Some students have differing ideas about what is happening in the wires of an electric circuit when it is working

Electricity and Magnetism


Some interpret electric effects as due to a meeting (or ‘clash’) of currents from the positive and negative battery terminals. Many think that ‘electricity’ (or ‘electric current’) is partly used up (attenuated) by any component (bulb, buzzer, motor, etc.) that it passes through. This view is very resistant to change.

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

  • Episode 102: Current as a Flow of Charge

    This resource provides an overview, aimed at older students, of the properties of electric current and its relation to charge. 

    View Resource
  • What is Really Flowing and Does it Flow? (11-14)

    This resource looks at what's going on inside the metallic wires of an electric circuit.

    View Resource
  • Episode 102: Current as a flow of charge. (16-19)

    These activities help to illustrate the idea of electric charge and its relationship to a flow of current.

    View Resource


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

    When studying electricity, the most difficult concept for secondary students to understand is that of potential difference or voltage. Students cannot clearly separate it from current or energy and the simple circuits used do not always help. This paper shows that teachers need to describe and model currents and voltages more clearly, using meters to measure instead of relying on concepts such as ‘brightness’.

    Paper digest

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

    Bulbs are often used in the teaching of series and parallel circuits, but using these does not always help students understand current conservation, and the relationship between voltage, current and energy transfer. This paper discusses some of the students’ misconceptions that need to be addressed and suggests using meters more often to analyse circuit behaviour.

    Paper digest

  • Dupin, J. J. and Johsua, S. () Conceptions of French pupils concerning electric circuits: Structure and evolution. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 24 (9), 791-806.

    Overcoming student misconceptions about currents and voltages can be difficult, and students can retain inaccurate ideas if the links between these are not discussed fully. This paper shows how some of the misconceptions can be tackled successfully while outlining those that are more difficult to resolve.

    Paper digest

  • Arnold, M. and Millar, R. () Being constructive: An alternative approach to the teaching of introductory ideas in electricity. International Journal of Science Education, 9 (5), 553-563.

    Identifying the misconceptions your students hold is critical to planning teaching activities that can overcome them. This research demonstrates how some common misconceptions, including the idea of current being ‘used up’ as it passed through components or bulbs powered by ‘clashing currents’ can be addressed successfully.

    Paper digest

  • 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, 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

  • Osborne, R. () Towards Modifying Children's Ideas about Electric Current. Research in Science and Technological Education, 1 (1), 73-82.

  • Butts, W. () Children's understanding of electric current in three countries. Research in Science Education, 15 (1), 127-130.

  • Shipstone, D. () Pupils' understanding of simple electrical circuits. Some implications for instruction. Physics Education, 23 (2), 92.

  • Azaiza, I., Bar, V. and Galili, I. () Learning electricity in elementary school. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 4 (1), 45-71.

  • Dupin, J. J. and Johsua, S. () Analogies and “Modeling Analogies” in Teaching: Some Examples in Basic Electricity. Science Education, 73 (2), 207-224.

  • Pardhan, H. and Bano, Y. () Science teachers' alternate conceptions about direct-currents. International Journal of Science Education, 23 (3) 301-318.

  • 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.

  • Johsua, S. () Students’ interpretation of simple electrical diagrams. European Journal of Science Education, 6 (3), 271-275.

  • Peşman, H. and Eryılmaz, A. () Development of a Three-Tier Test to Assess Misconceptions About Simple Electric Circuits. The Journal of Educational Research, 103 (3), 208-222.

  • Jabot, M. and Henry, D. () Mental Models of Elementary and Middle School Students in Analyzing Simple Battery and Bulb Circuits. School Science and Mathematics, 107 (1), 371-381.

  • 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.

  • Paatz, R., Ryder, J., Schwedes, H. and Scott, P. () A case study analysing the process of analogy‐based learning in a teaching unit about simple electric circuits. International Journal of Science Education, 26 (9) 1065-1081.

  • Chiu, M. H. and Lin, J. W. () Promoting Fourth Graders’ Conceptual Change of Their Understanding of Electric Current via Multiple Analogies. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 42 (4), 429-464.

  • Turgut, Ü., Gürbüz, F. and Turgut, G. () An investigation 10th grade students’ misconceptions about electric current. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 15, 1965-1971.

  • Van den 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. The Proceedings of the Third International Seminar on Misconceptions and Educational Strategies in Science and Mathematics, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY.

  • Çepni, S. and Keleş, E. () Turkish students' conceptions about the simple electric circuits. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 4 (2), 269-291.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Osborne, R. and Freyberg, P. () Learning in Science: The Implications of Children's Science. Heinemann Education Books, Inc. 70 Court Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801.

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