Learning 5
5 Lord Kelvin and the Atlantic Cable Story
The following story has been used on two occa-
sions to teach various concepts in physics to a
senior class of physics students at the University
of Winnipeg. The story was told to students as it
appears below together with PowerPoint images
of relevant photographs and illustrations with-
out any accompanying captions. Commentary
relating to the educational aspects of incorpo-
rating the story into science instruction is pre-
sented in italics to separate it from the story as it
was told originally.
On August 17, 1858, intercontinental elec-
tronic communication officially began with a
ninety-eight-word message from Queen Victo-
ria to American president James Buchanan
across the first Atlantic cable. The leading scien-
tific figure in the cable-laying mission was the
mathematical physicist Professor William
Thomson, later to become Lord Kelvin. He
worked with financiers, engineers, and electri-
cians(electrical technicians) to make the cable
a reality. The laying of the first functioning At-
lantic cable between 1857 and 1866 was made
possible only through the solution of a wide
range of scientific and technological problems.
Here the student is led to expect that scientific
and technological problems will be raised in the
The main scientific question surrounding
the design and practicality of an Atlantic cable
was conceived at a meeting of the British Asso-
ciation in London in 1854 in the form of a
chance question asked of Kelvin after the
presentations had been made. Kelvin recalls the
I was hurriedly leaving the meeting of the British
Association, when a son of Sir William Hamilton,
of Dublin, was introduced to me with an electrical
question. I was obliged to run away to get a
steamer by which I was bound to leave for Glas-
gow, and I introduced him to Professor Stokes,
who took up the subject with a power which is in-
evitable when a scientific question is submitted to
him. He wrote to me on the subject soon after that
time, and some correspondence between us
passed, the result of which was that a little math-
ematical theory was worked out, which consti-
tuted, in fact, the basis of the theory of the work-
ing of the submarine cable. (Thomson, 1890, p.
Little did the thirty-year-old professor know
that the problem would become an all-consum-
ing one for him and that the he would have a
major role in the laying of the first communica-
tions cable linking Britain and North America
a cable that was known for a time as the Eighth
Wonder of the World (Kimmel and Foster
1866). Interestingly, it seems to be a student ques-
tion at the end of Kelvin’s lecture that stimulated
Kelvin’s interest in the cable signal issue. Students
at this level will already be familiar with Stokes’
Law, and the handing over of the mathematical
aspects to Stokes by Kelvin will likely not go un-
noticed. Kelvin implies that the mathematical
theory was required before he could begin work
on the project. It certainly illustrates the close
linkage of mathematics, physical theory, and
technological development.
Kelvin’s direct involvement in the Atlantic
cable venture began in 1856 when he met Amer-
ican tycoon Cyrus Field. Field had retired with a
fortune at age 33 but re-entered the business
world as a result of the Atlantic cable project
having caught his imagination. It would proba-
bly not have been possible to complete the suc-
cessful laying of a working Atlantic cable be-
tween 1857 and 1866 had it not been for this
combination of genius. Field possessed future
vision, eternal optimism, dogged persistence,
and business prowess. Kelvin possessed an in-
ternational reputation as a scientist, new in-
sights into the physics of the cable, an unfailing
dedication to the project, and an unwavering
confidence in the answers supplied by science.
Of the directors selected for the Atlantic Cable
Company in 1856, Kelvin was the only scientist.
By 1848, he had proposed the absolute (or Kel-
vin) scale of temperature. In 1855, he had pub-
lished the first in a series of papers relating to
cable telegraphy. That same year he was
6 S. Klassen
awarded his first patent for [i]mprovements in
electrical conductors for telegraphic communi-
cation(Thompson 1910, p. 1275). The year
that the Atlantic Cable Company was formed,
he was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal
Society. In the light of these accomplishments
and of their timing, it is not surprising that Kel-
vin was invited to become a member of the
board of the Atlantic Cable Company. Here,
some of Kelvin’s qualifications for undertaking
the project are established for the student. In such
a venture, however, mathematics, physical the-
ory, and technological development must be
joined by business prowess and high finance.
These last two aspects are provided by Cyrus
However, before the venture began, several
areas of study had to be developed, among them
oceanography. Up to that point, the ocean floor
had not been mapped, and, in anticipation of
the Atlantic cable, methods of depth sounding
had to be invented. Another key question that
preoccupied scientists involved in the venture
was signal retardation in a submarine cable of
the length required in the distance of 2050 miles
between Valentia Bay, Ireland and Trinity Bay,
Newfoundland. Kelvin was already prepared
with the electrical theorythat he had devel-
oped beforehand. In an 1857 letter to Helm-
holtz, he had written:
I have worked a good deal … at the solution of
problems (exactly like those of Fourier) regarding
the propagation of electricity through submarine
wires. It is the most beautiful subject possible for
mathematical analysis. No unsatisfactory ap-
proximations are required; and every practical
detail … gives a new problem with some interest-
ing mathematical peculiarity. (Thompson 1910,
pp. 336-337)
Faraday and Morse were convinced that the sig-
nal delay depended only on the capacitance of
the cable, but Kelvin argued that the signal delay
depended on the product of the cable resistance
and capacitance or, in other words, on the
square of the cable length, a statement that be-
came known as Kelvin’s doctrine of squares
(Dibner 1959). Kelvin’s theoretical position
was a scientific controversy. In 1855, the project
electrician on the Atlantic cable, Mr.
Whitehouse, had published a paper disputing
Kelvin’s conclusions based on measurements.
The exchange between Kelvin and Whitehouse
became a public debate. Kelvin argued, in his re-
sponse, that Whitehouse had misinterpreted his
own measurements. Students are now alerted to
the scientific disagreement that existed between
Faraday and Morse, on the one hand and Kelvin
on the other. That such disagreements do, indeed,
exist points to the sometimes tenuous nature of
the early developments in any scientific and tech-
nological field. For a more detailed discussion of
this disagreement, the reader is referred to the rel-
evant section below.
When Kelvin joined the Atlantic cable ven-
ture, it was already too late for the cable design
to be altered. Since he believed the cable re-
sistance to be an important factor, he began test-
ing sample pieces of the cable as it was manufac-
tured. He found that among 45 samples he
tested, the conductivity varied from 42% to
102% of the standard copper sample he used
(Dibner 1959, p. 17). He maintained in his deal-
ings with the Atlantic Cable Company that qual-
ity control measures be taken to insure the pu-
rity of the copper conductor. The complexity of
the situation heightens with the problem of the
lack of quality control in manufacturing. Dealing
with such a difficulty would require knowledge of
the metallurgy of copper wire. An excellent re-
source on this topic is provided by Blake-Cole-
man’s (1992) history of copper wire, and any in-
terested students would benefit from reading the
The process of the laying of the first fully-
successful Atlantic cable consisted of several
short failed attempts and five major attempts,
two of which were successful. Kelvin was aboard
every voyage as an unpaid scientific consultant.
These voyages were made from 1857 to 1866,
with the American Civil War intervening be-
tween the third and fourth expeditions. The ca-
ble-laying missions began in 1857, with two
ships, the Agamemnon and the Niagara, pro-
The Application of Historical Narrative in Science Learning 7
vided by the British and American govern-
ments, respectively. That year mission failures
prevailed from August 5 to 11, until on August
11, when the ships were over 200 miles out, the
cable broke due to the accidental misapplication
of the cable brake that was used to keep the cable
from paying-out in an uncontrolled fashion.
There was no more time for another expedition
that year due to the shortness of the storm-free
period on the north Atlantic. At this point in the
story, the emphasis shifts to the sheer drama of
the venture. Life-threatening dangers alternate
with scientific and technological breakthroughs.
The story oscillates between almost certain fail-
ure and exhilarating success. Students will almost
certainly want to recount portions of the story
from here on to their friends.
By this time, Kelvin was aware of the great
difficulty in measuring signals over wires of the
length required, so, in order to improve signal-
ing capability over the cable, Kelvin used the in-
tervening months to invent a mirror galvanom-
eter, which was called the marine galvanometer.
The mirror reflected a beam of light originating
from a lamp placed behind a slit on a measuring
scale. The letters of the alphabet were transmit-
ted as certain amounts of deflection on the scale
or as positive and negative deflections to repre-
sent Morse code. The invention of the marine
galvanometer was considered so significant at
the time that physicist J. C. Maxwell was in-
spired to write several stanzas of poetry (a par-
ody on Tennyson’s Song IIIfrom The Prin-
cess) which appeared in Nature in May of 1872.
He wrote:
The lamplight falls on blackened walls,
And streams through narrow perforations;
The long beam trails o’er pasteboard scales,
With slow, decaying oscillations.
Flow, current, flow!
Set the quick light-spot flying!
Flow, current, answer, lightspot!
Flashing, quivering, dying.
A major difficulty plaguing the venture was
the struggle to maintain the mechanical integ-
rity of the cable. A restraining force had to be
applied as the cable was released and the ship
moved forward so that the immense weight of
cable extending downward to the ocean floor
did not cause the cable to pay-out uncontrolled
and simply end up in coils on the ocean floor.
The measures taken to keep this from happen-
ing had prematurely ended the attempts in the
first year. In the intervening months, Kelvin not
only constructed his mirror galvanometer, but
worked out the dynamics equations for the ca-
ble, showing that it behaved like a limiting case
of a catenary, making a perfectly straight line
from the point of entry into the water to the
ocean floor. The model allowed the developers
to make more accurate tension calculations for
the cable. Fortunately, most students at this level
will have sufficient mathematical background to
understand the theory of the catenary. Students
do not often have the opportunity to study prob-
lems of crucial importance by means of applying
mathematical and physical theory, as the case is
In 1858 the ships set sail again only to be met
with a severe storm, the worst in living memory,
in which the Agamemnon, carrying Kelvin, al-
most sank. Finally, on July 29 of that year, after
a number of failures and false starts, the ships
met in mid-Atlantic where the two segments of
cable were spliced together and began laying the
cable. (See the Appendix for an account, in the
form of a literary story, of what happened
aboard that voyage.)
It was soon found that the Niagara’s com-
pass was reading incorrectly due to the large
amount of iron in the sheath of the cable coiled
in its holds. This caused the ship to veer off
course badly. A pilot ship was sent in front of the
Niagara to keep it on course. Communication
along the cable was kept from ship to ship dur-
ing the entire process, using Kelvin’s marine gal-
vanometer, to insure that the cable remained in-
tact. On August 5, the ships reached their re-
spective destination ports with their cables. For
the first time in history, a telegraphic message
was sent across the Atlantic, linking North
America with Europe.
The announcement of the success met with
weeks of jubilant public celebration across
8 S. Klassen
North America. Comparisons of this event were
made to the discovery of America and the in-
vention of printing. In the meantime, Kelvin
had left the cable installation to pursue his reg-
ular duties. The electricians setting up commu-
nications under the direction of Whitehouse
found that, contrary to Whitehouse’s instruc-
tions, they needed to use Kelvin’s marine galva-
nometer in order to detect signals. Whitehouse
had his own detection system that he wished to
use, but it did not work. He ordered the opera-
tors to fabricate signals on his own signal detec-
tion system manually and record them as if they
had arrived across the cable. The fact that the ca-
ble was not a complete success was hidden from
the public. The signals were detected with the
mirror galvanometer using a candle as a light
source. Three operators traced the beam reflec-
tion on a wall and made a majority guess as to
the intended character that was being transmit-
ted. During this time, the ongoing disagreement
between Whitehouse and Kelvin came to a cli-
max as Whitehouse insisted on increasing the
signal strength from 600 to 2000 Volts, which
resulted in the cable’s insulation failing on Sep-
tember 18. After this fiasco, the Atlantic Tele-
graph Company dismissed Whitehouse. Soon
the state of affairs of the communications was
realized by the press, and on September 26 of
that year the New York Leader printed the ques-
tion; Have we a pack of asses among us and are
they specially engaged in electrical experiments
over the Atlantic cable? The newspaper ques-
tion showed insight into the situation, since the
developers were, in fact, using the installation
process to develop the techniques needed.
Since the failure caused a financial loss of at
least £500,000 for the investors, there was a great
public outcry and the British Board of Trade, to-
gether with the Atlantic Cable Company, ap-
pointed a commission of inquiry into the mat-
ter, which deliberated from December 1, 1859 to
September 4, 1860. The report issued was com-
prehensive and explicit in its recommendations
for what should be done to insure success. After
that, with substantial effort, Field was able to
raise another £600,000 to attempt to install an
improved Atlantic cable. The largest ship in the
world at the time was the Leviathan, now idle,
having failed financially. The ship weighed
19,000 tons (over 17 million kilograms) and was
powered by an 11,500 horsepower steam engine
(the equivalent of 75 average automobile en-
gines). The company manufacturing the cable
purchased the ship, renamed it the Great East-
ern, and refitted it for the task at hand. The task
of coiling the 2300 miles of cable into three
holding tanks took from January to June of
1865. A crew of 500 was required to operate the
ship, of which 200 were required merely to raise
its anchor as it left port on July 23, 1865. This
attempt to lay the cable was full of problems,
and finally, on August 2 the cable broke after
1,186 miles had been laid. Numerous attempts
to snag the cable and lift it off the ocean floor
failed, and on August 11 the ship headed back to
Surprisingly, the level of optimism about the
venture remained as high as ever. A new com-
pany, the Anglo-American Telegraph Com-
pany, had been formed, and it commissioned
the manufacture of more new cable of greater
tensile strength than that of the previous year.
As the Great Eastern sailed from Ireland on July
13, 1866, it maintained communication with the
shore via the new cable under the scientific di-
rection of Kelvin. It arrived off the shore of
Newfoundland on July 27. A signal was sent
from Newfoundland to Ireland using a minia-
ture homemade battery consisting of a copper
gun cap, a tiny strip of zinc, and one drop of salt
water. The initial speed of operation was eight
words per minute and the cost of transmitting a
message of twenty words or less was $100 U.S.
in gold or $150 U.S. in banknotes.
As a result of his role in the laying of the At-
lantic cable, Queen Victoria knighted Kelvin in
1866. Kelvin was justifiably honored by British
society. In 1892, 26 years later, Queen Victoria
raised Sir William to the peerage, which is when
he became Lord Kelvin. When he died in 1907,
Kelvin was buried in Westminster Abbey, next
to Sir Isaac Newton.
The Application of Historical Narrative in Science Learning 9
6 Questions Raised
Students with some physics and mathematics
background easily comprehend both the practi-
cal and theoretical problems raised by the cable,
and there are a significant number of such issues.
Among the scientific problems raised are (1) the
influence of material purity on the resistivity of
copper, (2) the calculation of resistance of a wire,
(3) the calculation of capacitance of a co-axial ca-
ble, (4) the nature of a signal in a simple capaci-
tor-resistor circuit as a first approximation of a
coaxial cable, (5) the theory of electrical signals in
a long co-axial cable, (6) the density of sea-water
and buoyancy of the cable, and (7) the complex
nature of the forces on a cable as it is being re-
leased into the ocean.
The effect of various impurities and of the
manufacturing process, itself, on the resistivity of
copper wire is a wide-ranging topic in metallurgy
and solid state physics (Blake-Coleman 1992).
Kelvin spent considerable effort in investigating
the effect of impurities, including oxygen, on
copper conductivity (Thomson 1860). Impuri-
ties, like iron, have a strong negative effect, while
the presence of oxygen has a positive effect due to
its scavenging action in forming oxides. The
question of quality controls and their depend-
ency on impurities during the manufacturing
process was of great importance to the signaling
capability, which, as Kelvin showed, depended
partly on electrical resistance. The complexity of
these scientific and technological issues can be an
eye-opener to students, who are used to ap-
proaching concepts in an isolated and simplified
Calculation of the electrical resistance and ca-
pacitance of the first Atlantic cable is an exercise
with results that tend to be surprising to students.
In the first place, they must use the original spec-
ifications to construct a good model for their cal-
culations. They then find that the resistance of the
original 2050 mile length of cable was likely about
23 kilo-Ohms and its capacitance about 300 mi-
cro-Farads. Using their knowledge of elementary
resistor-capacitor circuits, they can readily esti-
mate that the wire time-constant must have been
in the order of seven seconds. Discovering this
fact about the original cable puts into perspective
Kelvin’s legitimate initial concerns about the via-
bility of the cable and the critical nature of the de-
bate over the dependency of signal retardation on
the square of the cable length. Furthermore, Kel-
vin’s derivation is readily comprehensible to in-
termediate university physics students in the
somewhat simplified form published later by
Charles Bright (1898 pp. 528-531).
In my experience, most students have never
considered how to explain signal delay in a resis-
tive-capacitive circuit conceptually. The concept
is not an intuitive one, as is illustrated by the dis-
agreement between Kelvin, on the one hand, and
Morse and Faraday, on the other. Faraday had
come across the problem in 1854 when the engi-
neer Latimer Clark asked him to make observa-
tions on a long cable coiled inside a water tank.
That same year, Faraday published his qualitative
explanation of the signal delay phenomenon he
had observed. According to Faraday, the signal in
the wire created an electrical disturbance from in-
duced opposite charge in the water which, being
at a lower electrical potential, took a longer time
to assemble (Faraday 1854, p. 515). When Kelvin
heard about Faraday’s explanation in a letter
from Stokes, he immediately worked out the
problem, mathematically, for himself. He disa-
greed, fundamentally, with Faraday that the
problem is purely one of electrostatic induction.
Students will appreciate the disagreement over
the issue, and it will help them begin to think
about the concept behind a phenomenon that
they have studied merely as a mathematical deri-
vation, up to this point; however, they would ben-
efit from the consideration of a simple resistor-
capacitor circuit before they delve into the matter
of the extended co-axial wire, as Kelvin did. The
simple circuit may be understood by noting that
due to Ohm’s Law, the resistance hinders the rate
of current flow that serves to charge the capacitor,
thus making it fairly obvious that the larger the
resistance, the longer the charging process will
take. In a similar fashion, it may be argued that
10 S. Klassen
the larger the capacitance, the longer the charging
time will be, since the current needs to flow for a
longer time to charge up the larger capacitor. It
would be interesting to compare Faraday’s initial
explanation as published in 1854, Kelvin’s expla-
nations from analogues as published in his arti-
cles on cable theory (1855a, b) and students’ ini-
tial explanations. Faraday’s and Kelvin’s explana-
tions relied on dynamic processes propagating
along the length of the wire. A simplified expla-
nation of the dynamic process as a function of
time but not distance, as illustrated by the simple
resistive-capacitive circuit, would likely be suffi-
ciently challenging for students.
The repeated breaking of the cable as it was
being laid makes it apparent that the dynamics
involved are important. Simply hanging a cable
into the water where it reaches the bottom at
great depth, may itself be enough to break the
cable, were it not designed properly. To see that
aspect, students may use the original cable spec-
ifications of linear density and tensile strength
(Thomson, 1865). To calculate the tension, the
buoyant force of sea water will need to be taken
into account. Students will then be able to follow
the observation of Kelvin that the deepest water
into which such a cable might be lowered is five
nautical miles (Thomson, 1865, p. 506). Kelvin’s
derivation of the dynamics of releasing the cable
into the water from a moving ship requires stu-
dent knowledge of mechanics and mathematics
at least at the intermediate university level. Stu-
dents uncover a number of interesting issues
when solving the cable dynamics problem. Of
particular note are Kelvin’s observations that
due to the drag forces on the cable its tension at
the bottom of the ocean will be zero and under
that condition the cable inside the water will
form a perfectly straight line, which is the limit-
ing case of a catenary. The tension which must
be maintained in the upper end of the cable is
critical, in that the cable must be released at a
speed to match the motion of the ship through
the water exactly. Although a problem like this
one is challenging for students and requires
considerable guidance from the instructor, it
shows how mathematics and mechanics may be
employed in real worldsituations a some-
what novel and refreshing experience for stu-
7 Observations
The Atlantic cable story has served as motivation
for an experimental and theoretical investigation
by a senior physics laboratory class on two sepa-
rate occasions. Students are provided with a
long coaxial cable (about 300 meters in length) to
represent an Atlantic cable”. Working in
groups, students design experiments to measure
electrical characteristics, such as resistance, ca-
pacitance, inductance, and signal rise-time,
which also requires knowledge of the length of
the cable. At this point, students will not have
the experience or self-confidence to design such
investigations entirely on their own, and the in-
structor will need to provide guidance. Figure 2
shows a spontaneously-generated set of student
planning notes, which outline the areas they
planned to investigate. The reader will note that
most of the questions identified as being raised in
the context are present in the abbreviated student
plan. The working out of the procedure was made
more interesting owing to the length of the cable
which had to be unwound many times around
the perimeter of a large room in order to measure
the characteristics with the cable uncoiled. Some
students chose to work out the equations for the
electrical characteristics of the cable and compare
them to measurements. Others chose to work out
the dynamics equations of Kelvin and make sense
of them.
A number of indications were observed to
suggest that the story-drivenapproach yields
a heightened degree of student motivation and
engagement. These qualitative data may serve to
guide further developments of such contexts. I
observed that students employed a higher de-
gree of creativity than they would with tradi-
tional laboratory activities; for instance, they
The Application of Historical Narrative in Science Learning 11
devised an elaborate method of measuring the
cable length with a standard length of string and
duplicate counting and recording so as not to
make a mistake. As another example of the type
of engagement present, I note the reaction of
one student to the Maxwell poem: This is the
first poem I have ever heard that I liked! Other
indicators of motivation were students’ willing-
ness to speak with me (and other faculty who
were not involved) about their activities and fre-
quent episodes of laughter during the experi-
mental investigations. Kubli notes that [i]t has
sometimes been noted that a lesson without any
festive laughter in the class is sterile and fruit-
less(2005 p. 527). The final exercise of the stu-
dents was to prepare and present a polished
public presentation of the results of their inves-
tigations to the general university community.
Although it takes nervefor most undergradu-
ate students to make public presentations, stu-
dents in my classes have invariably told me that
preparing and presenting results of their inves-
tigations has been the most beneficial learning
experience for them.
Teaching experiences like the one outlined
here have been the most rewarding for me and
also for my students. Nevertheless, they can be
somewhat unsettling since they force both the
teacher and the student to venture into un-
charted waters.Perhaps, this is one reason why
methods like those outlined here have been slow
to gain widespread adoption.
8 Future Development Plans
The Atlantic Cable Story and its instructional im-
plementation is a small aspect of a large program
of research upon which we have embarked in
Winnipeg. We are pleased to report that we have
been able to obtain significant research funding
to support our efforts for the next five years. We
wish, first of all, to become proficient at designing
and writing effective historical contexts and asso-
ciated stories. These efforts are being guided by
qualitative research observations as to the efficacy
Figure 2 Student Planning Notes
12 S. Klassen
of the stories and contexts. Secondly, we are re-
searching assessment instruments to measure
students’ attitudes and motivation, students’ be-
liefs about the nature of science, and students’
conceptual knowledge in the relevant areas of sci-
ence curriculum. We wish to be able to assess all
three areas in a single session so that historical
contexts may be tested in greater depth as to their
effect. The levels of application range from mid-
dle years science to university. Given a multi-
function or multi-part assessment instrument,
research questions can be formulated to measure
the effectiveness of our approach for attitudes,
beliefs, and knowledge of students, and also for
teacher attitudes and effectiveness. Ultimately,
we intend to disseminate teacher resources and
suggested instructional materials, including
booklets and an extensive website. We have
found, in our workshops with science teachers,
that they are expecting that academics will publish
complete historical cases that have both signifi-
cance and validity, so that they can begin to use
them in the classroom.
Acknowledgements The researching and writing of this paper was made possible, in part, through
funding provided by The University of Winnipeg and the NSERC CRYSTAL at The University of
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Appendix: A Literary Story
The Galvanometer
The telegraphic cable-laying ships, the Agamemnon,
and the Niagara, finally met in mid-Atlantic on July 29,
1858. Professor Thomson was stationed aboard the Ag-
amemnon. It is rather an exciting occupation to watch
the tell-tale signals on the Professor’s galvanometer as
the cable pays out. Indeed, it is almost impossible to
realize the anxiety and heart-interest everybody mani-
fests in the undertaking. Few, but the crew, even sleep
soundly. Professor Thomson frequently does not put
off his clothes at night.
To-night, but a few hours after starting, there was
an alarming crisis. The Agamemnon had signaled to
the Niagara, Forty miles submerged,and she was just
beginning her acknowledgment, when suddenly, at 10
P.M., communication ceased. According to orders,
those on duty sent at once for Dr. Thomson. He came
in a fearful state of excitement. One of the crew over-
heard him muttering to himself as he came: I shall
have to use the bridge arrangement of Professor
Wheatstone.” He supposed the fault might lie in a sus-
picious portion, which had been observed in the main
coil, as, indeed, the tests confirmed. Not a second was
to be lost, for it was evident that the damaged portion
must be payed overboard in a few minutes; and, in the
meantime, the tedious and difficult operation of mak-
ing a splice had to be performed. Nearly all the officers
of the ship and of those connected with the expedition
stood in groups about the coil, watching with intense
anxiety the cable as it slowly unwound itself nearer and
nearer the joint, while the electricians worked at the
splice as only persons could work who felt that the life
and death of the expedition depended upon their ra-
pidity. When the splice was finished, the signal was
made to loose the brakes, and the repaired section of
cable passed overboard in safety.
14 S. Klassen
Attention now turned to the electrical room where
the scene was such as those present shall never forget.
The two clerks on duty, watching, with the common
anxiety depicted on their faces, for a propitious signal;
Dr. Thomson, in a perfect fever of nervous excitement,
shaking like an aspen leaf, yet in mind clear and col-
lected, testing and waiting, with half-despairing look
for the result. Behind, in the darker part of the room,
stood various officers of the ship. Round the door
crowded the sailors of the watch, peeping over each
other's shoulders at the mysteries, and shouting gang-
way!when any one of importance wished to enter.
The eyes of all were directed to the instruments, watch-
ing for the slightest quiver indicative of life. Such a
scene was never witnessed save by the bedside of the
dying. Things continued thus. After some minutes,
Dr. Thomson and the others left the room, convinced
they were doomed to disappointment. Suddenly one
sang out, Haloa! The spot has gone up to 40 degrees.
The clerk at the measuring instrument bolted right out
of the room, scarcely knowing where he went for joy;
ran to the deck, and cried out, Mr. Thomson! The ca-
ble's all right; we got a signal from the Niagara.
When the first stun of surprise and pleasure passed,
each one began trying to express his feelings in some
way more or less energetic. Dr. Thomson laughed
right loud and heartily. Never was more anxiety com-
pressed into such a space of time and never was there
more relief. The entire incident of signal failure lasted
exactly one hour and a half, but it did not seem a third
of that time. Afterward, we learned that a faulty sand
battery aboard the Niagara had prevented them from
responding to our signals immediately. (Adapted from
Thompson, 1910, pp. 361-363 and Bright, 1903, pp.
About the Author
Stephen Klassen is a Senior Scholar at The University of Winnipeg.
His Ph.D. (University of Manitoba) is in Science Education, and his
background is in experimental physics. Dr. Klassen’s current research
is in the writing, analysis, and use of history-of-science stories in sci-
ence teaching. His work, in part, is published in Science & Education,
Science Education, Interchange, and Physics Education. Since 1997, he
has presented papers regularly at the periodic International Confer-
ence on History of Science in Science Education (ICHSSE) and has
contributed significantly to its organization, especially in co-chairing
the Planning Committee. As of 2001, he has been actively involved in
the International History, Philosophy, and Science Teaching Group
(IHPST) in various capacities: presenting at most of its conferences,
assuming the role of Program Chair in 2003, and serving on its governing Council from 2010 through 2014 and
the Editorial Committee of Science & Education from 2011 through 2013.
... Grande parte da literatura na área é de natureza teórica, tentando estabelecer características de narrativas que contribuirão para o ensino do conteúdo científico e da natureza da ciência. Exemplos de narrativas que foram usadas nas salas de aula também são encontrados (Avraamidou, & Osborne, 2009;Clough, 2011;Klassen, 2006Klassen, , 2007Klassen, , 2009Klassen, & Froese Klassen, 2014;Metz, et al., 2007;Norris, et al., 2005;Schiffer, & Guerra, 2014) ...
... Embora a licença poética seja parte da escrita de qualquer narrativa, mesmo que baseada historicamente, os detalhes imaginários devem ser consistentes com a história. Nesse sentido, é essencial retratar o contexto histórico da época com precisão, através do uso de fontes originais e secundárias (Klassen, 2007(Klassen, , 2009). ...
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Resumo No contexto das pesquisas da área de ensino de ciências que defendem a História e a Filosofia da Ciência (HFC) como abordagem didática para problematizar aspectos da Natureza da Ciência (NDC) no ensino, este trabalho discute os resultados da aplicação de uma intervenção didática que teve como objetivo investigar as potencialidades e limitações de trabalhar temas de NDC com professores de Física em formação inicial, a partir de narrativas históricas, tomando como base os debates sobre a natureza da luz no início do século XIX. Para tanto, partimos das seguintes questões: Quais as potencialidades e dificuldades de trabalhar temas da NDC a partir de narrativas históricas? Como narrativas históricas podem fomentar a discussão e compreensão de temas da NDC? A intervenção didática constou da aplicação da narrativa histórica em um componente curricular do curso de Licenciatura em Física de uma universidade pública. A análise dos dados forneceu indicativos de que a narrativa construída com base no episódio histórico contribuiu para a problematização efetiva de diversos temas da NDC. A maioria dos alunos apresentou uma boa compreensão acerca dos temas de NDC problematizados ao longo da proposta. No entanto, a intervenção também evidenciou a complexidade envolvida em trabalhos empíricos que envolvem NDC e HFC com professores em formação. Palavras-chave: História e Filosofia da Ciência (HFC); Natureza da Ciência (NDC); narrativas históricas. Abstract In the context of researches in science the teaching area that defend the History and the Philosophy of Science (HPS) as a didactic approach to problematize aspects of the Nature of Science (NOS) in education, this paper discusses the results of a didactic intervention that aimed to investigate the potentialities and limitations of working NOS' themes with physics teachers in initial training, employing historical narratives based on the debates about the nature of light in the nineteenth century. For this purpose, we start from the following questions: What are the potentialities and the difficulties to work with NOS' themes through historical narratives? How historical narratives can promote the discussion and the comprehension of NOS' themes? The didactic intervention consisted of the application of the historical narrative in a discipline of physics teachers´ training course in a public university. The data analysis provided indications that the narrative based on the historical episode contributed to the effective questioning of several NOS' themes. Most parts of the students presented good comprehension about the NOS' themes questioned during the activity proposed. However, the intervention also highlighted the complexity around empirical work
... Science educators have developed a tradition in which particular and relevant instructional narratives of the history of science are injected into lessons to teach science concepts and practices (e.g. Klassen, 2006Klassen, , 2007Klassen, , 2009. Embedding appropriate elements of the history of science in instructional sequences were found instrumental in convincing students that scientific activities (e.g. ...
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This study reports qualitative findings regarding how the science teachers enacted discursive purposes and talk moves to support the students’ experiments. Science teachers may have difficulties assisting students in designing and conducting valid and reliable experiments as the core epistemic practice of science teaching and learning. It is also known that teachers’ talk moves surround all teaching activities. It is therefore contributory to explore the teachers’ verbal scaffolds in aiding the students’ experiments. Nineteen middle school science teachers were the participants. This study was conducted as a naturalistic inquiry where the teachers’ in-class science inquiry implementations were systematically explored and analysed without any external intervention. Episode-based classroom discourse analyses and the systematic observations of the video records were conducted to classify the teachers’ discursive purposes and talk moves. The teachers tried to help the students compose better research questions by prompting them to operate multivariable reasoning. The teachers encouraged the students to replicate their experiments in different contexts with other persons or materials. The students were also assisted in coping with the presumable confounding variables to elucidate some unexpected experimental results. The teachers helped the students to gather reliable data. The students were also supported for generating richer discourse by making their research variables original within an acceptable time interval. Two discursive purposes, encouraging students to compose better research questions and use the given time effectively, were prominent among the observed eight purposes. For actualising these discursive purposes, the teachers enacted 26 types of talk moves with different frequencies. Recommendations were offered primarily in the sense of teacher noticing.
... A historical lineage of questions also helps structure inquiry (through an episodic, or "interrupted," narrative) (FARBER, 2003;HERREID, 2005). The narrative format itself is engaging and also provides a trajectory that leads to a secure resolution of inquiry, which is inherently open-ended (CLOUGH, 2011;HAGEN;SINGER, 1996;KLASSEN, 2007). All these elements should interest the inquiry teacher who is not yet attuned to the virtues of history. ...
O livro pre­tende apresentar novos elementos para a pesquisa em História e Filosofia da Ciência no Ensino de Ciências. Os trabalhos trazem novas questões filosóficas sobre os modelos e narrativas das ciências; os pressupostos culturais dos experimen­tos e teorias científicas e sua relação com o ensino; e, de maneira inversa, como as teorias e pressupostos científicos estão presentes na cultura e na divulgação de conhecimentos.
... Similarly, Lin-Siegler and colleagues (2016) found in their study of 402 high school students that motivation to learn about science increased after reading narratives featuring scientific struggle both personally and professionally. Fulford (2016) found that undergraduates who read science-related historical narratives demonstrated greater comprehension as compared with students who read more traditional expository texts that covered the same conceptual content; Klassen (2007) summarized studies reporting similar positive outcomes, describing how students enjoyed learning about electromagnetic applications through the historical account of Lord Kelvin and the development of Atlantic cable communications. These findings collectively highlight the importance of the sociohistorical and sociocultural context that is invariably present in such narrative texts for fostering reading comprehension ability. ...
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Our purpose in this study was to more deeply understand the ways in which text‐based, sociohistorically situated narratives can be optimally used for promoting reading comprehension. In particular, we sought to understand the experiences and perspectives of young readers from diverse backgrounds (N = 24) as they engaged with science discovery narratives (i.e., stories by or about scientists engaged in the process of discovery), which have been shown to have advantages over traditional expository texts (i.e., those that present information without attending to the discovery process) in fostering comprehension of targeted conceptual information. Interviews were conducted and analyzed using a sociocognitive framework that positioned participants as reviewers of text quality. Findings suggest that the personal and sociohistorical elements of science discovery narratives were effective in engaging readers’ interest and helped highlight the culturally situated nature of knowledge and the nature and processes of scientific inquiry. We conclude by arguing that in the development and instructional use of texts, educators would do well to consider the ways in which foregrounding sociohistorical considerations can foster engagement and, hence, greater comprehension in readers from diverse backgrounds.
... Para estes autores, as narrativas passam a ter um importante papel: favorecer a apresentação de conteúdos científicos e de ideias num contexto social, histórico e cultural mais amplo 17 . As narrativas delimitam um estudo histórico com mais clareza e descreve ações, experiências feitas por um certo número de personagens, bem como sua contribuição na construção do conhecimento 18 . ...
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A historical narrative is presented that represents a snapshot of the theoretical frameworks that occupy a central place in the quantum debate and that gave rise to several interpretations of Quantum Mechanics (QM). Initially, we discussed the argument of Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen (1935) and the later developments focusing on the work of John Bell (1964), which returned the questions of theoretical foundation to the field, also, experimental. Facing the argument that was most important in the search for an interpretation of QM, in accordance with the period, we highlight the Copenhagen Interpretation and its coherence with nature with quantum phenomena. This historical narrative is supported by the theoretical and methodological requirements of the new historiography of the history of science. We use original texts as primary sources and several other secondary ones that run around the EPR argument. A possible contribution of this article is the use by students / professors of physics and enthusiasts of quantum theory, considering that, despite the importance of the discussions on the maintenance of determinism, realism and non-locality, almost all textbooks aimed at QM learning, with rare exceptions, ignores relevant aspects in consequence, it somehow fills gaps regarding the lack of teaching materials.
... The "so what" question is a perennial one in schools, particularly when science instruction is divorced from direct experience [18]. Helping students to connect school learning to the real world can motivate students by providing relevance for what they are learning, whether that is science or technological problems and problem-solving [18][19][20]. Narrative stories and controversies that address science and engineering as they apply to people's lives have the potential to powerfully affect students' attitudes towards and understanding of science, engineering, and technology and how they are practiced [21]. ...
... History of science inspired the development of contextualized science stories that humanize science and facilitate learning (e.g. Allchin 2013;Clough 2011;Conant et al. 1957;Klassen 2007;Matthews 1994Matthews , 2004Stinner and Williams 1993). Historical analyses have pointed out rampant myths in science textbooks and popular accounts of scientists (e.g. ...
Driven by a strong focus on narrowly conceived epistemic aspects of science, the majority of studies with a nature of science (NOS) agenda have contributed scarce insights to those concerned with issues of equity and social justice. On the other hand, orientations to science education with STSE, multicultural, place-based, and informal science offer, mostly implicitly, alternative paradigms for thinking about the nature of science. In this chapter, I propose that holistic NOS frameworks that balance the epistemic and social realms of science lend themselves to supporting rigorous science learning within a social justice agenda. I then illustrate how one such framework, the Family Resemblance Approach to nature of science (Erduran S, Dagher ZR: Reconceptualizing nature of science for science education: scientific knowledge, practices, and other family categories. Springer, Dordrecht, 2014) can serve as a bridge for connecting “cold” or discipline-based to “warm” or community-based notions of nature of science. The chapter concludes with a discussion of NOS features that allow the restoration of its rightful place within a social justice agenda.
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Weaving accounts of the history of science (HOS) into science instruction has been a popular technique by those interested in helping students understand the human side of science. Therefore, including elements of the HOS can be justified for this reason alone. However, a further justification for the use of HOS is its role in providing examples and context when teaching about elements of the nature of science. This chapter examples HOS instructional approaches and offers rationales for its use and an extensive taxonomy based on a review of the literature in this regard. Each of the seven distinct ways by which HOS can inform science teaching and learning is fully described with examples and considerations for use. The chapter concludes with a section detailing some of the challenges associated with a HOS focus in science instruction.
Historical cases and student inquiry are both recognized as effective strategies for teaching nature of science. Here, I show how to combine the two methods. As a result, students not only learn about how science works; they develop skills in asking questions and analyzing what makes scientific claims reliable or trustworthy. Many practical classroom resources are provided.
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Many educators today advocate the use of historical narratives as one of a number of possible contexts for teaching science. However, several pedagogical and epistemological issues arise when implementing narratives in the classroom. In this paper, we are interested in expanding our view of narrative, specific to integrating the history of science and science teaching, and we extend our argument beyond simple anecdotal references to recognise the benefits of the historical narrative in a variety of ways. At the same time, we address pedagogical concerns by broadening perceptions of the manner and contexts in which narratives can be developed so as to include imaginative and manipulative elements that provide interactive experiences for students that are more conducive to implementation by science teachers. Several practical examples are presented as illustrations of historical narratives with imaginative and manipulative elements that by design facilitate a more meaningful implementation in the science classroom.
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Explores the profound connection between human memory and imagination. Educational ideas that find only incompatibility between memorizing and developing imagination and procedural skills are inadequate. Viewing teaching as story telling transforms the curriculum from a huge mass of predigested material to a collection of great stories reflecting our culture. Includes nine references. (MLH)
The following investigation was commenced in consequence of a letter received by the author from Prof. Stokes, dated Oct. 16, 1854. It is now communicated to the Royal Society, although only in an incomplete form, as it may serve to indicate some important practical applications of the theory, especially in estimating the dimensions of telegraph wires and cables required for long distances; and the author reserves a more complete development and illustration of the mathematical parts of the investigation for a paper on the conduction of Electricity and Heat through solids, which he intends to lay before the Royal Society on another occasion.
Five specimens of copper wire No. 22 gauge, out of a large number which had been put into my hands by the Gutta Percha Company to be tested for electric conductivity, were chosen as having their conductivities in proportion to the following widely different numbers, 42, 71·3, 84·7, 86·4, and 102; and were subjected to a most careful chemical analysis by Professor Hofmann, who at my request kindly undertook and carried out what proved to be a most troublesome investigation. The following report contains a statement of the results at which he arrived:— “Sir,— I now beg to communicate to you the results obtained in the analysis of the several varieties of copper wire intended for the use of the Transatlantic Telegraph Company, which you forwarded to me for examination.
Recent observations on the propagation of electricity through wires in subaqueous and subterranean telegraphic cables have brought to light phenomena of induced electric currents, which, while they are essentially different from the phenomena of what has hitherto been called electro-dynamic induction, are exactly such as might have been anticipated from the well-established theory of electrical equilibrium, had experiment afforded the data of relation between electrostatical and electro-dynamic units wanted for determining what dimensions of wire would be required to render these phenomena sensible to ordinary observation. They present a very perfect analogy with the mutual influences of a number of elastic tubes bound together laterally throughout their lengths, and surrounded and filled with a liquid which is forced through one or more of them, while the others are left with their ends open ( uninsulated ), or stopped ( insulated ), or subjected to any other particular conditions. The hydrostatic pressure applied to force the liquid through any of the tubes will cause them to swell and to press against the others, which will thus, by peristaltic action, compel the liquid contained in them to move, in different parts of them, in one direction or the other.