Research in Science Education

, Volume 49, Issue 5, pp 1433–1456 | Cite as

Effect of a Diagram on Primary Students’ Understanding About Electric Circuits

  • Christine Margaret PrestonEmail author


This article reports on the effect of using a diagram to develop primary students’ conceptual understanding about electric circuits. Diagrammatic representations of electric circuits are used for teaching and assessment despite the absence of research on their pedagogical effectiveness with young learners. Individual interviews were used to closely analyse Years 3 and 5 (8–11-year-old) students’ explanations about electric circuits. Data was collected from 20 students in the same school providing pre-, post- and delayed post-test dialogue. Students’ thinking about electric circuits and changes in their explanations provide insights into the role of diagrams in understanding science concepts. Findings indicate that diagram interaction positively enhanced understanding, challenged non-scientific views and promoted scientific models of electric circuits. Differences in students’ understanding about electric circuits were influenced by prior knowledge, meta-conceptual awareness and diagram conventions including a stylistic feature of the diagram used. A significant finding that students’ conceptual models of electric circuits were energy rather than current based has implications for electricity instruction at the primary level.


Diagrams Electric circuits Primary students Science learning Conceptions Models Representations 



The author would like to thank Peter Hubber for his helpful comments on a draft version of this paper.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The study was approved by the Human Research Ethics Committee, University of Sydney and the NSW Department of Education and Training. Informed consent was obtained from the school principal and parents prior to participant involvement.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of SydneyHornsbyAustralia

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