Why this approach is important

Many students find electricity a difficult or challenging topic. One reason for this is that learning about electricity involves the use of abstract concepts and refers to things that are not directly observable with the naked eye, such as charge and electrons.

Physical models and analogies can help learning by ‘concretising’ abstract concepts through:

  • helping students to visualise an object or process that they cannot easily see directly (for example, because of the object’s size, or because the timescale of the process is too long or too short)
  • simplifying a complex situation
  • allowing students to manipulate objects to make the ideas more memorable or to explore relationships between the parts of a system
  • allowing students to manipulate the model to explore some aspect of how the object it represents supposedly works.

Teaching electricity with physical models allows students to test out ideas, make predictions and develop effective mental models.

Models and analogies each have their own strengths and limitations. A model that works in one context may be inappropriate in another. The ‘right’ model helps, but the ‘wrong’ model can hinder learning. Evaluating physical models of electrical circuits involves thinking about the characteristics of a good model. This relates to the nature of scientific enquiry as a whole, not just to electricity.

What you can learn in this unit

1 What do students find difficult about electricity?