Electrical Circuit
Electricity and Magnetism

Setting up electrical loops - Teaching approaches

Classroom Activity for 14-16

A Teaching Approach is both a source of advice and an activity that respects both the physics narrative and the teaching and learning issues for a topic.

The following set of resources is not an exhaustive selection, rather it seeks to exemplify. In general there are already many activities available online; you'll want to select from these wisely, and to assemble and evolve your own repertoire that is matched to the needs of your class and the equipment/resources to hand. We hope that the collection here will enable you to think about your own selection process, considering both the physics narrative and the topic-specific teaching and learning issues.

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Think again - about electric circuits

Electrical Circuit
Electricity and Magnetism

Think again - about electric circuits

Diagnostic Questions for 11-14 14-16

What the Activity is for

Questions to review current thinking, to provoke thought and discussion.

These diagnostic questions are used for two main reasons:

  • To encourage students to talk and think through their understandings of electric circuits.
  • To provide the teacher with formative assessment information about the students' understandings of electric circuits.

What to Prepare

  • Printed copies of the questions, on the support sheets (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

These questions might be used right at the start of the first lesson. Who can get them all correct? It would be a good idea to get the students to work in pairs on the questions, encouraging each pair to talk through their ideas. Collect responses from all of the pairs and discuss in a whole-class plenary.

Alternatively, the questions might be set for homework prior to the first electricity lesson, so that you have time to read through the responses.

The questions review key points from the SPT: Electric circuits topic.

Question 1

Two bulbs: both bulbs lit with the same brightness because the electric current is the same everywhere in the circuit.

Question 2

Small and large resistance: the current gets less but not zero because the battery cannot push as big a current through a larger resistor.

Question 3

Resistors in parallel: the current is greater because the total resistance is now smaller (because the second resistor provides an extra path for current).

Question 4

Best word: electric current; electric charge; voltage; energy; power output.

Resources

Download PDF of worksheet/support sheets for this activity.

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Questions about circuits with series connections

Electrical Circuit
Electricity and Magnetism

Questions about circuits with series connections

Diagnostic Questions for 14-16

What the Activity is for

Questions to promote discussion and thinking.

These diagnostic questions are used for two main reasons:

  • To encourage students to talk and think through their understandings of electric circuits.
  • To provide the teacher with formative assessment information about the students' understandings of electric circuits.

What to Prepare

  • printed copies of the questions, on the support sheets (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

It would be a good idea to get the students to work in pairs on these questions, encouraging each pair to talk through their ideas. Collect responses from all of the pairs and discuss in a whole-class plenary.

Alternatively, the questions might be set for homework prior to the lesson, so that you have time to read through the responses.

The questions review key points relating to series circuits.

Question 1

The battery potential difference is shared between two resistors connected in series: V1 is 4 volt; V2 is 5 volt; V3 is 4 volt.

Question 2

The potential difference across the resistors connected in series is in proportion to their resistance (big resistance: big potential difference). V1 is between 3 volt and 6 volt: the larger share across the larger resistor.

Question 3

Same reasoning as question 2: V1 is B; V2 is D; V3 is D; V4 is B.

Question 4

The potential difference between a and b is zero because there is no resistance between these points, and the potential difference across R is 3 volt. With the switch open, the ammeter reads zero and the voltage between a and b is now 3 volt (The voltmeter is in effect measuring the potential difference across the supply).

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

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Questions about circuits with parallel connections

Electrical Circuit
Electricity and Magnetism

Questions about circuits with parallel connections

Diagnostic Questions for 14-16

What the Activity is for

These diagnostic questions are used for two main reasons:

  • To encourage students to talk and think through their understandings of electric circuits.
  • To provide the teacher with formative assessment information about the students' understandings of electric circuits.

What to Prepare

  • printed copies of the questions (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

It would be a good idea to get the students to work in pairs on these questions, encouraging each pair to talk through their ideas. Collect responses from all of the pairs and discuss them in a whole-class plenary.

Alternatively, the questions might be set for homework prior to the lesson, so that you have time to read through the responses.

The questions review key points relating to parallel circuits.

Question 1

The potential difference across both resistors in a parallel circuit is the same, irrespective of resistance (the current through each resistor is different).

Question 2

This is just the same as question 1.

Question 3

When the switch is closed, the ammeter reading stays the same, as does the bulb brightness. This is because the potential difference across B1 stays the same.

Question 4

A1 is 2 ampere. A2 is 1 ampere (current equal in equal arms);

A3 is 6 ampere and A4 is 4 ampere (current inversely proportional to resistance. Big resistance, small current);

A5 is 4 ampere (current inversely proportional to resistance) and A6 is 5 ampere.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

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Current and potential difference ladders

Electrical Circuit
Electricity and Magnetism

Current and potential difference ladders

Classroom Activity for 14-16

What the Activity is for

Getting a feel for relative values of quantities.

Here you can impart an idea of the relative values of different currents and potential differences. Having an idea of these values for different sources and processes allows the units ampere and volt to acquire meaning, and enables the values derived from calculations to be checked against an internal model of what is reasonable. The ladders are one–dimensional graphs, used often to support quantification, putting the value of any physical quantity into a context.

What to Prepare

  • appropriate scale prints of the support sheets provided
  • cut out values and items from the support sheets (see below), if these are to be used
  • some Blu–tack

What Happens During this Activity

The support sheets are provided in several formats so that you can use them in a number of ways.

You could provide a blank ladder at a large scale on the laboratory wall, and add values to it over the duration of the topic as you encounter these values.

You could provide a completed ladder, adding your own values to it as these come up in the conversations in the class. These could be stimulated by distributing a range of research questions to groups within the class to populate the values.

You could provide a blank ladder to a group, together with at least the objects and processes provided, and ask them to agree on how to place these items. Groups might then usefully compare their placements before being given the matching values, and so reordering their values, or you might provide the unmatched values and objects/processes, only placing them on the ladder afterwards.

Placing about five items on such a ladder produces a manageable demand.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

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Simple measurements and calculations

Electrical Circuit
Electricity and Magnetism

Simple measurements and calculations

Classroom Activity for 14-16

What the Activity is for

Anchoring quantities in student actions.

Making measurements gives a real connection to the quantities involved.

What to Prepare

  • some cells and batteries, 1.5–6 volt
  • some electrical wires
  • a well-designed ammeter
  • a well-designed voltmeter
  • a collection of lamps and resistors to match the batteries and meters
  • printed copies of the support sheets (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

Introduce a number of circuits where the goal is to find the effective resistance of the circuit. Students need to choose where to put the ammeter and voltmeter, and then transfer their choice and readings to the calculations templates. As with writing templates, the idea here is to encourage good practice and that students should eventually lay out their calculations by themselves. The templates are there to act as prototypes of clear communication.

There are extensions that could be made, from seeing if the resistance stays constant as the potential difference is varied, to finding the resistance of separate components in the circuit. However, no circuits much more complex than these are appropriate at this level.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

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Present an interactive

Electrical Circuit
Electricity and Magnetism

Present an interactive

Classroom Activity for 14-16

What the Activity is for

Provoking discussion around a screen.

Children revisit and review their ideas developed by earlier teaching by using an interactive from the electric circuits topic (see below) as a presentation support.

What to Prepare

  • a selection of interactives chosen from the electric circuits or electricity and energy topics (see below)
  • a clear set of tasks and timescales, appropriate to the small groups within the class
  • some real circuits to compare the models with some physical rope loops

What Happens During this Activity

Children use the interactive to explain what's happening in the circuit – they provide the voice-over. It will be important to establish the need to get a full commentary on the interactives – more than: There you are, it's obvious. You could increase the demand by setting one or a small group of children to make a screencast/video podcast of the action, but this might best be done in small groups around the computers, with children taking it in turns to be the explainer, using physical models, animations and the real circuits. They should be encouraged to make real efforts to relate the physical model, the animation and the circuit and to use this relationship as an explanation.

Select a variety of interactives from the following topics:

Teaching Electric Circuits to students aged 11-14

  • Modelling simple electrical loops PN | TL | TA

  • Adding elements to circuits PN | TL | TA

  • Power and voltage PN | TL | TA

Teaching Electricity and Energy to students aged 14-16

  • Setting up electrical loops PN | TL | TA
  • Electrical working in loops PN | TL | TA
  • Designed devices switch pathways PN | TL | TA
  • Efficiency and calculations PN | TL | TA

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Calculating for understanding

Electrical Circuit
Electricity and Magnetism

Calculating for understanding

Classroom Activity for 14-16

What the Activity is for

Exemplifying good practice – students have something to copy.

There are many calculations to do in making predictions for electric circuits. These involve quite a few quantities.

What to Prepare

  • a well practised hand on the board, together with some calculations that you have run through beforehand – it's not easy doing these live in front of a class
  • a number of relationships, carefully laid out with their units (These are the toolkit, each tool to be selected and used as needed. Don't be caught out using a hammer where a screwdriver is appropriate.)
  • support sheet (see below)

What Happens During this Activity

Select things to be calculated where you are confident that you can explain the strategy – linking each line of calculation to the final goal. That means tuning what you do to your own confidence and to the abilities and aptitudes of the class. Do try to avoid just listing the quantities and then guessing which tool is appropriate. The calculations should be a part of an explanatory story that's being woven about the circuit.

Some rules of thumb to help this to come true:

  • Don't hurry.
  • Always refer to a diagram of the circuit where the loop in which you're working can be identified.
  • If dealing with only a part of the loop, redraw only that part and mark in the quantities explicitly.
  • Always write down the relationship, then substitute in values with units, then evaluate.
  • Never use raw numbers: it's physical quantities that you're dealing with and they consist of number and unit. (This is using quantity algebra, and it is strongly recommended as a means of clarifying and checking thinking throughout.)
  • Base everything on only a few relationships.
  • It bears repeating: don't be tempted to hurry.

Resources

Download the support sheet / student worksheet for this activity.

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