Many students offer explanations of electrical effects in terms of energy, rather than electric current
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.
The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.
For more information, see the University of York EPSE website.
In these questions, students are asked to choose an explanation for circuit behaviour from a list of options. An over-reliance on 'energy' over 'current' or 'voltage' may indicate a lack of understanding.EPSE Electric Current Q30
In part (b) of the following question, choosing option 1 or 3 suggests that the pupil is thinking in terms of energy rather than resistance and current.EPSE Voltage, Resistance and Current Q26
Resources to Address This
What Happens in Circuits? (11-14)
Source - SPT/ El01PN01
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)
Source - SPT/ El01TL11
This resource looks at how to disentangle student thinking about electric current and energy in circuits.View Resource
Is it helpful to talk about electrical energy? (14-16)
Source - SPT/ Ee02TL03
The right lines approach has no place for electrical energy. Whereas 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.
While the electrical circuit is clearly not a store of energy, it does provide the pathway along which energy is shifted by cell and bulb.View Resource
The following studies have documented this misconception:
- Summers, M.; Kruger, C. and Mant, J. () Teaching electricity effectively in the primary school: a case study. International Journal of Science Education, 20 (2),
- Borges, A. and Gilbert, J. () Mental models of electricity. International Journal of Science Education, 21 (1),
- Lee, L. and Law, N. () Explorations in promoting conceptual change in electrical concepts via ontological category shift. International Journal of Science Education, 23 (2),
- Kibble, B. () How do you picture electricity? Physics Education, 34 (4),
- 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),
- 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),