My current research project, “Teaching How to Think: Thinking Skills and Civic Engagement, 1900-1960,” examines pedagogical approaches to critical thinking in the United States, Britain, and Canada in the first half of the twentieth century. During this period, many educators and psychologists took up the cause of formal instruction in clear thinking as a key element in preparing young people for democratic citizenship. “Scientific” thinking and scientific method were frequently held up as exemplars of clear thinking. I am exploring these efforts to teach abstracted thinking skills to young pupils and how they drew on wider worries about the dangers of mass suggestibility and irrational thought. A current focus in this project is the history of transfer of training research—namely, studies carried out by psychologists in the first half of the twentieth century that examined (and disputed) whether learning skills acquired in one subject readily transferred to other domains.

Conference papers based on this research:

ISCHE 2015

“Robert S. Woodworth, Charles H. Judd, and the Problem of Transfer,” Canadian Society for the History and Philosophy of Science, Toronto (May 2017)

“Science Education as Civic Education: Clear Thinking and the Problem of Transfer, 1900-1945,” History of Science Society, San Francisco (November 2015)

“Teaching to Think: Formalizing and Popularizing the Teaching of ‘Clear Thinking’ in Britain and the United States in the 1930s,” International Standing Conference on the History of Education, Istanbul, Turkey (June 2015)

“Science Education, Clear Thinking, and the Problem of Transfer,” British Society for the History of Science, Swansea, UK (July 2015)

Invited Talks

Comment apprendre sur l’apprentissage : l’histoire de la recherche sur le transfert de la formation (How to Learn about Learning: Transfer of Training Research and Its Educational Relevance), Université de Sherbrooke, Speaker Series of the Canada Research Chair in Practical Epistemology: The Development of Critical Thinking (April 2018)

In the early twentieth century, educators increasingly drew on research in experimental psychology for authoritative principles about teaching practices and student learning. This paper will examine the long history of transfer of training research, which aimed to determine the extent to which mental skills acquired in one domain could be transferred to other domains. Transfer research immediately generated controversy—not only because psychologists disputed each other’s methods and theories of learning, but also because it was unclear whether the artificial conditions of laboratory experiments could say much, or anything, about how students learned in classrooms. The history of transfer research highlights the uneasy relationship between educational research and educational practice and the methodological challenges of conceptualizing human learning since the early twentieth century. (Résumé en français)


Just a Theory: The Atomic Theory Debate and High School Chemistry, 1905-1917,” Historical Studies of the Natural Sciences 47.4 (Sep 2017), 494–528. doi:10.1525/hsns.2017.47.4.494.

Review of Creating Complicated Lives: Women and Science at English-Canadian Universities, 1880-1980, by Marianne Gosztonyi Ainley, Historical Studies in Education/ Revue d’histoire de l’éducation 25, no. 2 (Fall/automne 2013): 156-158. Available here.

“Shunning the Bird’s Eye View: The Adoption of General Science in Quebec and Ontario Secondary Schools,” Science & Education (Apr 2013): 827-846. doi:10.1007/s11191-012-9517-x.

“Learning in the Lab: The Introduction of ‘Practical’ Science Teaching in Ontario’s High Schools in the 1880s,” in Learning by Doing: Experiments and Instruments in the History of Science Teaching. Edited by Peter Heering and Roland Wittje. Stuttgart: Verlag, 2011.

“Longevity in a Bottle? Aging and Rejuvenation in Medicine and Literature,” Idea&s: The Arts and Science Review 3.1 (spring 2006): 56-59 [non-refereed]. Available here.

My dissertation, “Constructing School Science: Physics, Biology, and Chemistry Education in Ontario Secondary Schools, 1884–1965,” is a history of science education reform in Ontario from 1880 to 1940. I examine successive eras of science education reform in secondary schools, including the rise of laboratory science, the spread of general science programs, and efforts to teach science “humanistically.” My research considers the rhetorical strategies employed by scientists and educators to persuade educational policymakers and the public about the value and purpose of science education. I place these developments in international context by examining how educational movements conceived in other places, especially the United States and Britain, were filtered and transformed in the distinct educational context of Ontario. This research contributes to a relatively recent body of literature that promotes a greater appreciation of pre-college science education—an area that has often been overlooked in favour of higher education and the training of specialists—as an important window onto the public perception of science. I was supervised by Chen-Pang Yeang (University of Toronto) and Yves Gingras (Université du Québec à Montréal).