Few students are able to use the idea of potential to explain or predict observations about simple circuits

Electricity and Magnetism


In particular, students often struggle to move beyond the idea of voltage being a measure of 'strength of push' to the idea of it being a difference in some sort of 'level'.

Resources to Address This

  • Predicting and Measuring Voltages (11-14)

    This practical activity, aimed at slightly older classes, encourages students to predict voltage measurements and associated circuit behaviour before they take measurements using a voltmeter. This can facilitate an improved understanding of the role of voltage in electric circuits.

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  • What do Voltages Measure? (11-14)

    This resource explores discussions teachers can have with students of different ages and abilities about voltage.

    Batteries of greater voltage provide a bigger push, which leads to more power dissipated in the circuits that they're a part of.

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  • Testing understanding adding lamps in series (11-14)

    The 'what happens to the current?' question probes the effect on the electric current of adding a bulb to a circuit. 

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  • Küçüközer, H. and Kocakülah, S. () Effect of Simple Electric Circuits Teaching on Conceptual Change in Grade 9 Physics Course. Journal of Turkish Science Education.

    Paper digest

  • Lee, Y. and Law, N. () Explorations in promoting conceptual change in electrical concepts via ontological category shift. International Journal of Science Education, 23 (2), 111-149.

    These four connected studies involving observations of practical work reveal that students are unclear in their pictures of current, voltages and the behaviour of batteries in circuits. It shows that precise language and allowing students to predict and experiment can encourage them to make more accurate qualitative explanations about what is happening in simple circuits.

    Paper digest

  • Cohen, R.; Eylon, B. and Ganiel, U. () Potential difference and current in simple electric circuits: A study of students’ concepts. American Journal of Physics, 51 (5), 407-412.

  • McDermott, L. C. and Shaffer, P. S. () Research as a guide for curriculum development: An example from introductory electricity. Part I: Investigation of student understanding. American Journal of Physics, 60 (11), 994-1003.

  • Guth, J. () An in-depth study of two individual students' understanding of electric and magnetic fields. Research in Science Education, 25 (4), 479-490.

  • Benseghir, A. and Closset, J. L. () The electrostatics‐electrokinetics transition: historical and educational difficulties. International Journal of Science Education, 18 (2), 179-191.

  • Millar, R. and King, T. () Students’ understanding of voltage in simple series electric circuits. International Journal of Science Education, 15 (3), 339-349.

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