One of the things that scared me the most about moving to 4th grade was teaching electricity. I worried about using the correct terms, answering questions and explaining what exactly is in a battery. Such is the struggle of an English/Education major.
Over the years I have boosted my knowledge about electricity to at least a 4th grade level (an accomplishment I feel proud of!) and now I look forward to our unit on electricity because, year after year, the kids get super excited to make that little light bulb shine!
But now the new NGSS standards (rolling out in states across the US) are making instruction a little easier by returning the learning to the students in the form of a challenge. Instead of demonstrating how to make an electric circuit, teachers are encouraged to present students with a problem that needs to be solved. In this case: How can we make the light bulb light up?
Students are given time and material constraints and then turned loose with the materials to generate and compare possible solutions, design, test and refine ideas and make observations. This is at the heart of the new science and engineering standards and, as it turns out, exactly what every kid wants to do because they are allowed to PLAY with the materials and tinker with their supplies until they are successful (without a boring lecture)!
This flips the direct instruction model on its head and gives students a chance to actively engage with their learning by exploring science with a hands on approach.
This doesn’t mean teachers can sit back and put their feet up, quite the opposite. Now we are free to be learning coaches, to ask questions, offer encouragement, make observations and move around the room, truly differentiating the learning experiences for all the students in our classroom. And when the work period is over, we have the chance to answer questions about what the students observed and do all the direct instruction we can handle.
You’ll find out that the students will ask exactly what you wanted them to learn:
What makes the light bulb shine?
The flow of electricity from the battery, along a closed circuit to the other side of the battery. The wire is like a hose and must not have any breaks or gaps along its path. The light bulb gets a dose of electricity as the electrons flow by and then it lights up.
Why doesn’t the bulb light up when only one wire is connected to it?
Electricity only flows in a closed circuit, from one end of the battery to the other. It follows the wire path that leaves the battery on one end and isn’t closed, or completed, until it reaches the other end.
What’s in the battery?
A battery is a container for stored chemical energy. The battery stores the energy and when it is connected to a closed circuit, the energy changes from chemical to electric energy. You can also think of it changing from potential energy to kinetic energy! This is why batteries don’t last forever, when the energy runs out they stop working and it’s time for a new one, or a recharge!
Why does the battery have a + and – side?
One side is the negative end (with the “-” symbol) and the other side is positive end (with the “+” symbol). Electrons flow out of the negative side and into the positive side. The electrical current works when there is a flow of electrons around the entire circuit.
How does an outlet work when you plug in a lamp or anything else electric?
A cord that plugs into the outlet in a wall is made of 2 pieces of wire protected by plastic. The electricity can flow through the metal wire to the lamp, toaster, or tv and then back again to the wall. The wires in the cord make a closed circuit when they are plugged into the energy source, which is the electrical wires that are in your wall!
After completing the “Light Bulb Challenge” and Q & A session, I follow up with readings, video clips and vocabulary words. Now the students have the background they need to make sense of what they are reading and they can hook their new words and understandings to their own experience and background knowledge.
What do you need for this challenge?
One “D” Battery in a holder, String, Pipe cleaners, Alligator clips, Bulb in holder
(I throw in the string and pipe cleaners as distractors to make things more interesting)
What NGSS standards were addressed in this challenge?
4-PS3-2 Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents.
4-PS3-4 Apply scientific ideas to design, test, and refine a device that converts energy from one form to another.
3-5-ETS1-2 Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
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Image credit: ukpowernetworks.co.uk