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)

    Source - SPT/ El01PN03

    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)

    Source - TAP/ Electricity/ Electric current/ ...

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

    View Resource


The following studies have documented this misconception:

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

    Review sheet

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

    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

  • 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),


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

  • Lee, Y. and Law, N. () Explorations in promoting conceptual change in electrical concepts via ontological category shift. International Journal of Science Education, 23 (2),


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

  • 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),


    Review sheet

  • 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),


    Review sheet

  • 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),


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

  • 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)


    Review sheet

  • 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),


    Review sheet

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


    Review sheet

  • 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.

    Review sheet

  • 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),


    Review sheet

  • 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),


    Review sheet

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

    Review sheet

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