Sliding Between Disciplines and Didactics - The Expansion of Pre-Service Teacher Knowledge about Friction and its Teaching in Lower Secondary Schools

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Speakers: Klaus Rasmussen (KP) and Camilla Hellsten Østergaard (IND og KP).


Our study reports on a case of interdisciplinary lesson study involving mathematics and science centered on the physical phenomenon of friction. The case is situated in the context of pre-service teacher education, where a group of four pre-service teachers planned and carried out two consecutive research lessons for grade 7 students. The research lessons were part of the project: Advanced Science Teacher Education Sustained Visible Lesson Study (ASTE SVLS) running since 2016 at the University College of Copenhagen, Denmark. The case revolves around the question: “Is it possible to walk on walls?” and it involves the mathematical concept of vectors and the science concept of friction, which are challenging and unusual to teach at this age level. Working from the intent to use lesson study to explore the boundaries of what is possible to teach meaningfully at lower secondary level, the pre-service teachers expanded not only their knowledge of teaching and student learning, but also their own disciplinary content knowledge was strengthened by becoming aware of the great complexity of the friction phenomenon. This was directly spurred on by questions and assertions from the students in the research lessons. Apparently elementary questions and different instances of seemingly the same phenomenon opened up access to detailed knowledge about students’ conceptions and pre-conceptions, as well as bringing to the fore unrealized and imprecise knowledge among the participants.

Using the theoretical framework of Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) (Engeström, 2002) we analyze the aspects of how the lesson study process facilitate professional learning and the dialectic between the disciplinary and didactic knowledge. We use CHAT to regard the lesson study process as two interacting Activity Systems (See also Wake et. al, 2016): One centered on the learning of students in the research lesson classroom and the other centered on pre-service teachers professional development in the lesson-study community.

Our research questions are: How do the two activity systems influence each other? What constitute the object of interplay between the disciplinary and didactic knowledge at stake in the two systems? The study encompasses an account of the knowledge produced or realized by participants in the lesson study. This is also the knowledge pre-service teachers (or teachers in general) could ideally report themselves as a result of lesson studies. We believe this to be important, as far too few “lesson study results” are communicated beyond the local context. Especially in countries where lesson study is a fairly recent practice, and a tradition of dissemination of this type of knowledge is fledging at best. Without dissemination of lesson study results, no accumulation and refinement of teacher knowledge is possible, and the teacher community is bound to undertake redundant lesson studies.

Our main finding is how the focus in the reflection meeting “slide” (pun intended) in and among the disciplines of mathematics, physics and biology, while also sliding into the didactics of mathematics and science: This “sliding” makes up the boundary space. The drive to “improve the lesson” also features prominently in the reflection, and we find how the shift in lesson research focus from the first to the second lesson is a product of the interrelations taking place in the boundary space as influenced by the two activity systems.


Engeström, Y., Engeström, R. & Suntio, A. (2002). Can school Community Learn to Master Its Own Future? An Activity – Theoretical Study of Expansive Learning Among Middle School Teachers. In G. Wells & G. Claxton (red.) Learning for Life in the 21st Century:

Wake, G., Swan, M. & Foster, C. (2016 ). Professional learning through the collaborative design of problem-solving lessons. J Math Teacher Educ. 19:243-260