The Spiral of Teaching and Learning in Physics and Astronomy

Urban Eriksson

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


When students start to learn physics and astronomy, they immediately are confronted with a multitude of representations packed with disciplinary information. This information is embedded in these representations and the students need to learn to discern the relevant information. This is not straightforward, and requires a lot of teaching and practice before being mastered. It carries many similarities to learning a new language – the language of physics, astronomy, or other sciences. 

However, it all starts with disciplinary discernment from those representations, something that has been shown to be challenging for students. Often the teacher who knows the representations and their appresented meaning—their disciplinary affordances—assumes that the students discern the same things in those representations as the teacher does. Research has shown that this is not the case and such assumptions leads to educational problems for the students and make learning physics or astronomy unnecessary difficult, or even inaccessible to the students. The students need be given the opportunity to develop their competency in discerning disciplinary-specific relevant aspects from representations; a competency referred to as Reading the Sky in an astronomy context, and described by the Anatomy of Disciplinary Discernment (Eriksson, 2014a; Eriksson et al., 2014b).

Furthermore, physics and astronomy are subjects aiming to describe the real multidimensional world, hence involve a substantial amount of spatial thinking. The students need to learn to extrapolate three-dimensionality in their minds from two-dimensional representations, which have been shown to be challenging to students. Unfortunately, this competency is often taken for granted and rarely addressed in teaching (Eriksson et al., 2014c).

In this talk we present a model in which we identify and describe the critical competencies needed to “read” disciplinary-specific representations; it concerns not only disciplinary discernment but also spatial thinking and disciplinary knowledge. These are combined into the Spiral of Teaching and Learning (STL), a new and powerful model for optimizing teaching and learning science (Eriksson, 2014a; Eriksson, 2015). We discuss consequences and possibilities when applying the STL model and give an example of how this model can be used in teaching and learning astronomy.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventFrån forskning till fysikundervisning -
Duration: 1980-Jan-01 → …


ConferenceFrån forskning till fysikundervisning
Period80-01-01 → …

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Didactics (50302)
  • Other Physics Topics (10399)
  • Astronomy, Astrophysics and Cosmology (10305)


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