When it comes to teaching science, we can sometimes be quick to cut out the experiments. Or, we do the same activities over and over again, which can sometimes be just as boring. Instead, it should be about making electricity fun and engaging. Why not put a little spark in your next electricity unit with these ideas below!
Teaching electricity doesn’t have to be a long drawn out process where students just simply learn about circuits. It can actually be a lot of fun and could actually be a great way to hook them on science. When I start my electricity science unit, I always first begin by helping them understand just the basics of what electricity is. We do this by reading a quick passage and then creating quick sheets (see image below). I keep it pretty simple because I know down the road they are going to go more in-depth with these concepts.
Making Electricity Fun with Static Electricity
After we talk about this, then we start talking about the role friction plays into electricity. Together, we take balloons and hang them from our desks. We make predictions and then investigate what will happen when we first rub one balloon and then what will happen when we rub both balloons.
Then we compare static electricity to lightning by taking a piece of clay with a paper clip in it and a strip of plastic from a report folder. We rub the plastic vigorously on wool and then move it close to the paper clip. You have to be quick to see the spark! Afterward, we make this cute craftivity discussing the comparisons and what we know about static electricity.
Other options include building up a charge on a balloon and sticking it to the wall, building up a charge on a balloon and bending water, building up a charge on a comb and picking up puffed cereal, and even crunching on a wintergreen mint life-saver in the dark to represent friction for lightning.
Making Electricity Fun with Current Electricity
Yes, now it’s time to start talking about circuits- but that doesn’t mean that we can’t still make electricity fun! Instead of just building the circuits, I make it more of an investigative approach. But first, you have to introduce them to the parts – the simple circuit.
We also make sure we talk about open circuits and closed circuits. All this vocabulary is crucial!
Then I give students the materials needed to make a series circuit. I ask them if they can find a way to make the light bulb light. I let them work on it for a little while and see what they come up with. Then I throw in an extra light bulb and see what they can come up with. Then I ask them what if I remove a light bulb; what will happen then? I do this same approach with parallel circuits. We even discuss the brightness of the bulbs between the two circuits.
When finished, we compare and contrast the two circuits and create these craftivities to help us remember their characteristics.
Then we talked about switches. This is a great way to help us review open and closed circuits. We gather aluminum foil, a light bulb, a battery, and a paper clip. First, we set it up without the paper clip so we can create a closed circuit. (See image below).
Then, we cut the aluminum foil and see what happens when it’s not connected. It’s now an open circuit. Next, we connected it using a paper clip. (We also discussed trying other objects such as a rubber eraser, a pencil, etc. This was a great segue to talk about conductors and insulators.)
When we connect it with a paper clip, we were able to get it to light up again!
After all those circuits, we were able to create our wheel to share our knowledge gained!
One of my absolute favorite ways to teach about open and closed circuits is using the chirping chick!
I gather my students around in a circle and have them hold hands. Then I have one student place one of their fingers over one prong of the chick and another student place their finger over the other prong. When both prongs are touched, the chick starts chirping. It helps students see that electricity flows through us; that we are conductors. I have had students in the middle of the circle stop holding hands (while the rest of us didn’t) and the chick would stop chirping. It’s very engaging and very eye-opening to the students. We use this to discuss electricity safety.
This short clip shows you how it works.
Of course, all of these activities above (and more!) are described in fuller detail in my Electricity Unit found on Teachers Pay Teachers if you are interested in saving the time planning and don’t want to have to worry about creating it yourself. 🙂