Many students offer explanations of electrical effects in terms of energy, rather than electric current

Electricity and Magnetism


When explaining electrical effects observed in the classroom, students may opt for explanations in terms of 'energy' or the ambiguous word 'electricity', instead of referring to electric current.

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

  • What Happens in Circuits? (11-14)

    This resource discusses what actually happens with energy in circuits.

    View Resource
  • Electric Current: a Flow of Charge

    This resource shows how circuit behaviour can be explained in terms of electric current.

    View Resource
  • Distinguishing Between Current and Energy (11-14)

    This resource looks at how to disentangle students thinking about electric current and energy in circuits.

    View Resource
  • Is it helpful to talk about electrical energy? (14-16)

    While energy can be stored in a cell (a chemical store of energy), it is difficult to see in what sense energy can be stored in the connecting wires of a circuit. The electrical circuit is clearly not a store of energy but it does provide the pathway along which energy is shifted by cell and bulb.

    View Resource


  • Borges, A. and Gilbert, J. () Mental models of electricity. International Journal of Science Education, 21 (1), 95-117.

    A study including electrical engineers shows that a fully correct understanding of electrical principles is not always necessary to work in the field. This paper describes how students and professionals picture electric currents and discusses how to develop models and teaching techniques that will allow students to link electrical concepts correctly.

    Paper digest

  • Lee, L. 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

  • Heller, P. M. and Finley, F. N. () Variable Uses of Alternative Conceptions: A Case Study in Current Electricity. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 29 (3), 259-275.

  • Summers, M., Kruger, C. and Mant, J. () Teaching electricity effectively in the primary school: a case study. International Journal of Science Education, 20 (2), 153-172.

  • Kibble, B. () How do you picture electricity? Physics Education, 34 (4), 226.

  • Van de Berg, E. and Grosheide, W. () "Electricity at Home: Remediating alternative conceptions through redefining goals and concept sequences and using auxiliary concepts and analogies in 9th grade electricity education." Proceedings of the Third Intern. Seminar on Misconceptions and Educational Strategies in Science and Maths, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

  • Leone, M. () History of Physics as a Tool to Detect the Conceptual Difficulties Experienced by Students: The Case of Simple Electric Circuits in Primary Education. Science & Education, 23 (4), 923-953.

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