Department of Physics and Astronomy

Representations in Physics

RICH mirrors

How can the different resources we use in physics be coordinated in order to improve the teaching and learning of physics?

An understanding of the ways in which representations that are used in physics – semiotic resources such as graphs, diagrams, mathematics, spoken and written language, experimental routines, measurement equipment, etc. – work together to make learning possible is central to successful teaching and learning in undergraduate physics.

Current projects

In this research area we examine the roles that semiotic resources play in physics learning, both individually and together. Using an analogy to language learning, we have documented the ways in which students become “fluent” in each of these semiotic resources. One of the main theoretical contributions of the division is the idea that there is a critical constellation of semiotic resources that students need to become fluent in before they can appropriately understand any physics concept.

Representation and knowledge construction
In what ways do teachers craft their practice with respect to the semiotic resources available in the discipline?

Disciplinary literacy
We define disciplinary literacy as appropriate participation in the communicative practices of the discipline. In what ways do students become disciplinary literate? What do lecturers and students think is necessary in order to achieve disciplinary literacy?

Language in physics
In many countries physics is taught in two or more languages: English and the local language(s). In this research area we investigate the implications of teaching and learning undergraduate physics in a second language.

The role of language in the teaching and learning of physics
In many countries physics is taught in two or more languages: English and the local language(s). In this research area we investigate the implications of teaching and learning undergraduate physics in a second language.

The role of mathematics in physics 
It has often been claimed that the language of physics is maths. Indeed in some areas of physics we can only really approach the subject through the use of mathematics. In this research area we examine students' experience of the mathematics they meet in their undergraduate physics courses.

Representation in astronomy
In this work we examine, amongst other things, the particular problems associated with discerning the three-dimensional nature of the universe when all of the available representational input is essentially two-dimensional.

Social Semiotics in the teaching and learning of physics
By far the most well-researched semiotic resource system is that of language. In this work we have extended the work done in Systemic Functional Linguistics to encompass other semiotic resource systems such as diagrams, equations and measurement equipment.

Variation Theory in the teaching and learning of physics
People notice that which varies. In this research area we have systematically applied variation theory to suggest that for each disciplinary task we should first, identify the disciplinary relevant aspects, second select the semiotic resources that make these aspects accessible and third, create patterns of systematic variation within and across these semiotic resources in order to allow students to notice these aspects.

Active Learning Initiatives
Student experiences of research-based active learning activities are explored, primarily through the use of questionnaires. Methods explored include micro-labs, collaborative problem solving and translation between different representations. Activities are evaluated and developed to enhance creative deep-approach learning.

Highlights

Collaboration and Practice

In our work with representations we have established collaborations with Linnaeus University Kalmar, Kristianstad University and the University of Gothenburg in Sweden; Humboldt University of Berlin, Germany; University of Sydney, Australia; and, the University of Boulder Colorado, USA.

We have used our knowledge in this area to devise a number of successful interventions for learning in undergraduate physics.

Pictionary Physics (in Swedish, opens i new window)
En kvalitativ undersokning av ett didaktiskt verktyg i enlighet med
The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.