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Teaching and Learning Electricity

The order we teach things

There are essentially two approaches to teaching electricity.

The bottom-up approach is to let students set up circuits to see what works and then to explain what's going on.

The top-down approach is to start with a story about electricity and then relate that to real circuits.  MORE 

The misconceptions students already have about electricity

Electricity is one of the most difficult concepts for students to grasp.

It is invisible and highly conceptual but at the same time all around them.  Perhaps this is why students (and even some science teachers) have 'alternative frameworks' about how electricity works.

Unless these alternative frameworks are identified and confronted we have very little chance of replacing them with the scientific story.  MORE

The electricity analogies we use 

There are many ways of visualising what's happening in electric circuits.

Water flowing in a pipe, a central-heating system, balls rolling down slopes, horses and sugar lumps, a loop of rope, balls passed around a ring of students.

These images can all be used to describe and explain what's going on.  Each of them has its strengths and weaknesses.  MORE

The language we use when we talk about electricity

There are two main issues surrounding the language we use when talking about electricity.

Certain technical terms, like voltage, are used in everyday speech but often incorrectly.  For example, "He had 200 volts pass through him".

The other issue is that to simplify the story we're trying to tell it's sometimes easier if we don't use words in their precise scientific sense.  For example, what the layman knows as a "battery" should strictly be called a "cell".

As teachers we should at least be aware of the effect our language has on students' understanding.  MORE

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