Many pupils see circuit behaviour as a sequence of causes and effects, rather than seeing the whole circuit as an interacting system.

Electricity and Magnetism

Misconception RESEARCH REVIEW

Pupils will often offer explanations of their predictions about what will happen when a circuit is changed in some way that are based on sequential reasoning, rather than seeing the whole circuit as an interacting system. 

For instance, they may think that changes only affect components which are 'downstream' of the point at which the change occurred, or that altering a resistance value will only affect the current through, or potential difference across, that resistor.

Diagnostic Resources

The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.

For more information, see the University of York EPSE website.

Resources to Address This

  • The Electrical Flow - All Together Now! (14-16)

    Source - SPT/ Ee01TL06

    This resource discusses some of the teaching and learning issues around the idea that circuit behaviour is sequential.

    See also Ee02TL08 - Thinking about actions to take.

    View Resource
  • Do the electrical charges move Instantly? (11-14)

    Source - SPT/ El01TL04

    This resource discusses some common pitfalls in younger student thinking on 'sequential' circuit behaviour.

    View Resource
  • The resistance sets the current for the whole circuit (5-11)

    Source - SPT/ Ec01TL08

    Emphasise that when additional resistance is introduced to a circuit in one place, the current is reduced everywhere in the whole circuit. This can be the source of confusion.

    View Resource

References

The following studies have documented this misconception:

  • Küçüközer, H. and Kocakülah, S. () Secondary School Students' Misconceptions about Simple Electric Circuits. Journal of Turkish Science Education.

  • Shipstone, D. () Pupils' understanding of simple electrical circuits. Some implications for instruction. Physics Education, 23 (2),

    92.

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

  • Millar, R. and Beh, K. L. () Students’ understanding of voltage in simple parallel electric circuits. International Journal of Science Education, 15 (4),

    351-361.

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

    339-349.

  • Pardhan, H. and Bano, Y. () Science teachers' alternate conceptions about direct-currents. International Journal of Science Education, 23 (3),

    301-318.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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