Knowledge Organization and its Representation in Teaching Physics: Magnetostatics in University and Upper Secondary School Levels

University of Helsinki, Finland

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Physics has been always one of the most challenging subjects to learn for university and school students. It is also considered a demanding topic for teachers who aim to teach it efficiently. Therefore, one of the most important notions in physics is to find suitable ways to maximize productive learning and teaching outcomes. One of the most important factors that influence physics learning and teaching is the organization of physics knowledge and the ability to arrange its concepts properly. In physics education, the organization of knowledge and meaningful structural patterns is a vital component of teachers’ subject matter knowledge. Correspondingly, physics textbooks, teachers, and lecturers are expected to translate their subject matter knowledge with the most pedagogically effective approaches. So another central component in physics education is teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge, which is about a) the most essential representation forms (e.g. analogies, models, examples, simulation) that teachers employ in the classroom, and b) students’ misconceptions and difficulties as well as the best approaches to diminish those complications. This thesis examines the organization of knowledge and representation forms used by teachers and found in university and upper secondary school textbooks. Magnetostatics is recognized as one of the most challenging topics in physics, which the society of physics education has largely disregarded. In this study, we concentrate on two important magnetic laws of Biot-Savart/magnetic flux density and Ampère. These laws as well as their applications and examples are employed broadly in both upper secondary schools and universities. These topics provide us sufficient space to investigate the organization of physics knowledge as well as the most appropriate representation forms. In these studies, we utilized a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods to collect data. Different samples are selected from standard university textbooks, teachers at the University of Helsinki, Department of Physics, and some teachers from highly reputed upper secondary schools in Helsinki, Finland. To study the organization of knowledge of teachers and textbooks, their structures are first portrayed by means of concept maps. Second, structural measures are applied to evaluate any meaningful patterns detected in these concept maps. Structural measures contain complex network observables such as density of links, hierarchy, clustering, cycles, and loops. In other cases, the structural measures are confined to the number of dead-ended concepts, core concepts, incoming and outgoing links. Results reveal certain similarities and differences between the ways knowledge is organized and arranged within the subject matter of teachers or textbooks. The results report the shared concepts and structural patterns between university teachers and the textbooks they use for their teaching purposes and identify differences between the structural properties of two laws of Biot-Savart and Ampère. The rest of the results inform us about a variety of forms that could be employed to represent these laws. Recognized representation forms include experiments and demonstrations, stating facts in physics, inductive and deductive reasoning, examples, and explanations, and models such as analogies, mathematical models, and visual models are ultimately drawn from the data analysis through this research. The novelty of this thesis is its briefly examination and discussion of the possible link between the organization of knowledge, which functions as teachers’ subject matter, and their representation forms, which serve as their pedagogical content knowledge. This thesis also discusses the implications for teaching and learning as well as practical applications of it.

Full reference

Majidi, Sharareh (2013). Knowledge Organization and its Representation in Teaching Physics: Magnetostatics in University and Upper Secondary School Levels. Academic dissertation. University of Helsinki, Finland.

Report Series in Physics HU-P-D209, ISSN 0356-0961, ISBN 978-952-10-8938-1 (printed book), ISBN 978-952-10-8939-8 (pdf version),, Helsinki University Printing House, Helsinki 2013. Available online in

List of papers

Majidi, S. & Mäntylä, T. (2011). The knowledge organization in physics textbooks: A case study of magnetostatics. Journal of Baltic Science Education, 10(4), 285-299.

Majidi, S. (2012). Structural patterns and representation forms of university physics teachers: Biot-Savart Law and Ampere’s law. Journal of Baltic Science Education, 11 (4), 318-332.

Majidi, S. (2013). A comparison between the knowledge organization of university physics teachers and the textbooks they use: Biot-Savart law and Ampere’s law. Accepted for publication in International Journal of Mathematics and Science Education. DOI: 10.1007/s10763-013-9457-1
“The final publication is available at”

Majidi, S. & Emden, M. (2013). Conceptualizations of representation forms and knowledge organization of high school teachers in Finland: “magnetostatics”. European Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 1 (2), 69-83.


Department of Physics
P.O. Box 64
FI-00014 University of Helsinki
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