Into the Deep End with Circuits (and Batman)

I've been looking forward to teaching electricity all year. I've never done it before and I was excited about the hands-on stuff you can do. Who doesn't want to play with batteries and light bulbs?

Seriously.

I split the lab into two days. Rather than prescribing circuits, I knew I wanted to make it inquiry-based. There are limited variables with simple circuitry and I wanted students to find the connections and patterns on their own.

Day 1

I put together kits for students with a D cell battery, some Christmas lights I cut up the night before, and aluminum foil to serve as a "wire." Each group was challenged to make five working circuits.

bring the light

The struggle was real. The success was even more real. Smiles all around; shouts of joy when the bulbs lit up or turned off when they were supposed to. Plus, lots of shrugging and smiling from me as I avoided answering anything, which was fun.

Plus, I got my favorite answer ever from someone on the last question...

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The circuit diagrams were based on a model on the board with unlabeled components, which helped them struggle through drawing a nice, clear design. At the end of the day, most students could draw a diagram based on the apparatus they had built.

Day 2

Time to put the learning to work. I still haven't taught anything about how to split the voltage across a series because I wanted them to make the leap of faith themselves. This lab required the students to read a circuit diagram to use the voltmeter and ammeter. To simplify (and reduce the stress of lab time) each group had to choose to measure volts or amps. If they finished early, I let them finish taking data on their own rather than swapping with another group.

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Again, I refrained from answering direct questions as much as possible because I needed them to not only be able to draw a diagram, but read an unknown given to them. They rose to the challenge and, for the most part, were able to get at least one data set completed by the end of lab.


The struggle was real and the payoff was satisfying. The goal was achievable and success came quickly, which spurred more effort on the harder challenges. This lab is definitely a keeper for next year. To improve, I'm going to make a better connection between the labs...some groups said they didn't see the pathway I was trying to set up. Either way, it worked great and I'm already looking forward to putting the pieces together next week.

To top off the great day, Batman swung by with a friend.

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