Research Interests

Educational reconstruction of general relativity & teaching Einsteinian Physics

Despite its far-reaching scientific, philosophical, and cultural importance, there are few attempts of bringing general relativity to classrooms. I have used the Model of Educational Reconstruction as  a theoretical frame to make general relativity teachable and learnable at upper secondary school level. MER is well suited to investigate the educational relevance of novel topics in physics that have not entered mainstream education yet. The model has guided the development of a digital learning environment in general relativity. Naturally,  findings from the development and evaluation of our learning resources deepen understanding of learning processes in Einsteinian physics.

The picture shows a blackboard with science symbols. One mathematical diagramm, Einstein's famous E=mc^2 equation, another equation and an apple tree with a falling apple.
(Image Magdalena Kersting, All Rights Reserved)

Conceptual understanding of abstract scientific concepts

General relativity challenges our understanding of space and time. Even though it is possible to communicate key ideas in a qualitative way, learners struggle to understand these abstract scientific concepts. We lack experience of relativistic phenomena, because the realm of relativity covers extreme situations such as traveling at the speed of light close to a black hole. My research aims to study learning processes in relativity. In particular, I seek to get a better understanding of how learners build conceptual understanding of the concept of curved spacetime. 


A picture of a chalkboard. In the middle there is one long equation describing the Riemann curvature tensor in general relativity. On the left hand side there is a prism and on the right hand side an atom.
(Image Magdalena Kersting, All Rights Reserved)

The role of language in learning science & collaborative learning

My research is based on a sociocultural perspective that views knowledge as constructed within and distributed among learners in the science classrooms. Students master science by "talking physics" which plays a central role in their conceptual development. This approach is important in Einsteinian physics, because upper secondary students cannot rely on the advanced mathematical framework. Employing a diverse range of analytical tools such as interaction, thematic, or metaphor analysis, I study how learning in Einsteinian physics becomes visible in social interaction - often on a fine-grain scale to gain deeper insights into collaborative learning processes. 


A picture of a chalkboard. On the chalkboard a book, two speech bubbles and a  mathematical graph is drawn.
(Image Magdalena Kersting, All Rights Reserved)

Embodied cognition & embodied interaction

Embodied cognition extends the boundaries of the mind from being inside the brain to including the body’s physical interactions with the world. The position that knowledge is embodied allows science educators to study learning processes through an intriguing new lens: Language and gestures can support conceptualization of scientific ideas and embodied understanding can run into conflict with disembodied scientific concepts. I am particularly interested in metaphors and more generally, findings from cognitive linguistics that show that  metaphors are not only a linguistic phenomenon, but a fundamental feature of thought and the embodied mind.




Gestures on a blackboard
(Image Magdalena Kersting, All Rights Reserved)

History and philosophy of science & philosophy of education

Science educators have to move beyond traditional content-focused instruction to teach concepts of Einsteinian physics. I am interested in employing philosophy of science and history of science in the service of physics education. How can approaches that emphasize  historical, epistemological, and sociocultural aspects foster understanding of and motivation for science? Lately, I've become increasingly interested in drawing from philosophy of education and philosophy of language to inform my research. I have started to draw on Wittgenstein's work to conceptualise learning science as language games in the science class room. 

A picture of a chalkboard with 5 scientific symbols: an atom, a scale, a pendulum, an electricity machine, and a graph depicting oscillatory motion.
(Image Magdalena Kersting, All Rights Reserved)