Lee and Law (2001)

These four Hong Kong-based studies test teaching strategies designed to promote conceptual change in the learning of electrical circuit concepts. The findings suggest that a program encouraging students to build on their existing ideas, predict outcomes, and revise their explanations is effective in fostering deeper comprehension.

Evidence-based suggestions

  • Building on students’ conceptions through predicting and modifying their own explanations can be successful in helping students develop a deeper understanding.
  • Precise use of language helps students discriminate the taught scientific conception from ones that they may intuitively hold.
  • Teaching the 'global' impact of circuit changes should be a clear learning goal.

Learners’ ideas

  • Students believed that current reduced further from the battery; it was being ‘used up’ by components.
  • Most students still believed that the battery was the source of current (rather than the source of the e.m.f. or ‘voltage’).
  • Most students thought the current from the battery was unaffected by external circuit changes.
  • Students in tended to consider the battery as a pump and voltage as a push or a force.
  • Students often used the words ‘electricity’ and ‘electric current’ interchangeably.

Further suggestions

  • Teachers should be aware of students’ alternative conceptions and take these as a starting point for planning and organizing teaching.
  • The researchers suggest using qualitative questions, like comparing bulb brightness in the same or different circuits, to prompt students to think about the connections between circuit variables.

Study Structure


  1. To identify students' alternative ideas about basic electric circuits and assess differences in the ontological categorisation between those who understand accepted concepts and those with alternative beliefs.
  2. To explore how Chi et al.’s (1994) theory may be used to develop a teaching strategy for promoting conceptual change.

Evidence collection

Four studies were completed with questions and activities based on previously published studies.

  • In study 1 evidence collection was via a written test and oral interviews
  • For studies 2 and 3 participants completed a series of 'predict-observe-explain' tasks.
  • For study 4 the subjects completed a written pre-test, followed by e of four lessons that made use of a combination of hands-on experiments, and then repeated the test.

Data was analysed using simple statistics and percentages to reach conclusions.

Details of the sample

  • Study one involved six mixed-ability secondary science students (aged 17) from an average-level secondary school who were all taught basic circuitry concepts.
  • In the second study, two groups of students took part: a group of three secondary students with the lowest test scores in the written test from study 1 and another group of six students from another class (15-year-olds) who had not yet learnt elementary circuit theory.
  • The third study had the same sample as study 2 study 2 except for one of the 17-year-old students.
  • Study four involved a group of six 15-year-old students who had not been taught elementary circuit theory and had so far not been involved in this series of studies.
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