My Electrical Secret
by Linda Dunnavant
I have a dirty little secret. As a teacher, I have been asked to teach concepts that I don’t personally understand very well. Electricity is one of those topics for me.
When I was a new teacher, I remember standing in front of a class of fifth graders and attempting to explain how circuits work. Not only did I confuse my students with my explanation, I think I also confused myself! I remember feeling embarrassed about my lack of understanding when it came to the topic of electricity, and like my students, I could have benefited from a hands-on approach to learning about electric circuitry.
Enter the Electri-Putty Kit! Once I tried out this kit, all I could think about was how much I would have loved to have had this kit when I was fumbling through that failed electricity unit all those years ago. The Electri-Putty kit provides students (and parents and teachers!) with the tools to gain a first-hand knowledge of how electric circuits work. Read on to learn about how the Electri-Putty kit works and how it can be successfully used with students of varying ages.
Materials Included in the Electri-Putty Kit:
- Recipes for non-toxic conductive and insulating dough *
- 4 sturdy jumper wires
- 10 LEDs in assorted colors
- 1 vibrating motor
- 1 tone alert buzzer
- 1 9-volt battery
- 1 battery holder
* The ingredients for the dough are simple household items: flour, sugar, salt, cream of tartar (or lemon juice), vegetable oil, and food coloring. The process for making the dough is very easy, and can be done in the classroom. The conductive dough needs to be heated, but the insulating dough does not. I made both of these doughs with my four-year-old at home, and I think the process of making the dough was almost as impactful for him as creating the circuits. Not to mention the connection to Language Arts through reading the recipes and following directions!
Once you have prepared both the conductive and insulating doughs, you’re ready to start experimenting!
Activity 1: Create a Simple Circuit
- Connect the 9-volt battery to the battery holder.
- Attach one end of the jumper wires to the battery holder and the other end to the LED’s leads (the wires that look like legs).
- Be sure that the short lead (or “leg”) is connected to the negative (-) terminal on the battery and the longer lead is connected to the positive (+) terminal.
- Watch the LED light up! This is a simple circuit.
Activity 2: Create a Closed Circuit
- Roll a strip of conductive dough and insert the LED so that both leads are embedded in the dough. Connect the red jumper wire to one side of the dough and the black wire to the opposite end of the dough. The LED won’t illuminate because there is more resistance in the LED than the dough.
- Make a second strip of conductive dough as well as a strip of insulating dough. Sandwich the insulating dough between the two strips of conductive dough.
- Place the LED leads into the conductive dough and attach the jumper wires to each of the conductive strips.
- The LED will light up! This is a closed circuit.
Activity 3: Using the Motor
- Have students create a circuit by connecting the two battery leads, the two types of clay and the vibrating motor.
- As a challenge, students can also think of other ways to create an insulating layer besides using the insulating dough.
Activity 4: Using the Buzzer
- Have students create a circuit by connecting the two battery leads, the two types of dough, and the buzzer. Be warned: it is loud!
- Students can gently stretch the dough and hear the buzzer’s sound change in pitch.
Activity 5: Parallel versus Series Circuits
- Roll out two pea-sized spheres of conductive dough.
- Place the leads of the LED into the two different spheres.
- Use the battery pack to illuminate the LED.
- Take a second LED and place one lead into a shared dough sphere and the other lead into a third dough sphere.
- Create a series circuit by connecting the battery pack again and watching both LEDs illuminate.
- See how many LEDs you can connect, and notice if there is a brightness change as you connect additional LEDs.
- Create a parallel circuit by rolling out two long strips of conductive dough and placing the leads of an LED in both strips so it illuminates.
- Again, see how many LEDs you can connect, and notice if there is a brightness change as you connect additional LEDs.
Activity 6: Make Your Own Electri-Putty Creations
Encourage your students to experiment using both types of electri-putty dough and the electric devices. This is a great opportunity for students to work together to test hypotheses as well as solidify their understanding of how circuits work.
This activity works great as a whole class demonstration. Bonus if you have a document camera to project it on a big screen!
Another great option is to have this activity in a center. In my classroom, I will frequently put students in groups of three-to-four and have them rotate through a series of centers during a class period. Other centers could focus on vocabulary related to circuits or reading articles about electricity. Students could even make the insulating and connective doughs in one center. You may think centers are only appropriate for young kids, but I find them very effective for middle schoolers with short attention spans!
If your students are younger or if you are pressed for time, you could modify by only doing certain activities. The main thing is to adapt it so that it works for you and your students.
Here’s a quick look at the Electri-Putty Kit in action:
Need more activities to teach electricity to your students? Check out the following offerings from Educational Innovations.
Linda Dunnavant is a middle school teacher whose blog, “Tales of a Fifth Grade Teacher,” can be accessed here.