The Trial of Galileo
Project Profile || Background || Teams || Resources || Evaluation  

Teaching Notes

This simulation is designed primarily to portray the complexity of Galileo's encounter with the Inquisition. Most notably, the popular impression of a heroic conflict between science and religion is largely unwarranted. Reviving the historical perspective of 1633 is an instrumental and well as ultimate aim.

The format allows 34 students to each give a presentation on a different topic, either for Galileo or the Church. They work in small collaborative teams of 2 to 4 (fitting their work together on a shared theme, but each accountable to a separate task). (Some topics may be consolidates; in some cases, there are extension topics that allow for additional roles.)

The presentation topics are organized thematically, delving ever more deeply as the trial progresses, beginning with the basic astronomical observations and proceeding through problems of explaining motion and interpreting observations, to interpreting scripture, court politics and the legal technicalities of the charges against Galileo. This also provides different levels of challenge for students with varying abilities.

In my class, I require a written position paper (the primary, or more secure, basis for evaluation). I also require a short, 3-minute in-class presentation (not graded for quality) to support the development of public-speaking skills (students may not read their statement or rely on note cards). I also require an image, to nurture skills in visualization. I ask students to submit their position papers in advance, allowing me to give them feedback before the in-class trial, and alerting me to where presentations may potentially be weak. (As teams change, I typically summarize the previous team's presentation, highlighting the major elements and filling in as needed.) Our in-class trial generally fills a 2.5-hour class, with minimal discussion.

Simulation assembled by Douglas Allchin || last revised Nov. 27, 2006