Explore First, Explain Later: Electricity

Last week’s student-led workshop was presented by a group of students in our biology curriculum class. Their workshop was focused on the grade 9 electricity unit. Here, I have described each of the activities in detail, made note of possible debrief/scaffolding questions you can ask students, and some of my annotations on how the activities can be improved. 

Focus Question: “How do we prevent an electrical shock?”

Introduction: Give one blank sheet of paper to each group of four. Get students to draw a light-bulb on the center of their page. Assign one student as the “recorder” and ask the group to brainstorm words or phrases that come to mind when they think of the word “electricity.”  

Learning Activity: Turn the Light On!
-wires (stripped at both ends)
-Christmas lights
-AA batteries
-electrical tape
PART A- Teacher Instructions: Ask one student in the group to collect 1 wire, 1 AA battery, 1 Christmas light, and electrical tape. The students’ task is simply to “turn the light on.”
Debrief Questions
What components do we need to create a circuit? (load, wires, power source

PART B- Teacher Instructions: Now ask one student in each group to get one extra wire and one additional light bulb for their group. Instruct students to try and turn both lights on using different wiring strategies. Have students draw each of the circuits they create in their notebooks. Go around and assist students as they go through the activity. Ideally, you should have students building both parallel and series circuits. Designate one or two people to draw the two types of circuits on the board. 
Debrief Questions: Explain to the students that they have just built series and parallel circuits. 
What observations can you make about each type of circuit?
Which one do you think is series and which is parallel? Why? 

Follow-up: Proceed by showing students a string of Christmas lights. Ask them to predict what they think will happen when one light bulb is removed from the middle. Record students’ predictions on the board, and host a secret vote of science to determine the most popular choice. (Extension: ask students to explain their choices, e.g. “Why might something think the lights will get brighter? Dimmer? …etc.). Turn off the lights for dramatic effect. Pull one bulb out of the string of lights and the lights all go out. Ask students to see if they can figure out whether the Christmas lights were wired in series or parallel. See if they can use the materials they have and the diagrams on the board to figure this out! 


Electricity Quiz board. Terms on one column, and definitions in the other.


Board only lights up when correct match is made.


What the back looks like.

Learning Activity: Electrical Quiz Board
Materials: (per board)
– 1 Poster board
– 1 AA battery
– Electrical tape
– 10 Brass fasteners
– 5 small electrical wires
– 2 long electrical wires
– Markers

PART A- Teacher Instructions: Tell the class that you will be making an electrical quiz board to review the electricity terms of the semester. Students can pick 5 terms from a given list of terms, and they will be asked to go into their textbooks to look up the definition, and then write it down in their own words. These terms and definitions will be used in their quiz board. (Extension: give students a graphic organizer with three columns, with the terms on the first column, the textbook definition on the second column, and the paraphrased definition in the third column.)

PART B- Student Instructions:

  1. Fold the poster board in half like a booklet.
  2. On the front of the poster board, insert the paper fasteners in two columns of five along the middle of the poster board. Flatten the ends of the fasteners on the back. It is critical that the fasteners do not touch. 
  3. Transfer the terms and definitions you have previously written down to the poster board. The terms will go on the left column and the definitions on the right. This is a quiz game, so jumble up the terms and definitions.
  4. On the back of the front page, use a wire to connect the correct matching term with the definition. Secure the wire in place using electrical tape.
  5. Repeat step 4 for all terms and definitions. You should have five connecting wires on the back of the book.
  6. Make a hold on the top of the front page for the light bulb. Poke the light bulb through the hole so that the two wires of the light bulb are on the back of the page.
  7. On the back of the front page, secure the battery with electrical tape near the top of the page.
  8. Now connect the two long electrical wires, the light bulb, and the battery (see figure). To test this circuit, touch the two loose wires together. If the connections are right then the bulb will light up.

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