We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip main navigation

Checking equipment

In the video we address the issue of equipment not working when teaching electricity.
[Circuit problem solving] One of the common cries from students in the classroom is “The equipment isn’t working!” This tends to occur the most when it comes to learning about electrical circuits. It could be that students have placed broken components such as broken bulbs back in the trays, faulty wires or that there is a loose connection somewhere. To build up resilience in your students and to save you time in the long run it is best to build these skills at the earliest opportunity. If you are inheriting a class later on, then do this at the start of the topic to ensure that they are able to access all the investigations and give you time to help others.
Get the students to set up a simple series circuit with a cell, two wires and a bulb. If this set up works then they know all the components are working. They can put them to one side knowing they work. If the circuit they are building requires more than this, such as it has 3 bulbs, they can remove the original bulb and test the second and then the third. Once again if all work they are placed to one side, but if not, then they are put in a tray for faulty equipment so others don’t waste their time testing it later on. If the circuit isn’t working, another way to test this to use a voltmeter.
This is connected in parallel across a component to see if there is a potential difference. It might be the bulb is the wrong wattage so you can’t see it light up, even if there is a voltage across it. Being familiar with the use of a voltmeter is a quick and easy way to check the equipment at the start of a lesson so your pupils can get on with the practical they need to perform. Having clear methods for problem solving will help with classroom management in the long run as students become more resilient, and it deepens their understanding of how circuits work too.
By doing this it will free up more teacher time so you can go around to check understanding, rather than dealing with finding out which components aren’t working and why.
In the video, we address the issue of equipment not working.
Before you start with electricity it is worth knowing that circuits should be taught in Year 4 (8-9 years old) and Year 6 (10-11 years old) in England, and they should be able to draw basic circuit diagrams in Year 6. Some schools may lack the equipment to do this, so it would be worth checking with feeder schools to see what experience students have before they reach you.
From experience, it tends to be the electricity topic taught in the 11-14 yearold and 14-16 year old age groups (Key Stage 3 and Key Stage 4/GCSE in England and Wales) where this occurs the most in physics. Problems are likely due to the age of the equipment being used or as students see most components as ‘cheap and replaceable’.
As a teacher, you can often lose the majority of the lesson going around the class identifying the problem and ensuring the equipment is working. This can lead to other groups sat around with similar issues, which means they aren’t learning or progressing. By building up this skill of problem-solving and resilience as soon as you can, it frees up a lot of time and allows you to go around and check understanding rather than checking wires, or that bulbs are screwed in properly.
It also allows students to demonstrate a good understanding of the topic. If a bulb isn’t lit up but is showing a potential difference across it, it could be the power rating of the bulb. Can the students explain this?

Hints and Tips

  • Do this as early as you can with groups to ensure they are confident with it later on.
  • Give them an everyday context to why this skill is important. Before teaching I worked as a sound engineer and often speakers weren’t working, or channels on the desk. Was it a faulty wire or loose connection? How would you know and what would you do to correct it?
  • Have a tray for faulty equipment. This (hopefully) stops students placing faulty equipment back in a practical kit tray for another group to try later on. It also means that the technicians can check this at a later date to see if it can be fixed. Working with the technicians in your department is key, and this will assist them greatly as well as strengthen relationships between you and them.


Do you have a lesson coming up where you can build resilience and problem-solving skills up within your students? How would you do this?
Share your ideas in the comments.
This article is from the free online

Teaching Practical Science: Physics

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education