A Phenomenographic Approach to Students' Alternative Conceptions of Electrical Circuits
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This study examined the variety of alternative conceptions that students have regarding electrical circuits using a phenomenographic approach. Five graduate students completed a questionnaire and simple activity relating to electrical circuits. The questionnaire involved describing terms that are commonly covered in electrical circuits, and drawing a simple circuit involving a piece of copper wire, a battery, and a light bulb. Participants were then instructed to create a circuit using these materials and to describe the thoughts they were experiencing while completing this activity. These data formed the basis for a conversation style interview with the participants. A phenomenographic approach was then used to create an outcome space for these conceptions, which were organized into a hierarchy. It was found that every participant conceived his or her electrical circuit in a different way. Although the level of physics education may have influenced the way in which participants completed their circuits, the nature of activities that their instructors chose to present in class may also have shaped their descriptions of how the circuit worked, as did their own real-life experiences.