I was having fun with some home-schooled 1st (approximately) graders, they were absolutely loving making LEDs light up on a breadboard, and discharging caps through them, but had no idea of what was happening.
How can I explain concepts like current, voltage and series and parallel to kids who can’t yet multiply and divide? Or in fact, should I even be trying? If so, do you think the hydraulic analogy would be a good way to visualize it?
Any suggestions for what other cool things can we make that are still at that level?
EXCELLENT question and you will be surprised at how much a 7 year old can grasp, especially when you use hands on activities. When you are working with such a young crowd, it is very easy to lose their attention and you need to be realistic in what concepts you want them to hold on to. This being said, I would recommend your hydraulic analogy in tandem with hands on activities that reinforce the theory. Have them use buckets, tubing, clamps of some sort and a water wheel to simulate the flow of electricity. After such a lab, I would expect them to retain the idea that electricity can mimic the flow of water and altering the flow can emulate discrete components and result in a different outcome.
There are a bunch of products out that help to simplify the use and understanding of electronics. The first that comes to mind is littleBits, which “consist of tiny circuit-boards with simple, unique functions engineered to snap together with magnets. No soldering, no wiring, no programming, just snap and play.” Another idea would be to work with Squishy Circuits, which “uses tools and activities [that] allow kids of all ages to create circuits and explore electronics using play dough.”
Also, have you thought about introducing programming? There are a bunch of languages (like Scratch and App Inventor) and microcontrollers that allow the students to both construct with simple programs and circuits as well as tinker with the outcomes. I had run a post earlier answering a question about programming microcontrollers with 12yr olds. It and it’s comments section might give you some ideas. I ran another post on teaching STEM concepts to 1st/2nd graders that might be useful as well.
I hope I have helped to answer your question and best of luck with your 1st graders!
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