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Before you teach a unit on electricity, you must cover the concepts of magnetism and then tie in electromagnetism. 
Having this background knowledge will be helpful for the students.  To begin my study on electricity, I wanted my students to think about what life would be like if they had to live a day without it.  Therefore, they wrote about what they would do if they had a day without electricity.  They loved sharing their stories and drew pictures to go along with their experiences.

We talked about electrical safety, and the students were amazed at how many things depend on electricity.  From here stemmed an assignment where they drew electrical safety posters.  We shared these on our hallway bulletin board for others to see.  Before we delved into experimenting with batteries, wires and bulbs, I wanted my students to understand how a light bulb works.  Therefore, I brought in various different types of bulbs for them to examine.  Then they drew their own light bulb, labeling the various parts.  I modeled the names of the different parts on the overhead projector.

At this point I felt it was time to get into the STC Electric Circuits kits.  I've used these kits for two years now, and find them teacher and student friendly.  I do suggest that the teacher try doing each lab before the students so you can see the outcomes and possible problems that the students might have. I, also, recommend that all materials for labs are put in individual baskets on one table.  Assign one student to be the Materials Manager, getting and returning all materials from the table. Check supplies regularly to be sure they are in good working order. 

With these kits, the students learned about the different ways to connect a battery, wire and bulb to get the bulb to light. They found new ways to create circuits.  They explored the usage of a battery holder, a light bulb socket and their Fahnestock clips to build circuits.  At times, this was frustrating to some students who could not keep the wires attached.  They found that their perseverance paid off, and were so excited when their goal was accomplished. Once my students were comfortable with making circuits and circuit testers, we moved onto testing materials to see if they were good conductors or not.  It was here that students made the connection that all things do not conduct electricity and that some things act as insulators.  They realized that this was a good thing in certain situations. 

As we approached the end of our unit, I wanted my students to learn about series and parallel circuits.  They worked with many bulbs, batteries, wires, bulb holders and battery holders.  I introduced switches which was a whole new concept for them.  This was so challenging for them, especially as they added more and more to their circuits.  They had to be sure that all the connections were correct, and I guided them as they corrected circuits that they could not get to light. They loved making these circuits and learning why things were wired in these different ways.  I required my students to draw the circuits they made.  The kit supplies electrical symbols that represent electrical parts in their circuits.  We used these in our drawings, in addition to drawing diagrams of their circuits with the materials they used to make them.  Their diagrams were a good means of assessment. 

To culminate this unit, I had my students make science games. To do this, I paired the students. They had to choose a unit from their science text and come up with 8 - 10 questions and answers for their game board.  I gave them each an 8 x 11 manila folder, and the amount of metal paper fasteners needed.  They needed enough wires (@14 cm long) to connect their questions to their answers on the inside of the folder where they have the hidden circuits wired. I asked my students to give their game boards a wacky title and to decorate them with lots of color.  They fully enjoyed this activity.  It gave them a chance to go back to prior science lessons and reflect on what they already learned, while some chose to do current lessons in science. One of the best things about doing this activity was that my students invited the 3rd and 4th grades in to play their games. The other students enjoyed playing their game boards very much. My students were so proud of what they had accomplished. 



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Generous founding support for the Harcourt Teacher Leadership Center and the Harcourt Learning Labs was provided by the Harcourt General Charitable Foundation on behalf of Harcourt, Inc.