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International Journal of Science Education
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High school students' understanding of resistance in simple series electric
circuits
Laurent Ligeois; Etienne Mullet
To cite this Article Ligeois, Laurent and Mullet, Etienne'High school students' understanding of resistance in simple
series electric circuits', International Journal of Science Education, 24: 6, 551 564
To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/09500690110066520
URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09500690110066520
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High school students understanding of resistance in
simple series electric circuits
Laurent Liegeois, Universite Paul-Valery, Montpellier and Etienne Mullet,
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, France
In view of the lack of work on the understanding of resistance concept, we studied the understanding
that high school students (from the eighth to the twelfth grades) were able to develop with regard to the
interrelationships between this concept, and the potential difference and current concepts (Ohms law).
In addition, we explored the immediate effects of exposure to electricity courses on the intuitive mastery
of these relationships. The participants were presented with information on potential difference and
intensity of current and asked to predict the corresponding resistance values. In this current-potential
difference context, the resistance concept was difficult to understand. For the majority of participants,
resistance was a direct function of both current and potential difference, which is more reminiscent of
the concept of power than of the concept of resistance. The systematic teaching of electricity concepts
and Ohms law had only limited, positive as well as negative, effects on the understanding of these
relationships. The implications for education are discussed.
Introduction
The understanding of electricity concepts by young pupils (Fleer 1994), high
school students, and college and university students (Borges and Gilbert 1999,
Shepardson and Moje 1999) has been the focus of many studies in psychology
and education. The concepts investigated include electric circuits (Andre and Ding
1991), electric diagrams (Johsua and Dupin 1985), current (Rozencwajg 1992), and
potential difference at battery terminals (Millar and Beh 1993, Millar and King
1993). However, to our knowledge, the concepts of resistance and the concept of
power have not been extensively investigated (see, Psillos and Koumaras 1993).
It has been repeatedly shown that pupils, students, and even their teachers
(Webb 1992, Wiles and Wright 1997), as well as practitioners (Borges and Gilbert
1999), share a number of misconceptions about these notions (see, Chan et al.
1998, for a review). These misconceptions were observed in various countries
each having distinct educational systems (Shipstone et al. 1988).
Misconceptions among young children and young adolescents
In young children, electrical current is frequently considered as being transferred
from batteries to light bulbs in a similar way to how orange juice is transferred
from a bottle to the mouth using a straw (the sink model, Fredette and Lochhead
1980). Hence, the possible reason why the popular term juice is used by some to
designate electrical current. In young adolescents, the light in a bulb is frequently
International Journal of Science Education ISSN 09500693 print/ISSN 14645289 online #2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd
http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals
DOI: 10.1080/09500690110066520
INT. J. SCI. EDUC., 2002, VOL. 24, NO. 6, 551564
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considered as the result of the clashing between the positive current coming from
the positive side of the battery, and the negative current coming from the negative
side (Osborne 1983).
For young adolescents and even for some college students, an electric circuit
does not need to be closed to be operative. In addition, evident short-circuits in an
electrical circuit are not easily detected (Johsua 1984).
Misconceptions among students: the localist approach
Previous research has shown that when reasoning about an electrical circuit, many
students are unwilling to consider it as a whole where elements are totally inter-
dependent. Students usually approach electrical circuits in a localist way and in a
sequentialist way (Cohen et al. 1983, Closset 1984). The localist approach is char-
acterized by the fact that each part of the circuit tends to be treated separately. In
the circuit given in figure 1, the battery, the left segment with its ammeter, the
resistance and its associated voltmeter, are considered as separate elements. The
sequentialist approach is characterized by the fact that some parts of the circuit
tend to be considered before other parts. In the circuit given in figure 1, the left
segment with its ammeter portion of the circuit will be considered before (or after)
the resistance and its associated voltmeter portion, and the resistance and its as-
sociated voltmeter portion will, in turn, be considered before (or after) the right
segment. As a result, a phenomenon affecting one part of the circuit will be
reflected in the subsequent portions of the circuit without affecting the preceding
portions.
Misconceptions among students: confusing potential difference and
current
Previous research has also shown that the concept of potential difference is a
difficult one for pupils and students to master. The main reason for this difficulty
is that everyday experience with regards to potential difference is probably lacking
552 L. LIE

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Figure 1. Example of material presented to the participants.
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for most people (with the exception perhaps of those who travel frequently from
Europe to America and vice versa, and who are therefore familiar with voltage
adaptors).
From the physicists point of view (Psillos and Koumaras 1993), potential
difference refers to the inequality of charge between the battery terminals. This
inequality of charge results from chemical reactions inside the battery (the separa-
tion of positive and negative charges, and their accumulation on opposite sides).
Potential difference is at the origin of the electric current, that is, at the origin of
the motion of the free electrons in the conductor in order to replace the missing
electrons in the positive battery terminal. Potential difference resulting from elec-
trochemical reactions inside the battery has a constant value. Students, as well as
most non-professionals in the field, tend to share the reverse point of view, that is,
to view electrical current as the origin of potential difference and potential differ-
ence as a mere measure of electric flow, more or less synonymous with intensity of
current. In addition, electrical current is usually viewed as dissipating through the
diverse elements of the circuit, especially bulbs (resistors).
Finally, previous research has shown that the concept of current is easier to
master than the concept of potential difference (Psillos et al. 1988). From the
physicists point of view (Psillos and Koumaras 1993), electrical current refers
to the motion of the free electrons of the conductor in order to replace the missing
electrons in the positive battery terminal: current is a measure of that flow. The
more electrons passing through some portion of the conductor per unit of time, the
greater the current. The students and the non-professionals conceptions of cur-
rent are not very far from the scientific point of view.
The present study
There has been much less research on the understanding of resistance concepts
than on the understanding of current and potential difference (Psillos and
Koumaras 1993). From the physicists point of view, resistance is due to the
friction of the moving electrons with the conductor/resistor ions (Psillos and
Koumaras 1993). As a result, the greater the friction, the less the electrons flow
(less current), and the greater the potential difference (inequality of charges) at the
terminals of the resistor. Resistance is a constant property of the resistor at a given
temperature.
Students, and most non-professionals in the field, tend to view resistors essen-
tially as sources of heat (or light), that is to say as the locus of the dissipation of
current (Cohen et al. 1983). This is due to the fact that everyday experience with
resistors is through the use of light bulbs or radiators. Other domestic appliances
are not viewed as resistors.
In view of the lack of work on the understanding of the resistance concept, we
decided to study the understanding that high school students (from the eighth to
the twelfth grades) were able to develop with regard to the interrelationships
between this concept, and the potential difference and current concepts. In addi-
tion, we also wanted to explore the immediate effects of exposure to electricity
courses on the intuitive mastery of these relationships.
The problem was approached in what Millar and Beh (1993: 152) termed an
instrumentalist way, and what Millar and King (1993: 348) refer to as an oblique
approach. We wanted to study what participants do concretely with current and
UNDERSTANDING OF RESISTANCE IN ELECTRIC CIRCUITS 553
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potential difference information when inferring resistance. What information do
the participants take into account? And in what way? How do they combine infor-
mation?
As stated by Millar and Beh, the ability to predict voltmeter readings in
simple series circuits is one part of what we might mean by an understanding
of voltage (p. 348). This statement by Millar and Beh could easily be extended to
resistance by saying that the ability to predict resistance values is one part of what
we might mean by an understanding of resistance.
Understanding resistance
According to Ohms law: Resistance Potential difference / Current. The under-
standing of this equation, that is, according to Millar and Beh, the ability to use it
to predict resistance values, presupposes: (a) the recognition of a relationship
between potential difference and resistance; (b) the recognition of a relationship
between current and resistance; (c) the recognition of the direct relationship
between potential difference and resistance; (d) the recognition of an inverse rela-
tionship between current and resistance; (e) the recognition of the fact that these
relations are the only relevant ones; and (f) the recognition of the fact that a
division operation needs to be applied.
The correct pattern of results corresponding to this equation is shown in figure
2. On the horizontal axis are three current levels. On the vertical axis are computed
resistance values. The three curves in each panel correspond to three possible
potential difference values. The two panels correspond to two possible positions
of the ammeter (before and after the resistor). In each panel, both curves were
554 L. LIE

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A m . o n t h e R i g h t

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L o w I n t . M e d . I n t H i g h I n t .
A m . o n t h e L e f t
L o w I n t . M e d . I n t H i g h I n t .
L o w P o t . D i f .
H i g h P o t e n t i al
M e d i u m
D i f f e r e n ce
On the horizontal axis are shown three intensity of current levels. On the vertical axis are computed
resistance values. The three curves in each panel correspond to three possible potential difference
values. The two panels correspond to two possible positions of the ammeter (before and after the
resistor).
Figure 2. Theoretical pattern of results.
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descending: the higher the intensity of the current, the lower the resistance. In
each panel, curves were clearly separated: the higher the potential difference, the
higher the resistance. In each panel, both curves were at the same level on the
vertical axis; the position of the ammeter had no effect on the value of resistance.
In each panel, the curves form a linear fan opened to the left with the high
potential difference curve on the top of the low potential difference curve; the
combination of potential difference and current obeyed a division rule.
The understanding of the concept of resistance may be defective for a number
of independent or associated reasons. We can consider a case in which a student is
presented with the electrical circuit shown in figure 1. This student has (pictorial)
information on potential difference (low or high) and current (low or high) and is
asked to infer the resistance of the resistor. The student may in fact only take the
current information into account (if current is high, that means that current flows
easily through the resistor and that resistance is low, irrespective of the potential
difference level). In contrast, the student may only take potential difference into
account (resistance and potential difference can be seen as referring to the same
object, the resistor).
The student may take the current information into account without realizing
that the relationship is negative (the greater the current, the greater the resistance).
As shown by numerous authors, most students and most non-professionals in the
field insufficiently discriminate between current and potential difference. Potential
difference and current are viewed as basically the same phenomenon (a mere
measure of electric current) or at least as very similar phenomena. As a conse-
quence, the direction of the relationship between potential difference and resist-
ance, and the relationship between current and resistance, can not be easily
conceived as having opposite signs: a direct relationship in the case of potential
difference, and an inverse relationship in the case of current.
Finally, the student may intuitively combine the two pieces of information but
in a sub-optimal way, for example subtractively, and/or inference may be con-
taminated by irrelevant information (position A or A of the ammeter in the cir-
cuit).
Functional theory of cognition
The methodological framework for this study was the Functional Theory of
Cognition (Anderson 1996). This theory provides a description of the algebraic
structure of the cognitive processes underlying the integration of multiple pieces of
information (potential difference and current, for example) into a single judgement
(resistance, for example). Functional measurement methodology has been applied
successfully in a variety of related fields: intuitive geometry (Mullet and Miroux
1996, Rulence-Paques and Mullet 1998), intuitive number sense (Cuneo 1982,
Munoz Sastre and Mullet 1998), and intuitive physics (Mullet and Gervais
1990, Anderson and Wilkening 1991).
The major advantages of this method are that, (a) it yields true linear response
scales; and (b) it can successfully account for integration processes in algebraic
terms. Both advantages are of vital importance in intuitive physics studies. They
allow for considering and interpreting not only main effects (effect of potential
difference on resistance, for example) but also interactions. In the study of the
concept of resistance, the potential difference X current interaction plays a major
UNDERSTANDING OF RESISTANCE IN ELECTRIC CIRCUITS 555
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role. Functional measurement methodology has been chosen over other
approaches because it allows for easily assessing and testing this interaction.
Hypotheses
It can be hypothesized, based on the work by Stavy and Tirosh (1996) and by
Andersson (1986), that when asked to infer resistance from potential difference
and current information, pupils from eighth and ninth grades would take into
account: (a) potential difference information in a direct way (the greater the poten-
tial difference, the greater the resistance); as well as (b) current information in a
direct way (the greater the current, the greater the resistance). According to Stavy
and Tirosh (1996) students commonly use a kind of More of AMore of B rule
when confronted with comparison tasks or inference tasks in various physical or
mathematical settings (see also, Tirosh and Stavy 1999). According to Andersson
(1986), this could be due to the kind of experiential gestalt of causation pupils have
derived from everyday life (the greater the effort he makes, the bigger the effect on
the object, Andersson 1986: 157). It can also be hypothesized that, due to their
localist-sequentialist approach, pupils from eighth and ninth grades would also
consider that the resistance value is dependent on the position of the ammeter in
the circuit (before or after the resistor).
It can be hypothesized that tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders, who have been
exposed to many electricity lessons, including Ohms law, and who have conducted
many electricity experiments in class, would (a) take into account potential differ-
ence information in a direct way and current information in an inverse way, but
apply a less than normative combination (subtractive), and (b) be less sensitive to
irrelevant information. Finally, it can be hypothesized that just after exposure to
electricity lessons all participants would show better performance with regards to
the use of current and potential difference information, and would be better able to
disregard irrelevant information than before exposure.
Method
Participants
Participants were 100 students of various ages, and various school levels: 20
eighth-graders (12 girls and 8 boys, mean age 13.9), 20 ninth-graders (9 girls
and 11 boys, mean age 15.1), 23 tenth-graders (14 girls and 9 boys, mean
age 16.3), 20 eleventh-graders (15 girls and 5 boys, mean age 17.6), and 17
twelfth-graders (9 girls and 8 boys). All students resided in Reims, France and
volunteered for participation in the study. The average academic ability of each
group was not different from the average academic ability of the students in the
area. In addition, they were all from the same school district, that is they all had
the same general geographical and socio-economic background.
As basic electricity concepts are taught at each of the mentioned grades,
students in the eighth grade had not previously learned about electricity concepts
at the time of the first phase of the experiment; students in the ninth grade had
participated in one course about electricity concepts (the year before the study);
students in the tenth grade had participated in three courses; students in the
556 L. LIE

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eleventh grade had participated in four courses; and students in the twelfth grade
had participated in a total of five courses.
Material
The material was composed of one series of 18 cards. On each card, an electrical
circuit was printed (see figure 1). Under the circuit was a 16-cm response scale
where the left anchor was No resistance, and the right anchor was High resist-
ance. The series of 18 cards was obtained by an orthogonal crossing of the three
factors describing the circuit: intensity of current (low, medium, high), potential
difference (low, medium, high), and position of the ammeter (A or A).
Procedure
Participants were tested both before and after exposure to a course on electricity
given at school. In both cases, the procedure was the same. It consisted of two
phases. The first phase familiarized the participants with the material. The 18
cards were presented in random order. The participants were asked to examine
each electrical circuit and place a mark on the resistance scale at what she or he
believed to be the actual resistance value according to the position in the circuit of
the ammeter, to the value shown by the ammeter, and to the value shown by the
voltmeter. At the end of this phase, the participants were allowed to compare their
responses and change their ratings until they were satisfied with the entire set of
ratings. During this phase, information was provided before and during the test,
with regards to the different elements of the circuit: battery, resistors, voltmeter,
and ammeter.
The second phase was the test phase proper. It was identical to the first phase
except that the participants were no longer allowed to compare their responses,
and that the 18 cards were embedded in a larger set of cards. (The responses given
to the additional cards will be treated in a separate study). Participants worked
individually at their own pace in a quiet room on the school grounds.
Results
The distance in centimetres between the No Resistance anchor and each parti-
cipants marks was measured for phase 2. The participants used the entire range of
the response scale for their ratings (from 0.1 to 15.90).
Cluster analysis
A cluster analysis (Complete Linkage) was performed on the whole set of data in
order to determine possible different groups of participants. A five-cluster solution
was chosen because it was the one best showing the diverse rules used. Results
corresponding to these clusters are presented in figures 3 and 4.
The top panels in figure 3 plot the values observed for Cluster I. On the
vertical axis are the estimated resistance values. The curves were ascending: the
higher the current, the higher the judged resistance; and the curves were separated:
the higher the potential difference, the higher the resistance. In both panels, the
curves were at the same level on the vertical axis; the position of the ammeter
UNDERSTANDING OF RESISTANCE IN ELECTRIC CIRCUITS 557
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information was not taken into account for judging resistance. In each panel, the
data panel formed a set of parallel lines; potential difference and current were
combined following an additive law.
The bottom panels in figure 3 plot the values observed for Cluster II. The
curves were descending: the higher the current, the lower the judged resistance;
and the curves were separated: the higher the potential difference, the lower the
resistance. In both panels, the curves were at the same level on the vertical axis; the
position of the ammeter information was not taken into account for judging resist-
ance. In each panel, the data pattern was slightly fan shaped and open on the right;
potential difference and current were not combined according to a strictly additive
law.
The top panels in figure 4 plot the values observed for Cluster III. The curves
were flat: the current information was not taken into account for judging resist-
ance. The curves were clearly separated: the higher the potential difference, the
558 L. LIE

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L o w I n t . M e d . I n t . H i g h I n t .
A m . o n t h e L e f t
L o w I n t . M e d . I n t . H i g h I n t .
L o w P o t e n t i al
D i f f e r e n ce
H i g h P o t e n t i al
C l u st e r I
D i f f e r e n ce

A m . o n t h e R i g h t

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1 0
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L o w I n t . M e d . I n t . H i g h I n t .
A m . o n t h e L e f t
L o w I n t . M e d . I n t . H i g h I n t .
L o w P o t e n t i al D i f f e r e n ce
H i g h P o t e n t i al
C l u st e r I I
D i f f e r e n ce

On the horizontal axis are shown three intensity of current levels. On the vertical axis are inferred
resistance values. The three curves in each panel correspond to three possible potential difference
values. The two panels correspond to two possible positions of the ammeter (before and after the
resistor).
Figure 3. Observed patterns of results: clusters I and II.
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higher the resistance. In both panels, the curves were at the same level on the
vertical axis; the position of the ammeter information was not taken into account
for judging resistance.
Finally, the bottom panels in figure 4 plot the values observed for Cluster IV.
The data pattern was complex. When potential difference was low, current was
taken into account in a direct way for judging resistance. When potential difference
was high, current was taken into account in an inverse way for judging resistance.
Finally, when potential difference was medium, current was taken into account
in an inverse way and then in a direct way for judging resistance. When the
ammeter was on the left, current effects were higher than when the ammeter
was on the right.
UNDERSTANDING OF RESISTANCE IN ELECTRIC CIRCUITS 559

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L o w I n t . M e d . I n t . H i g h I n t .
A m . o n t h e L e f t
L o w I n t . M e d . I n t . H i g h I n t .
H i g h P o t e n t i al D i f f e r e n ce
L o w P o t e n t i al D i f f e r e n ce
Cl u st e r I I I
A m . o n t h e R i g h t

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2
4
6
8
1 0
1 2
1 4
1 6
L o w I n t . M e d . I n t . H i g h I n t .
A m . o n t h e L e f t
L o w I n t . M e d . I n t . H i g h I n t .
L o w P o t e n t i al D i f f e r e n ce
H i g h P o t e n t i al D i f f e r e n ce
Cl u st e r I V

On the horizontal axis are shown three intensity of current levels. On the vertical axis are inferred
resistance values. The three curves in each panel correspond to three possible potential difference
values. The two panels correspond to two possible positions of the ammeter (before and after the
resistor).
Figure 4. Observed patterns of results: clusters III and IV.
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The values for Cluster V are not shown. Participants in Cluster V only used
the current information. Curves were ascending and merged.
Effect of exposure to electricity courses
Table 1 presents the results relative to the effect of exposure to electricity courses
on the resistance judgements. Before exposure, a majority of participants
45 23 68 took into account the potential difference information for judging
resistance in a direct and correct way. After exposure, the global picture evolved
slightly. The number of participants who took into account the potential difference
information in a direct way was 74 61 13. Before exposure, the potential dif-
ference information was taken into account in an inverse way for judging resistance
only by a minority (13). After exposure, the global picture evolved slightly. The
number of participants who took into account the potential difference information
in an inverse way dropped to 5.
Before exposure, a minority of participants (13) took into account the current
information for judging resistance in an inverse and correct way. After exposure,
the global picture deteriorated. The number of participants who took into account
the current information, in an inverse way, was 5. Before exposure, many partici-
pants (45) took into account, in a direct, incorrect way, the current information for
judging resistance. After exposure, the global picture was clearly poorer. The
number of participants who took into account the current information in a direct
way was 61.
Discussion
It was hypothesized that when asked to infer resistance from potential difference
and intensity of current information, eighth and ninth graders would take into
560 L. LIE

GEOIS AND E. MULLET


Table 1. Composition of the clusters (before and after exposure to elec-
tricity courses).
Clusters Clusters (After Exposure) Grade Levels
(Before
Exposure) I II III IV V 8
th
9
th
10
th
11
th
12
th
Total
I 37 1 2 0 5 11 15 5 12 2 45
II 7 2 0 1 3 3 4 2 2 2 13
III 9 1 8 2 3 3 1 7 3 9 23
IV 5 1 3 1 3 2 0 7 2 2 13
V 3 0 0 0 3 1 0 2 1 2 6
Grade Levels I II III IV V Total
8
th
10 2 0 0 8 20
9
th
16 2 1 0 1 20
10
th
16 1 4 1 1 23
11
th
16 0 1 1 2 20
12
th
3 0 7 2 5 17
Total 61 5 13 4 17 20 20 23 20 17 100
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account: (a) potential, difference information in a direct way; as well as (b) current
information in a direct way. This is what was observed. More than half of the
younger high school students used both pieces of information in a direct way.
It was hypothesized that, due to their localist-sequentialist approach, pupils
from eighth and ninth grades would also consider that the resistance value is
dependent on the position of the ammeter in the circuit (before or after the resis-
tor). This was not observed.
It was hypothesized that at least some tenth, eleventh and twelfth grade
students would take into account potential difference information in a direct
way and current information in an inverse way but, apply a less than normative
combination (subtractive). This hypothesis was not supported. Older high school
students used potential difference and current information in a way very similar to
that which the younger high school students did. Very few used current informa-
tion in an inverse way and, when they did so, they also used potential difference
information in an inverse way. Overall, high school students were not able to use
potential difference and current information in a different way. The combination
rule used can be expressed in the following equations:
Resistance Potential difference Current 4 majority rule
Resistance Potential difference Current 5 minority rule
It was hypothesized that tenth, eleventh and twelfth graders, would be less sensi-
tive to irrelevant information. This was not observed, essentially because younger
students were not sensitive to the ammeter position information.
Finally, it was hypothesized that just after exposure to electricity lessons all
participants would show better performance with regards to the use of current and
potential difference information and would be better able to disregard irrelevant
information than before exposure. Exposure to an electricity course was mildly
successful. After exposure, more high school students took into account, (a) the
potential difference information in a direct, correct way; and (b) the current infor-
mation in a direct, incorrect way. The effect of exposure to courses was, thus,
shown to be positive as well as negative. This is consistent with previous studies.
As already stated by Andersson (1986), scientific concepts only develop to a minor
extent as a result of teaching (Andersson 1986: 155).
The resistance concept was thus very difficult to understand in the current-
potential difference context chosen in the present study. For a majority of parti-
cipants, irrespective of age and training, resistance was a direct function of both
current and potential difference. The current-potential difference confusion,
shown by numerous authors, was clearly detrimental because potential difference
and current have to be considered as having completely different effects on resist-
ance: direct effect for potential difference, and the inverse for current.
As a result of this confusion, when through some kind of estimation procedure
resistance is found to be lower whereas current has, at the same time, decreased,
the attention of the average student will not be alerted toward this inconsistent
result, and the estimation procedure will not be revised. Worse, that resistance
decreases at the same time that current decreases could be welcomed by the aver-
age student as reassuring (the More of A more of B rule); and that resistance
decreases at the same time that current increases could be considered by the
average student as indicating that the estimation procedure has to be revised.
UNDERSTANDING OF RESISTANCE IN ELECTRIC CIRCUITS 561
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The rule used by most participants to infer resistance: Resistance Potential
difference Current is, in fact, much more reminiscent of the equation used for
computing power than of Ohms law. This rule is exactly what Anderssons experi-
ential gestalt of causation predicts. One component of Anderssons model is the
greater the effort, the bigger the effect. This component was applied here by most
participants with regards to the bivariate relationship between current and resist-
ance, and the bivariate relationship between potential difference and resistance.
Another component of this model is several agents have a greater effect than just
one (Andersson 1986: 157). This component was applied here by most partici-
pants in terms of the mutivariate relationship between current, potential difference
and resistance. For these participants, current and potential difference add their
effects.
One could wonder if the material used in the present study confused partici-
pants by being unusual or complex. In practice, no participant expressed any
degree of difficulty with the material. Moreover, the participants were used to
the type of electrical schemas used here, which were less complex than those
usually found in most textbooks.
One could also wonder if Ohms law was actually an important part in the
electricity programme, and if enough teaching time hours were devoted to it. It is
surprising to find out that Ohms law is in fact a major constituent of the electricity
programmes from the ninth grade to the twelfth grade. Teachers insist that the
understanding of Ohms law, and the correct use of the corresponding equations is
one of the major pedagogical objectives in class.
Implications for education
Our guess is that in order to facilitate an understanding among pupils of the
relationships between the components of Ohms law, some kind of functional
teaching has to be used to complement traditional teaching. This type of functional
teaching could be provided with computers (see also, Ronen and Eliahu 2000).
Firstly, pupils could be presented with simplified electrical schemas (see figure
1) and asked to infer potential difference from current and resistance (qualitative)
information. Responses should be given in a non-numeric format (length of bars
for example), and feedback could be provided online in the same format. Previous
studies using similar techniques have shown that, when both relationships are
direct, learning occurs quickly and efficiently (Doherty and Kurz 1996). It remains
to be shown, however, if this kind of technique can lead pupils to the intuition that
the relationship is more than additive.
Second, pupils could be presented with similar, simplified electrical schemas
and asked to infer current from potential difference and resistance information.
Responses should also be given in a non-numeric format, and feedback provided
online in the same way. Two previous experiments (Chasseigne et al. 1997) using
similar techniques have shown that, when one relationship is direct and one rela-
tionship is inverse, learning occurs but not as quickly or efficiently as when both
relationships are inverse. It is not known if this kind of technique can lead pupils to
the intuition that the relationship is more than subtractive.
Third, and finally, pupils could be asked to infer resistance of a resistor from
current and potential difference information and be given feedback. In all three
cases, feedback could also be given in various formats, including factorial graphs
562 L. LIE

GEOIS AND E. MULLET


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likes the ones presented in figure 2. Finally, pupils could be offered the oppor-
tunity to visualize their progression in understanding, through visualization of
their results pattern as it transforms as a result of their functional learning.
Acknowledgement
This work was supported by the Laboratoire Cognition and Decision of the Ecole
Pratique des Hautes Etudes, by the UPRES Vieillissement, Rythmicite et
Developpement Cognitif, and by the UMR Travail et Cognition. We are grateful
to Sheila Rivie`re Shafighi, Stacey Callahan, and Gerard Chasseigne for their
thoughtful comments on an earlier draft of this article.
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