Dupin and Johsua (1987)

This French study investigated the persistence of misconceptions about current and potential differences over a wide range of student ages. It shows that some of these misconceptions can be successfully addressed through simple methods while others are more resilient to change. 

Learners’ ideas

  • Many pupils indicated that electric current can only exist in a closed circuit.
  • Some pupils could not clearly differentiate current from voltage.
  • Students maintain the misconception that current is consumed by components despite several years of teaching to address the issue.
  • Many students think that a battery will supply a certain, constant current, regardless of the circuit it is placed in.

Teaching and Learning Implications

  • Teachers should be aware of pupils’ conceptions and their nature, and how these misconceptions might evolve during teaching.
  • Overcoming misconceptions about potential difference requires careful development of the relationship between it, current and resistance.

Study Structure


The authors tried to identify the conceptions of French pupils when treating simple problems of DC electricity and their evolution from the beginning of secondary school to the fourth year of university. They also wanted to evaluate the impact of teaching on these conceptions and on the reasoning used to solve classical problems of electricity.

Evidence collection

Students completed parts of a questionnaire which contained a mixture of questions developed for this study and questions developed by other researchers. Some questions were limited to specific age groupings. The results were analysed by calculating simple percentages of correct answers.

Details of the sample

The sample consisted of 920 students: 426 aged between 12 and 14, 244 aged 16, 134 1st year university students aged 19, 60 2nd year university students aged 20, 26 3rd year university students aged 21 and 30 4th year university students ages 22. The 1st and 2nd-year university students studied physics, mathematics, or chemistry, while the 3rd and 4th-year university students studied physics only.

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