In the post-war years, an educational reform movement prevailed in the Netherlands, which also included the natural sciences. For example, astronomer Prof. Dr. Marcel Minnaert founded the Werkgroep Natuurkundedidactiek (WND) in 1950. This sense of reform translated into a number of committees in the 1960s that were tasked with modernizing the curriculum of various subject areas. In 1966, the first “Woudschoten conference” for physics didactics was organized, an annual conference that still exists today.
In the early 1970s, the Physics Curriculum Development Project (PLON) was launched. This was hosted by the department of physics didactics at Utrecht University. The project, funded by OCW, ran from 1972 to 1985. One of the aims of the PLON project was to investigate the fundamental objectives of the physics curriculum. The PLON staff wanted to "develop a radical new perspective on good physics education."
In the 1980s, four colleagues, Eijkelhof, Jörg, Van der Valk and Wierstra, were awarded a PhD in physics didactics, based on research related to the PLON project. In those years, the didactics of the natural sciences at UU were housed in the various didactic subject groups (physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics (OW&OC)). Although these (and related) groups were physically and institutionally separate, subject-didactic collaboration did occur, initiated by Lijnse (physics education) and Verdonk (chemistry education). The first issue of the Journal of Science Didactics (TD-β) appeared in 1983.
In the 1990s, this collaboration was expanded and formalized in the Center for Didactics of Mathematics and Natural Sciences (CD-ß). This center officially started January 1, 1989, and aimed at closer cooperation between the different departments in the areas of teaching, development work, and research. CD-ß played a central role in the development of a secondary education subject called General Science (Algemene Natuurwetenschappen, ANW), and, from 2005, of a course called Nature, Life and Technology (NLT).
In 2006, the two groups actually merged into the Freudenthal Institute for science and mathematics education (FIsme). Initially, the departments were still physically located at different sites, but over the next few years the departments of Biology, Chemistry and Physics came together in the Buys Ballot building at the Uithof, where the Mathematics group also moved in 2010 and where the current Freudenthal Institute is still housed. Important research themes in didactics of the natural sciences in those years were the so-called problem-posing approach (Lijnse), micro-macro thinking (Knippels), the context-concept approach (Boersma, Pilot) and systems thinking (Bulte).
In 2014, the merger of FIsme with the Department of History and Philosophy of Science took place, from which the current Freudenthal Institute emerged.