(Lesson courtesy of Youth Net and Judy Adair of Spring Creek Elementary, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma).
Level: grades 1-5.
Group size: 2-3 students.
Time required: one class period
In this single-session activity, students in grades 1-5 participate in a hands-on science investigation, learning through discovery how electricity works. Students’ natural curiosity and sense of exploration enable them to explore on their own with minimal input from the teacher.
The goal of this investigation is to introduce students to the concept of electricity and dispel misgivings they may have that they don’t understand the concept. This exercise is particularly helpful for boosting girls’ confidence with science skills.
The role of the teacher in this activity is to be a facilitator. Allow students to explore on their own the concept of electricity; the less you show and tell, the better.
As a result of this activity, the students will be able to:
- draw and explain how an electrical circuit works;
- define and use vocabulary associated with electricity (vocabulary: circuits, electrons, force, conductors, switch, insulation, etc.);
- construct a simple circuit and a parallel circuit; and make an electrical motor work, and add a switch to turn it on and off.
Resources and Materials
- a brown lunch sack
- one C cell battery
- two insulated copper wires
- one battery holder and two brass battery clips,
- one small flashlight bulb
- a socket
The teacher should prepare the kit ahead of time. Items should be separated and placed in random order in the bag. Items can be bought inexpensively at Radio Shack or a similar electronics store.
1. Separate students into small groups of 2-3 students, distributing a bag to each group. Allow 10 minutes for exploration, without providing any instructions, but encouraging students to explore on their own.
2. Before the time is up, some students may succeed in producing a simple circuit out of the bag’s contents. At this point, pause for discussion. Have the students explain what they have done, so others can follow their example.
3. Once the other students have had a chance to build their own circuits, the teacher should lead a discussion on concepts of electricity, conductors, and the flow of electrons through a conductor. Discuss where the electricity comes from and where it goes, and how it makes the light bulb illuminate. Explain how the battery stores electricity. How do we know that electrons are flowing?
4. After all the students have successfully assembled a simple circuit, each pair should draw a diagram of their circuit. Older students can be directed to label the parts of the circuit.
5. Give each pair of students a second battery and let them experiment. Does the second battery change anything? Does the light get brighter or dimmer? Encourage them to try different ways of connecting the batteries. Does the connection make a difference in the way the light works? Some students may make a parallel circuit. Pause to have them describe what they have done, then discuss the concept of parallel circuits. Each pair should draw what they have done.
Wrapping Up the Exercise
Check each pair of students’ diagrams and give them feedback on their work. Encourage students to share what they’ve learned with other students and parents.
- Make switches available for students who finish quickly, having them see if they can connect the switch into the circuit, to operate the light. Discuss how electricity flows: Why doesn’t the electricity cross over the switch when it is open? Does electricity jump? Each group should draw a diagram of their device.
- Each group can exchange their light bulb and socket for a small electric motor and try to connect it into the circuit to produce a fan. Torn or cut paper makes great fan blades. Let the students experiment to find the best size and shape to make the fan go very fast.
Adair comments, “I have done this activity with students in grades 1-5, and all have learned and had great fun doing so. For the younger students, their drawings will be less sophisticated, and you do not need to dwell on vocabulary. With older students, they will need to label and use the vocabulary correctly. Most students are so eager to get hands on experience in science, and, with this activity, all students can experience success.”
Top image: “The Incandescent Light Bulb” by Anton Fornkin, Flickr Commons