Electricity is such a fun topic to cover in my classroom. Although it is not technically part of my standards in 8th grade, I still cover circuits and how they work. My students love developing different types of circuits, trying to get the bulbs to light in different ways. I know electricity is included in other grade level standards, so this could easily be used or adapted for another grade level too. I have actually heard of 3rd graders doing a similar task.

The problem I use for this activity is as follows:

A toy company wants you to design a new product. The company wants a communication device that is similar to a telegraph. The device will use light instead of sound as a signal. The device will use light instead of sound as a signal. Kids will use the device to communicate in Morse code.

I like including device being a toy for kids. This creates a new way of thinking about the device. We discuss what kids would need – something safe, easy to use, and of course, fun! We also discuss why this would light up and not make noise 🙂 I usually need to stress that this will just be a prototype of the electronic part of the toy though, and will not be the final product. Later, as an add on, sometimes I have the students make flyers for their toy and they can model any additional features. For example, one group had “plans” to make their electric circuit a part of a toy car. When kids would use the Morse code device, they would design the headlights of the car to turn on and off. Rather than actually creating the car (since we didn’t have the tools to do so) the students could make their flyer displaying image of their “final product”.

I allowed each group of students to use the following materials in their design:

  • Battery (in a holder if you have it)
  • Light bulb (in holder)
  • Wire
  • Clothespin
  • 2 craft sticks
  • Toothpick
  • Paper clip
  • Rubber band
  • Piece of cardboard (students could cut or alter this in any way
  • Aluminum foil
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Morse code chart (mine came from my original curriculum, but you can find a similar printable online, like this one)

The first challenge was for the group to create a functional circuit that could easily be turned on and off. Some groups had t
heir circuits set up so that when you pressed the button, the light would turn off. Although they could write in Morse code, this didn’t really work for the toy. Most parents want the toy OFF when no one is using it.

There are always a few good designs that work really well, and others that we believe would be more difficult for kids to use. This activity really starts up great conversations about working for a client. In this case, the client would be a toy company — you are building it for a child. Therefore, the students had to think about their designs in a way that would work for a kid.   

Testing

After the circuits had been put together, students tested out their Morse Code toys by writing down simple messages in Morse Code. I tried to encourage one or two word messages and students quickly understood why! It took awhile for them to translate their messages to Morse Code! One person from the group then used the device to “light” the message while their partner(s) wrote down the Morse code they were seeing. Then, the partner(s) translated the Morse Code back into English, and compared their answers! Most groups were close in translation, with only a letter or two off, so I consider that a success!

Maybe next year, I will take it to the next level and have students actually include a “toy” component to their electric circuits!

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