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published by the Concord Consortium
supported by the National Science Foundation
This 90-minute activity features six interactive molecular models to explore the relationships among voltage, current, and resistance.  Students start at the atomic level to explore how voltage and resistance affect the flow of electrons. Next, they use a model to investigate how temperature can affect conductivity and resistivity. Finally, they explore how electricity can be converted to other forms of energy. The activity was developed for introductory physics courses, but the first half could be appropriate for physical science and Physics First. The formula for Ohm's Law is introduced, but calculations are not required.

This item is part of the Concord Consortium, a nonprofit research and development organization dedicated to transforming education through technology. The Concord Consortium develops deeply digital learning innovations for science, mathematics, and engineering.

Please note that this resource requires Java.
Editor's Note: Educational research indicates that students of all ages, even after instruction, often have inaccurate beliefs about electric current that are highly resistant to change. This well-sequenced resource will help them understand how current is different from voltage, and visualize how the movement of electrons is related to conductivity. More advanced students will explore a hydrogen fuel cell model, an incandescent light bulb filament, and electromotive force.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Modeling
- Technology
= Multimedia
Electricity & Magnetism
- DC Circuits
= Circuit Analysis
= Ohm's Law
- Electromotive Force and Current
= Cells and Batteries
- Resistance
Modern Physics
- Atomic Physics
= Electron Properties
Other Sciences
- Chemistry
- High School
- Middle School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
= Model
= Problem/Problem Set
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- AP Physics
- Activity
- Assessment
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© 2011 The Concord Consortium
Kirchoff's Law, Ohm's Law, circuit simulations, collection, current flow, electrical energy, electron models, electron simulations, fuel cell, hydrogen fuel cell, incandescence, molecular model, voltage
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created March 10, 2013 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 15, 2016 by Lyle Barbato

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

3. The Nature of Technology

3B. Design and Systems
  • 6-8: 3B/M3a. Almost all control systems have inputs, outputs, and feedback.

4. The Physical Setting

4D. The Structure of Matter
  • 9-12: 4D/H1. Atoms are made of a positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons. The nucleus is a tiny fraction of the volume of an atom but makes up almost all of its mass. The nucleus is composed of protons and neutrons which have roughly the same mass but differ in that protons are positively charged while neutrons have no electric charge.
4E. Energy Transformations
  • 6-8: 4E/M2. Energy can be transferred from one system to another (or from a system to its environment) in different ways: 1) thermally, when a warmer object is in contact with a cooler one; 2) mechanically, when two objects push or pull on each other over a distance; 3) electrically, when an electrical source such as a battery or generator is connected in a complete circuit to an electrical device; or 4) by electromagnetic waves.
  • 6-8: 4E/M4. Energy appears in different forms and can be transformed within a system. Motion energy is associated with the speed of an object. Thermal energy is associated with the temperature of an object. Gravitational energy is associated with the height of an object above a reference point. Elastic energy is associated with the stretching or compressing of an elastic object. Chemical energy is associated with the composition of a substance. Electrical energy is associated with an electric current in a circuit. Light energy is associated with the frequency of electromagnetic waves.
  • 9-12: 4E/H1. Although the various forms of energy appear very different, each can be measured in a way that makes it possible to keep track of how much of one form is converted into another. Whenever the amount of energy in one place diminishes, the amount in other places or forms increases by the same amount.
4G. Forces of Nature
  • 6-8: 4G/M4. Electrical circuits require a complete loop through which an electrical current can pass.
  • 9-12: 4G/H4ab. In many conducting materials, such as metals, some of the electrons are not firmly held by the nuclei of the atoms that make up the material. In these materials, applied electric forces can cause the electrons to move through the material, producing an electric current. In insulating materials, such as glass, the electrons are held more firmly, making it nearly impossible to produce an electric current in those materials.

11. Common Themes

11A. Systems
  • 6-8: 11A/M2. Thinking about things as systems means looking for how every part relates to others. The output from one part of a system (which can include material, energy, or information) can become the input to other parts. Such feedback can serve to control what goes on in the system as a whole.
11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M1. Models are often used to think about processes that happen too slowly, too quickly, or on too small a scale to observe directly. They are also used for processes that are too vast, too complex, or too dangerous to study.
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.
11D. Scale
  • 6-8: 11D/M3. Natural phenomena often involve sizes, durations, and speeds that are extremely small or extremely large. These phenomena may be difficult to appreciate because they involve magnitudes far outside human experience.

This resource is part of 2 Physics Front Topical Units.

Topic: Electricity and Electrical Energy
Unit Title: A Model for Electricity

What's the difference between voltage and current? And what does resistance have to do with anything? Many students, even after instruction, still need help to understand these basics. This activity features six molecular models to explore electron flow when voltage is applied to a wire, and when current flows in a circuit. We recommend only the first half for use in 8th grade physical science.

Links to Units:

Topic: Electricity and Electrical Energy
Unit Title: Resistance and Ohm's Law

Robust activity features six molecular models to explore relationships among voltage, current, and resistance. This well-sequenced resource will help learners understand how current is different from voltage and visualize how electron movement is related to conductivity. More advanced students can explore a hydrogen fuel cell model, an incandescent light bulb filament, and electromotive force.

Link to Unit:
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Record Link
AIP Format
(The Concord Consortium, Concord, 2011), WWW Document, (https://concord.org/stem-resources/electric-current).
Concord Consortium: Electric Current, (The Concord Consortium, Concord, 2011), <https://concord.org/stem-resources/electric-current>.
APA Format
Concord Consortium: Electric Current. (2011). Retrieved April 25, 2017, from The Concord Consortium: https://concord.org/stem-resources/electric-current
Chicago Format
National Science Foundation. Concord Consortium: Electric Current. Concord: The Concord Consortium, 2011. https://concord.org/stem-resources/electric-current (accessed 25 April 2017).
MLA Format
Concord Consortium: Electric Current. Concord: The Concord Consortium, 2011. National Science Foundation. 25 Apr. 2017 <https://concord.org/stem-resources/electric-current>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {Concord Consortium: Electric Current}, Publisher = {The Concord Consortium}, Volume = {2017}, Number = {25 April 2017}, Year = {2011} }
Refer Export Format

%T Concord Consortium: Electric Current
%D 2011
%I The Concord Consortium
%C Concord
%U https://concord.org/stem-resources/electric-current
%O application/java

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%D 2011
%T Concord Consortium: Electric Current
%I The Concord Consortium
%V 2017
%N 25 April 2017
%9 application/java
%U https://concord.org/stem-resources/electric-current

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Citation Source Information

The AIP Style presented is based on information from the AIP Style Manual.

The APA Style presented is based on information from APA Style.org: Electronic References.

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