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Exploring understandings of key concepts in electric circuits: a case of 20 grade 11 Physical Sciences learners in uMgungundlovu District collaboratively constructing concept maps.

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This study presents an action research project on teaching and learning where understanding of fundamental concepts and their relationships in electric circuits were explored. A sample of 20 Grade 11 Physical Sciences learners was conveniently selected from one of the township schools in the uMgungundlovu District. A single case design was used, treating learners as both a case and the unit of the study. An interpretive approach was used to collect data in the form of concept maps, audio discussions, and a semi-structured interview. A series of three concept mapping sessions were conducted to probe and deepen learners’ understanding of the relationships between key concepts in circuits as reported in the literature, including the Department of Basic Education’s diagnostic reports over the years. A semi-structured interview focused learners’ conceptual understanding of key concepts in electric circuits after undergoing teaching activities and collaborative concept mapping. Analysis and interpretation of the results indicated that learners understand that there is a significant relationship between the potential difference, resistance, and current in an electric circuit known as the Ohm’s Law. This relationship was expressed both descriptively and in mathematical form. Although learners showed expected understanding of the relationship between key concepts in electric circuits, they still had issues when it came to providing scientific reasons as to why the circuit behaved that way. This was an indication that more emphasis needed to be put in the discussion of the cause and effect of concepts in electric circuits. The findings of this study also revealed that learners rarely use their prior knowledge when constructing a concept map to deepen their understanding of new concepts as suggested by the literature. While there were some noticeable improvements in their understanding of the Ohm’s Law, it was also found that some learners had alternative conceptions regarding the relationship between the power source and the electric current in a circuit. Another alternative conception was related to the views that learners have about the voltmeter readings which hindered them from fully understanding the concept of potential difference. Learners also showed alternative understanding related to windmills and how they are used in the real world. Some alternative conceptions, such as the power supply alternative conception, were successfully addressed during teaching. However, the meanings attributed to the voltmeter reading alternative conception remained unchanged throughout the study despite attempts to address them. The study therefore proposes that concept maps should be used with several other teaching aids such as PhET simulations to help learners navigate through their difficulties and simplify the process of learning key concepts in electric circuits.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.