We discuss the clusters of resources that emerge when upper-division students write about electromagnetic fields in linear materials. The data analyzed for this paper come from students' written tests in an upper-division electricity and magnetism course. We examine how these clusters change with time and context. The evidence shows that students benefit from activating resources related to the internal structure of the atom when thinking about electric fields and their effect on materials. We argue that facilitating activation of certain resources by the instructor in the classroom can affect the plasticity of those resources in the student, making them more solid and easily activated. We find that the wording of the questions posed to students affects which resources are activated, and that students often fill in resources to link known phenomena to phenomena described by the question when lacking detailed mental models.

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