February 14, 2012 AT 7:45 am

An answer to your question! #8 “How can I teach 2nd and 3rd graders about conductors?”

Randy asks:

I’ve previously done a workshop for some grade 2 and 3 classes at a friend’s school talking about conductors, and having them build a small flashlight. I’d like to go in again and show them something new – any idea what that could be? I don’t want to go too far over their heads, but I don’t want to bore them either.


As soon as I read this question I immediately thought of Drawdio! This is a fantastic tool that works to bridge the gap between engineering and art…..which seems to be a hot topic lately! By using the pencil graphite as a resistor and your body as a conductor, the built in 555 timer responds by making music while you draw.

This concept is actually one we use in our freshman technology program, where we actually have the students do their series/parallel resistor calculations by drawing on paper with pencils. They then use multimeters to measure the resistance of each “resistor”, connect them in series or parallel, then measure the total resistance……but Drawdio is far cooler.

An alternative project could be to have them make primitive batteries. If you have already introduced them to concepts governing a flashlight, this might be a good segway into how batteries work. I produced a couple of videos awhile back for Monkeysee.com that talked about how to make batteries out of various kitchen items. I test run the labs on a bunch of 6-8th graders and they had a blast!

I hope this helps and have fun with the 2nd and 3rd graders!

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  1. Squishy circuits! conductor and insulator in a highly-tactile form:


  2. This is how you teach kids about conductors.

    1 lane highway will carry less cars (current)
    4 lane highway will carry more cars

    Guess how you teach voltage?

  3. There are two common tools that we use at the university setting:

    (1) playdoh, a voltage source (a AA battery is enough), and a a multimeter set to measure current. Roll the playdoh into a long sausage and then make a series circuit with the current meter, battery, and playdoh. If you change where the wires (nails) connect to the playdoh the resistance will change (conductivity is 1/resistance) and the current will change in turn. You can play with different shapes or make your own playdoh and vary the salt concentration.

    This activity was written up in the American Journal of Physics back in the 1970’s version. Here’s a similar writeup (see activity 4a, http://www.cns.cornell.edu/cipt/labs/2010%20labs%20without%20answers/Nature%20of%20Resistance.no%20answers.pdf)

    (2) A more qualitative activity is to hook a number of lightbulbs (not LEDs) up in series. The data won’t be perfect, but th general trend is that as you add more bulbs in series, the total power (light) emitted will decay. Lightbulbs in series is roughly equivalent to equivalent resistance.

  4. I started by having my son read the voltage on batteries and then test them with a multimeter. We should probably measure different combinations.

    Our next project is to put together circuits using a 200 in One kit by Elenco and then measure the circuits using a multimeter.

    I suppose measuring the resistance of a potentiometer or electricity through tissue paper and different sheets of paper.

    I suppose you could measure the resistance of probes in water depending on the range of distance.

    I suppose you could measure the resistance of electricity through distance by putting probes in a potato.

    I suppose you could measure the resistance of a paper clip compared to a penny.

  5. I second the Drawdio suggestion! What is really cool is setting up multi-kid Drawdio configurations. One example is a circle circuit of several kids holding hands and completing the circuit through the drawdio. It is a fun way to learn about continuity. You could try adding in different non-kid things into the circle, to test conductivity.
    Another possibility that I haven’t tried, but that could be neat, is to arrange kids into parallel circuits with two or more paths. You could have the kids think about how the tone from the drawdio changes as different kids break or connect their part of the circuits. This might even be used as the basis for a game.

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