Some students hold a 'consumer-source' model of the simple circuit
These students may think hat the battery (the 'source') gives something to the bulb (the 'consumer'). They may think, therefore, that a single wire from a battery terminal to a bulb terminal will be sufficient to light the bulb.
The following worksheets may help to identify whether students hold this particular misconception.
For more information, see the University of York EPSE website.
These questions probe understanding of the idea of an electric circuit – that is, that for any electrical device to work there has to be a closed loop of conducting material, from one end of the battery or power supply, through the device and back to the battery.EPSE Circuits Q1
The following questions ask students to justify their answer based on a multiple-choice set of explanations, rather than using their own words. Sometimes it can be quicker to analyse a more structured explanation part – though the price you pay is that the question has more words to read. For pupils who can cope with this extra reading demand, you may find two-tier questions useful to get a quick insight into their reasoning.EPSE Circuits Q39
In questions 39 and 40 it is important to show exactly what is meant by 'removing' a bulb. In trials, researchers found that some pupils this meant 'removing and reconnecting the ends' (which would produce a very different outcome).EPSE Circuits Q40
Resources to Address This
What Gets Used Up? (11-14)
Source - SPT/ El01TL12
This resource explores the common student idea that something from the battery is 'used up' in circuit components.View Resource
Thinking fruitfully about circuits (5-11)
Source - SPT/ Ec01TL06
The rope loop provides a powerful mechanical analogue of the electrical loop. It's tangible, manipulable, and the physical quantities map well onto the electrical quantities.View Resource
Models of electric circuits (11-19)
Source - Practical physics/ Electric circuits and fields/ Guidance/
Some thinking about different electric circuit models.View Resource
- Osborne, R. () Towards Modifying Children's Ideas about Electric Current. Research in Science and Technological Education, 1 (1),
An in-depth interview was conducted with 40 children in the US between the ages of 8 and 12, based on experiments the children were asked to do with electric circuits and pictures of electric circuits shown to them. The researchers concluded that "many different examples need to be discussed if pupils are going to see the wider implications of their new insights" and that making up a circuit with a battery and bulb will not necessarily enable a student to understand how the electric current flows in the circuit. Review sheet
- Butts, W. () Children's understanding of electric current in three countries. Research in Science Education, 15 (1),
A short interview was conducted individually with 16 students selected by their science teacher. The students in the sample were between the ages of 12 and 15, and were from England, Australia and New Zealand. Review sheet
- Azaiza, I.; Bar, V. and Galili, I. () Learning electricity in elementary school. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 4 (1),
- 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),
This study conducted interviews with a class of 17 pupils between the ages of 11 and 12 in an inner-city middle school in the UK. : Review sheet
- Pardhan, H. and Bano, Y. () Science teachers' alternate conceptions about direct-currents. International Journal of Science Education, 23 (3),
This study examined the ideas of six lower-secondary science teachers from three different schools of a private education network using a combination of lesson observation, questionnaires and interviews. Four of these teachers held Masters’ degrees (MSc) in the life sciences and two held Bachelors' degrees in Biology and Chemistry. All six had studied physics to an intermediate level (i.e. equivalent of grade 12). Review sheet
- Borges, A. and Gilbert, J. () Mental models of electricity. International Journal of Science Education, 21 (1),
- Peşman, H. and Eryilmaz, A. () Development of a Three-Tier Test to Assess Misconceptions About Simple Electric Circuits. The Journal of Educational Research. 103 (3),
- 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),
- 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),
- Osborne, R. and Freyberg, P. () Learning in Science: The Implications of Children's Science. Heinemann Education Books, Inc., 70 Court Street, Portsmouth, NH 03801.
- Turgut, Ü., Gürbüz, F. and Turgut, G., () An investigation 10th grade students’ misconceptions about electric current, Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 15, 1965-1971.