Possible origins of some common misconceptions in understanding basic electrical phenomena.
This study investigated everyday descriptive and figurative language used by children, aged
nine to thirteen years, when discussing electrical devices, before receiving formal tuition
The semantic structure of this language was examined, using metaphoric analysis, to isolate
any reasoning, conceptual image, social convention or perceived context which might have
led children to utilise a descriptive term or lexicon of terms. A judgement was made as to
whether or not this utilisation could enhance understanding of, or reinforce misconceptions
about, electrical devices.
Experiment One used two versions of a thematic questionnaire. 238 children of wide
ranging abilities responded to Version One. 59 children, of similar ability range and Asian
background with English as a second language, responded to Version Two.
Analysis showed that children's responses included container and fluid-flow metaphors.
There were no important differences between the responses of the two groups of children.
The terms Electricity, Energy and Power appeared to be used synonymously and commonly
associated with a Source-Consumer model. Charge and Current occurred rarely. Battery
Polarity was associated with physical position, not with any electrical meaning.
Experiment Two was devised to discriminate closely between the perceived meanings of
Electricity, Energy and Power. Questionnaire and interview techniques were used to present
a wider variety of stimulus material than for Experiment One to a new sample of 137
Analysis showed that, viewing a battery as a container filled with energy which flowed to an
energy consuming device, many children saw no need for a complete circuit. Power was
perceived as an ability to cause energy or electricity to flow. For descriptions of mains
driven devices, the term Electricity took over many of the meanings previously attributed to
the term Energy.
The evidence provided by the metaphoric analysis chosen is considered to be reliable and
Implications for teaching are pointed out and new approaches considered.