Our STEM Club is in full swing for the Fall of 2019. This semester started with a unit on electricity to support 4th-grade NGSS physical science standards (PS3-2; PS3-3; PS3-4). You can find the lesson plan for this activity in our TeachersPayTeachers store. We began by having the teams create a simple closed circuit with a 1.5v D-cell battery and wires to light a lightbulb. The two challenges were attaching the wires to the battery and figuring out how to connect the lamp holder. We supplied two 12” wires, a heavy rubber band, and two #10 washers for the problem. Teams discovered that the wires were easier to secure under the rubber band if it is attached to a washer. The lamp holder was a bit of a mystery to the children, but once we showed them the two conductor paths, they quickly figured out how to
attach the wires to the clips.
Once teams could explain why the lightbulb would (or would not) glow, we introduced a second activity – the Circuit Game. In this activity, teams created a multiple choice quiz and wired up matching pairs to form several alternate conductors. To begin, we supplied a template so each adult/child team could visualize the layout for their questions and answers.
Teachers who implement this activity often use a cardboard game board with aluminum foil wires. We opted to give each team a pegboard game surface and a pair of wire strippers and needle-nose pliers to create a more authentic model using 22-gauge insulated wire. The children quickly learned how to measure and strip the wire, but this proved to be educational in other ways. For all of the children, this was their first encounter with these tools and the experience was valuable. They learned tool recognition and safety. In using the wire strippers, students observed that different size wires have different diameters and only the correct hole will strip insulation without cutting the wire. This knowledge was very helpful in a later session when Nick, the electrician, visited the group to share his expertise with residential and commercial wiring.
Building this game was a great activity to review their understanding of electrical circuits. The STEM Club teams used their Q&A template as a key to wire the circuits for their game. We provided paper brads to make it easy to have a contact on the front side of the board and a connection terminal on the back. We instructed teams to “…route their wires like they were drawing a line in a multiple-choice test.”
The challenge for the groups was to figure out how to get the lightbulb and the battery pack connected to the individual circuits for each question and answer pair. There were SO MANY connections now! The key was to have them build the same simple circuit they’d explored before by connecting the battery to the light bulb using one short wire and one long wire. Then Dave called a brave team to the front and cut the long wire to the light bulb and challenged the team to light the bulb again without touching the cut ends together. With the group’s support, the team realized they could touch paired connections on the board with the cut ends of the “lead wire” to complete the circuit. When they did so, the groups recognized that each paired connection worked like a switch to close the circuit.
With the technical challenges behind them, teams enthusiastically decorated their games. This pegboard and wire version of the classic electric quiz game cost a little more than the cardboard and foil version, but the end result was a product that students were proud to demonstrate and explain to their family and friends!