Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Science Education, Mallinson Institute

First Advisor

Dr. Janice Gobert

Second Advisor

Dr. Robert Hafner

Third Advisor

Dr. Dean Halderson

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Sylvia Culp


The objective of this research was to investigate the knowledge structure in physics by describing the knowledge of experts, intermediates, and novices. A review of the literature on expertise, physics knowledge, and conceptual structure provided two competing representations of physics knowledge: one defined as a hierarchy of models arranged from general to specific models, the second defined by theories which link knowledge together.

In order to investigate the two representations described above, a reiterative categorization task was employed. This task resulted in a hierarchical sort with larger piles at the top of the hierarchy and smaller piles at the bottom . The categories were classified in the study as either theory-, model- or mathematical model-based categories. The proportions of model-, theory-, and mathematical model-based categories at each level of categorization were com pared by level of expertise in order to com pare the subjects' categorizations with the competing representations defined by models and theories respectively. Proportions of the use of model- and theory-based sub categories were compared a teach level of categorization for each level of expertise in order to describe the structure more fully.

The categorizations that novices created was a hierarchy of models with motion as the most general category and object as a sub category. The highest, most general level for both intermediates and experts was the theory used to solve the problems. The middle and lower levels combined model- and theory-based categories. The novices' hierarchy of models from motion to object in the problem was found to be a sub-set of the intermediates' representations. The motion of the object category was the lowest level category in the experts' representations.

These results support a combined representation of physics knowledge based on both theories and models. In this representation, the novices' hierarchy of models is a sub-set of the experts' and intermediates' hierarchies indicating that these models exist for experts and intermediates within the scope of the theory. The final representation is a hierarchy of models from general to specific connected and encompassed by a particular theory that can be used to create the models.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access

Included in

Physics Commons