It’s Electric!

I’m thinking about teaching my students the electric slide to go along with our current unit…hmmm… ūüôā

So January is all about electricity and magnetism. We spend the month learning what electricity is, how it relates to magnetism, and other important topics in this area of science. This is a really fun unit that I enjoyed revamping when I got hired at JCS! One of my favorite parts is all of the fun experiments that the kids get to do with their lab partner. These are beneficial in so many ways. For instance, the students learn how to work together on a task, follow directions (or else something could go majorly wrong!), and treat materials appropriately.

Anyways, to start the unit, each student decorated a light bulb for our “electrifying” classroom bulletin board:

We start out the instructional material by learning about important inventors related to the field of electricity, such as Edison, Bell, and Faraday. I send the students on an “Inventor Scavenger Hunt” around the classroom. Each student receives a list of questions about the 5 inventors we focus on and must match an inventor with each question by searching for the facts around the room:

One of their first homework assignments for the unit is to make a list of every item they use from the time they leave school until the time they arrive back at school the next morning that involves electricity in some way. It is always fascinating to see what these kids use! Of course they all listed things like “my Wii”, “my iPod touch”, and “the car”, but I enjoyed the ones that said “the crockpot for dinner” or “the digital picture frame on our bookshelf”!

The next day, we talk about the four functions of electricity – light, heat, motion, and sound. We then classify the objects on their lists. This year, each student received several post-it notes on which they wrote a few items from their list. They placed them on the board in the correct section based on its function. Some of them were quite difficult to classify, such as a lava lamp – isn’t its main purpose BOTH light and motion?? Tricky…

We then move on to learn what exactly electricity is, starting with static. The kids enjoyed several static-related experiments and eventually came to the conclusion that like charges repel and opposite charges attract – it’s always so exciting when they discover this!!



We move on to talk about lightning and Ben Franklin’s famous experiment. The cool thing we do with this lesson is watch for sparks from a student eating a mint in a dark closet. Have you ever tried it? If you chew a lifesaver peppermint, sometimes you can see sparks! It is really cool.

We then learn about cells and batteries, and why what we refer to as batteries should really be called cells. The students do several experiments for this, including making their own battery out of zinc washers, copper pennies, and salt-water soaked paper towel, and measuring the voltage in different fruits and vegetables using a multimeter.


One of my favorite parts of this unit is the lesson and experiments on circuits. We learn about series and parallel circuits and how they work. We also talk about why certain things are wired the way that they are. For example, Christmas lights – everyone hates to find a string of lights that doesn’t work anymore! Now, most manufacturers of Christmas lights are wiring them in parallel so that if one light burns out, the rest will stay lit – brilliant! My kiddos absolutely LOVED the circuits experiments because I simply gave them a bag of materials to make circuits with (such as batteries and battery holders, light bulbs and light bulb holders, wires, alligator clips, etc.) and let them have at it! They attempted to make both series and parallel circuits, and all of them did a great job! They kept asking if they could “play” longer ūüôā


On a side note, I ordered some awesome wires at the beginning of the year – they are magnetic, so the ends attach to the bulb holders magnetically, instead of having to use alligator clips to clip them on! They are so easy to use and made it much less of a struggle for the kids. I wish I remembered where they came from or what they are called!

So that is what we have done so far this month. I am looking forward to getting into magnetism next! The students’ project for the month is to complete a science experiment relating to electricity to present to the class. They will be presenting next week, so hopefully the class will get to see some pretty cool experiments from each student.

Do you teach electricity? What is your favorite part of the topic? I am looking for field trip ideas – any suggestions?!



7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Audra
    Jan 27, 2012 @ 20:54:11

    Im starting that this coming week. ūüôā stealing the bulletin board idea!!


  2. Janet Tortora
    Feb 16, 2012 @ 21:40:20

    I am instructional technology specialist in Bedford MA. Is there any place to get more information about this project? I totally love what you’ve done and could use some help putting together the project for one of my fourth grade teachers.

    Thanks for any help that you can provide!


    • wordsiwouldsay
      Feb 21, 2012 @ 13:34:24

      Hi Janet,

      I created this unit from multiple resources I had lying around my classroom. I have uploaded most of my documents to Google Docs in order to share them. I’d be happy to email them to you if you let me know your email address!



  3. Renee
    Feb 19, 2012 @ 20:18:37

    I am getting ready for our electrical unit this coming week! One of my favorites of the year. I have never thought about having the kids go home and actually look for things they use everyday that are using electric. Love the idea of then sorting them into specific categories. I was really thinking about letting the kids work with their lab partners and try and make an electro-magnet. Have you tried this activity? Not sure what type of wire to use. I don’t want anyone getting burnt if the wire gets too hot. Wasn’t sure if coated wire would work as well. My kids also love making the different type of circuits. What do you do to relate electricity and magnetism? We use a compass activity to show this but any other ideas would be great.


    • wordsiwouldsay
      Feb 21, 2012 @ 13:38:53

      Hi Renee,

      Hope you are having fun with the start of your unit! I always have a blast with it, as do the kids. We did make electro magnets. I used a 6 volt batter and insulated copper wire. I made sure the kids knew that the battery terminals would be quite hot. If I had thought about it in advance, I might have had the kids bring a slim pair of winter gloves so that it wouldn’t have been a problem. I found that the wire never got too hot, so they were still able to handle it. The coated wire works well, but the more coils, the better!

      To relate electricity and magnetism, I mostly use a compass; it’s difficult to make much more of a connection! We talk about magnetic insulators as well, just like there are electrical insulators. We do this by putting different materials (such as plastic bags, paper, felt) between two magnets and seeing which ones (when folded multiple times) still allow the magnetic force to be felt.

      If you are interested in my unit, let me know and I’d be happy to share the Google Docs with you!

      Thanks, and have fun!


  4. Stephanie Howard
    Feb 14, 2013 @ 06:20:43

    I would love if you would share your Google docs!! This is a wonderful way to get students excited and out of their seats! Thanks for sharing your ideas.


  5. Tammy D.
    Feb 17, 2013 @ 14:58:11

    Hi there! I love the ideas for the unit! I was wondering if there was any way to get the materials you use…. I have some different experiments, but love your ideas and would like to use them within our unit! The kids enjoy this unit so much!! We are starting this week and I think I’ll use the bulletin board idea and definitely the first assignment, too! Thank you!


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