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Inquiry activities on

Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center
Copyright August 2002, by Jackson County Intermediate School District. Permission is granted to local school districts
and institutions of higher education in Jackson County, Michigan to reproduce these materials for their own use.
Learning About Electricity
At the elementary level, the State Science Benchmarks for electricity include one benchmark about
constructing circuits that work, one about electrical safety, and one that includes electricity as a form of
IV.1..! Construct simple, useful electrical circuits. "#$%&
Key concepts and tools: 'om(lete loo() batteries, bulbs, bells, motors, wires, electrical switches "see
*+$IV.1 e.,, materials that conduct electricity&.
Real-world contexts: -lashlights, battery$(owered toys.
IV.1..% Describe possible electrical hazards to be avoided at home and at school. ".$,&
Key concepts: Shock, wall outlet, ha/ards) see *+$IV.1 e.# "electrical energy&.
Real-world contexts: lectric outlets, (ower lines, frayed electric cords, electric a((liances, lightning, hair
dryers in sinks and tubs.
IV.1..# Identify forms of energy associated with common phenomena.
Key concepts: 0eat, light, sound, food energy, energy of motion, electricity "see *'+$IV., e.1 about heat,
*1V$IV.! e.1$! about light and sound, *+$IV.1 e.! about electricity, 2'$III.% e., about energy from
Real-world contexts: A((ro(riate selection of energy and (henomena, such as a((liances like a toaster or
iron that use electricity, sun3s heat to melt chocolate, water wheels, wind$u( toys, warmth of sun on skin,
windmills, music from guitar, sim(le electrical circuits with batteries, bulbs and bells.
Benchmark IV.1..! is really a (erformance task for students: 4hey need to actually construct sim(le circuits
that work. 4here isn3t much abstract knowledge in this benchmark, other than the conclusion that a com(lete
loo( is needed to make a working circuit. Students are not re5uired by this benchmark to know, for instance,
how a series circuit is different from a (arallel circuit, or what voltage, current and resistance are. 4hey don3t
need to differentiate between conductors and non$conductors or o(en and closed circuits, although using
those terms is (robably unavoidable, and hel(ful, when they think about how bulbs and switches get
connected. 1hat students do learn that is a bit theoretical, along the way to understanding what a com(lete
loo( is, is that electricity moves in a circuit in order to go from the battery to the bulb, where it is needed to
make the bulb light. It can3t move unless a wire "a conductor& gives it a (ath to and from the bulb "or bell or
Students aren3t re5uired by the benchmark to know how a battery works, either. 4hey should recogni/e,
however, that a battery is a source of electrical energy, 6ust as a wall socket is 7 and they should learn that
wall sockets are much more dangerous than batteries because they (rovide much more (owerful electricity.
4here are several ways to attach a battery to a light bulb 7 many don3t work. 4he im(ortant
task for students is to try different ways of attaching the battery and bulb until they find a
way that works, drawing each different a((roach. 4hen they should draw a conclusion
from their investigations about how batteries and bulbs need to be connected.
In ste(s 1 and , of the first activity, students are asked to e8amine their batteries and bulbs
and make careful drawings of what they notice about them. 4hey need to recogni/e that
batteries have two 9working: ends "the (ositive and negative terminals& and that bulbs also
have two (laces for attaching wires 7 the bottom metal knob and the sides of the metal
base. 4he bottom knob is insulated from the sides by non$metallic material that does not
conduct electricity.
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 2
Learning About Electricity
Caution students not to connect one end of a battery to its other end directly with a wire. This causes
the wire to get very hot and the battery to wear out very quickly.
-iguring out how to connect batteries and bulbs so that they work is an in5uiry activity because:
1& students are given a 5uestion to investigate)
,& they gather data "their trials and drawings&) and
#& they draw a conclusion from their data.
4hey should be res(onsible for communicating their conclusions to each other or another audience "(arents
4he conclusion that follows from the data they collect is that a complete loop is needed to make a bulb light
"or a motor s(in, bu//er sound, etc.& Since this (hrase "9com(lete loo(:& is included in the .ey 'once(ts for
the elementary benchmark, you should hel( elementary students to understand what a com(lete loo( is and
encourage them to use the term. 4hey need to be fluent with the term and the idea of a com(lete loo( when
they take the +A* test. 4he loop goes from one end of the battery, into the bulb "or motor, etc.& out the
other side of the bulb and back to the other side of the battery. 4his loo( carries the electricity. In other
words, the electricity goes from one end of the battery through the bulb and back to the other end of the
battery. Students look carefully at their battery and bulb in the beginning of this activity because it is not
always evident to them that batteries and bulbs have two 9ends: "terminals&.
t the middle school level, there is one benchmark about constructing circuits and explaining how they
work in terms of the flow of electricity and one about a((lying knowledge of circuits to electrical devices:
4he e8(lanation (resented above, about the loo( carrying electricity, can be told to elementary students, but
middle school students are held res(onsible for understanding and using this e8(lanation "elementary
students only need to know how to wire sim(le circuits&. +iddle school students can and should do these
first activities to refresh their understanding of com(lete circuits. 4hen they should discuss and figure out
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 3
IV.1.+S.% Construct simple circuits and e!plain how they work in terms of the flow of current.
Key concepts and tools: 'om(lete circuit, incom(lete circuit, short circuit, current, conductors, non$
conductors, batteries, household current, bulbs, bells, motors, electrical switches.
Real-world contexts: 0ousehold wiring, electrical conductivity testing, electric a((liances.
IV.1.+S.; Investigate electrical devices and e!plain how they work, using instructions and appropriate
safety precautions.
Key concepts: -low of electricity for energy or information transfer. Safety (recautions for using electrical
a((liances) grounding. <ocumentation for toys and a((liances=wiring diagrams, written instructions.
"See IV., +S.#, transformations of energy.&
Real-world contexts: Situations re5uiring assembly, use, or re(air of electrical toys, radios, or sim(le
a((liances, such as re(lacing batteries and bulbs) connecting electrical a((liances, such as stereo systems,
4V3s and videocassette recorders, com(uters and com(uter com(onents.
IV.,.+S.! Describe common energy transformations in everyday situations.
Key concepts: Forms of energy, including mechanical, heat, sound, light, electrical, magnetic, chemical,
food energy. See PME-IV.1 m.5 (electricity in circuits), PCM-IV.2 m.1 (energy in changes of state). Total
amount of energy remains constant in all transformations.
Real-world contexts: Motors, generators, power plants, light bulbs, appliances, cars, radios, TVs,
walking, playing a musical instrument, cooking food, batteries, body heat, photosynthesis (see LO-III.2
m.3, LEC-III.5 m.2).
Learning About Electricity
how electricity makes the bulb light: why a com(lete circuit is needed, how electricity moves through the
circuit, what the battery does, etc. Any of these 5uestions are good for bringing out students3 thinking.
An acce(table scientific e8(lanation of electrical circuits would be built on this kind of reasoning:
1. Since a com(lete loo( is needed for electricity to flow from the battery, it a((ears that it goes out one end
of the battery, through the wires and the circuit com(onents "lights, bells, motors, etc.& and back in the other
end of the battery.
An alternative idea "misconce(tion& that students often suggest is that 9(ositive electricity: goes out the
(ositive end of the battery and 9negative electricity: goes out the negative end, combining to light the bulb,
(ower the motor, ring the bell, etc. A way to test "and dis(rove& this idea is to try to make a light bulb work
by wiring one end of one battery to the bulb, and the other end of another battery to the other terminal of the
bulb. It won3t work> but let students find this out themselves if this misconce(tion comes u(. 4he fact that
it doesn3t work 7 but that the circuit only works with one battery attached at both ends 7 is evidence that
electricity is flowing in one end and out the other.
,. Since electrical energy is converted to light energy "or sound energy, or energy of motion in a motor&, the
battery must su((ly the electrical energy. Additional reasoning about batteries su((orts this: batteries 9wear
out: after awhile, and either must be re(laced or recharged 7 that is, the energy they store is all converted to
other forms in the circuit. Also, students should have seen that two batteries wired in the same circuit with
the same bulb (roduce a brighter light, showing that each battery has its own su((ly of energy "re(resented
by the voltage of the battery 7 two 1.% volt batteries wired together end to end create a # volt (ower source&.
#. *utting the ideas in 1 and , together, it seems reasonable that electricity carries energy around the circuit,
giving it u( in conversions to light, heat, motion, sound, etc., and returning to the battery to (ick u( new
4his is the ty(e of e8(lanation that middle school students should be able to develo(, at least with your hel(.
?ne caution: 1hile it is tem(ting to think of electrons flowing around the circuit carrying the electrical
energy, in fact electrons only move at about 1 cm (er second, where electricity flows through the circuit from
a battery to the bulb almost instantaneously as the switch is thrown. lectricity is a movement of energy from
electron to electron, similar to how sound travels in air from molecule to molecule, or how dominoes create a
fast$moving trail as they fall into each other.
+I$'2i+B has an inaccurate e8(lanation of electrical circuits. 4hey say 9In order for this movement to occur, the (ath
or circuit must be closed and com(lete, which allows the energy to flow back to the original (ower source.: nergy
does not flow back to the original (ower source. Instead, energy is transformed in the bulb or motor, changing from
electrical energy to light or motion 7 and heat. It is the electrical charges 7 which now carry less energy 7 that must
return to the battery in order for the battery to work. lectrical circuits do transfer energy from the battery to the bulb or
motor, as +I$'2i+B goes on to say, but all of the energy does not return to the battery. 4he battery is a chemical
device that transforms stored chemical energy to electrical energy. As the chemical reaction (roceeds, the (roducts of
the reaction have less chemical energy than the reactants did, as some is transformed into electrical energy, to be used
in the circuit.
+iddle school benchmarks also include making and using electromagnets:
"se electric currents to create magnetic fields, and e!plain applications of this principle. Key concepts: lectric
current, magnetic (oles, magnetic fields. "See *+$IV.1 m.%, electric circuits.& Tools: +agnetic com(ass, battery, wire.
Real-world contexts: lectromagnets, bells, s(eakers, motors, magnetic switches, arth3s magnetic field.
Activities 1 and 2 are for elementary grades, 3 through 5 are for middle school, although middle school
students who have not done activities 1 and 2 should before they do 3 through5.
Activity 1 and Extensions
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 4
Learning About Electricity
#ocus $uestion% 0ow can you attach a battery to a bulb to make it light u(@
&quipment% Bulbs and bulb holders, batteries and battery holders, wires with alligator cli(s, (a(er or
Science Aournal for recording e8(erimental set$u(s
Instructions for 'tudents%
1. 8amine your battery carefully. +ake a drawing in your 6ournal, showing the (arts you think will be
im(ortant for making a bulb light.
,. 8amine your bulb and bulb holder. +ake a careful drawing of both the bulb and the bulb holder, showing
all the (arts you can see.
#. Screw your bulb into the bulb holder. 4hen, in your team, use the battery and any wires to make the bulb
light. Draw every set(up you try. Indicate which one"s& make the light go on.
!. <raw 'onclusions: 1hy do you think some circuits work, but not others@ 1here does the electricity go in
the circuits that work@
%. 'ommunicate your results: +ake a re(ort that shows one drawing of a circuit that works, and a brief
written e8(lanation of how a circuit has to be attached in order for it to work.
&!tension )()% 4ry this activity with bu//ers, motors, or other electrical devices in (lace of the light bulbs.
Bou have to a((ly your understanding of electrical circuits to make the bu//erCmotor work.
&!tension )(*% Dse your creativity to make circuits that consist of two bulbs, or a bulb and a bu//er. 4his
shows whether you understand the idea of a 9com(lete loo(.:
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 5
Learning About Electricity
Activity 2 and Extensions
#ocus $uestion% 0ow can you add a switch into the circuit to be able to turn on and off the bulb@
&quipment% Bulbs and bulb holders, batteries and battery holders, wires with alligator cli(s, switches
Instructions for 'tudents%
1. Attach a switch in your circuit so that o(ening and closing it turns on and off the light bulb.
,. 1rite an e8(lanation in your 6ournal about how the switch works to turn off or on the light.
Extension 2-1: If students ask why some flashlights use two batteries, you could have them try to wire a
circuit with two batteries. They should predict what might happen when two are used instead of one.
&!tension *(*% 4ake a(art a flashlight and try to figure out where the com(lete loo( is that makes the
flashlight work. +ake a drawing of the circuit that is used in the flashlight, including the switch.
&lectric safety% 4o review safety rules when using electricity, go to this website:
htt(:CCwww.miamisci.orgCafCslnCfrankensteinCsafety.html. It has a great simulation of 9things not to do: when
using electricity.
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 6
Learning About Electricity
Teacher +otes for ctivities ) and *% Students3 e8(lanations should include the idea that the com(lete loo(
is broken by the switch, so no electricity can flow to the bulb.& 4his is a good embedded assessment item to
determine whether they understand that electricity has to flow through a com(lete loo( in order for the
electric device to work. "4he reason this e8tension
activity is not o(tional is that the word 9switch: is in the
key conce(ts of the benchmark, which means that
students need to understand what one is and how it
-or the e8tension, if they use the same bulb as with one
battery, the two batteries will (roduce a brighter light.
Dsually two batteries are used in a flashlight to (rolong
the time between changing batteries 7 a different bulb is
used that will be the same brightness, making the batteries last longer. 4his might be a good way to discuss
electrical energy with students: 4wo batteries (rovide more electrical energy for making the bulb light "or the
bu//er sound, or the motor s(in&, so it either is brighter or lasts longer. 4he light given off by a bulb is a form
of energy, as are the sounds (roduced by a bu//er or the motion (roduced by the motor, as listed in the
elementary benchmark about energy "see first (age&.
note about the elementary energy benchmark% nergy is a difficult conce(t at any age. 4his
elementary benchmark only asks students to recogni/e that sound, light and heat are forms of energy, as
are electricity and motion. 4here are two ways of e8(laining this to elementary students. ?ne is that none
of these things "light, heat, sound etc.& has any substance to it 7 they are not made of anything. 4he other
is that all of them can make you react 7 a loud sound can make you 6um(, a bright light can make you
s5uint your eyes, a lot of heat will hurt, as will a lot of electricity, and a ball rolling into you might knock
you over. *hysicists say that energy is 9the ability to do work.: 4hat is, it can move you in someway. But
elementary students don3t need to master this definition. All they need to do is recogni/e that these things
"light, sound, etc.& are forms of energy, not matter. A sim(le activity for this benchmark is to have
students categori/e various a((liances, toys, and situations by the ty(e of energy involved "toasters,
ovens, irons etc. (roduce or use heat) bells, whistles, horns, musical instruments (roduce sound) etc.&
4his benchmark should be reinforced in other science units on sound, light, and force and motion.
#or e!tension *(*% 4he circuit in a flashlight usually consists of two batteries, a switch and a bulb. 4he bulb
is (ressed directly against the (ositive terminal of one battery, so no wire is needed for that (art of the circuit.
Dsually a (iece of metal runs from the other terminal of the battery 7 at the bottom of the flashlight 7 to the
switch, and then to the outer rim of the bulb. Sometimes the metal is in contact with the bulb holder, which is
also in contact with the side of the bulb, making a (ath for electricity to flow.
If students are having a hard time understanding the idea of a complete loop, you can use the following
activity to hel( them think about electricity flowing through wires. It3s also funE
*rovide each grou( of , or # students with a 9mystery board.: 4ell them that some of the metal knobs on the
front of the board may be connected to each other with wires on the inside. 4hey cannot o(en the board to
find out which are connected. 4hey have to develo( a method for determining which are connected "a
battery, bulb and several wires can be used so that when two knobs are touched with two wires, if they are
connected, they light u( the battery 7 a sim(le 9circuit tester.:& After determining the method and a((lying it
to the (roblem, they should write u( and (resent their results. Allow students to (u//le about how to do this,
rather than telling them how to make the circuit tester.
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 7
Learning About Electricity
ssessing &lementary 'tudents, "nderstanding
+any elementary students who successfully wire a sim(le circuit and talk about a 9com(lete loo(: still don3t
understand that electricity flows out one end of the battery, through the circuit, and back into the other end. If
you ask students why two wires are needed to make a circuit work, many re(ly with the ty(ical
misconce(tion that 9(ositive electricity: flows from one end of the battery to the bulb and 9negative
electricity: flows from the other end of the battery to the bulb.
Straightening out this misconce(tion is beyond the sco(e of the elementary benchmark. 4he corres(onding
middle school benchmark introduces the idea of current in a wire. So asking students a 5uestion such as
91hy is a com(lete loo( needed to make a bulb work: might elicit either the scientific idea that electricity
needs to flow out one end of the battery and back in the other, or the misconce(tion stated above. At the
elementary level, the com(lete loo( is a conclusion drawn from e8(erimenting. Students don3t need to know
But you can assess their understanding of the com(lete loo( in many ways. Some ways have been suggested
in the e8tensions. Bou can ask them to think about how a light switch in your house must work 7 it
disconnects (art of the circuit so that electricity cannot get to the light bulb.
Also you can show them several drawings of circuits that work or that don3t work, and ask them to (redict
which would work. 4hey should e8(lain where the com(lete loo( is. -or e8am(le, of the two drawings
below, only the one on the left would work because there is not a com(lete loo( through the bulb.
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 8
Learning About Electricity
Activity 3
#ocus $uestion% 0ow can you e8(lain why a circuit needs a com(lete loo(@
&quipment% Bulbs and bulb holders "or other circuit devices like bu//ers, bells, motorsCfans&, batteries and
battery holders, wires with alligator cli(s. Bou will also need a 'cience -ournal to write notes, make
drawings, record results, etc.
Instructions for 'tudents%
1. Dsing wires, a battery and a bulb, (ut together a circuit that works.
,. In your 6ournal, make a drawing of your circuit, showing e8actly how the
wires are attached to the battery and bulb. 2ook carefully at the bulb and bulb
holder to understand how electricity flows through the bulb. Also indicate the
(ositive and negative terminals of the battery.
#. <iscuss with your team why a circuit won3t work if only one wire is
connected from the battery to the bulb. 1rite your ideas in your 6ournal.
!. 4hink about this analogy: 0ot water is sometimes used to heat houses. It gets
heated by a boiler, then (um(ed through (i(es into every room of the house.
4hen it goes back to the boiler. ?ften 6ust one (i(e carries the hot water
throughout the house, heating every room. Dnless there is a leak in the (i(es, water never needs to be
added to the (i(es.
a. 1hy does the water return to the boiler@
b. 1hat does the hot water 9leave: in every room@
c. 0ow is this analogy similar to the electric circuit you set u(@
%. 4hink about transformations of energy in the house and in your circuit.
a. 1hat form of energy is involved in heating the house@ 1hat is the source of that energy@
b. 1hat forms of energy are involved in the electrical circuit@ Fame as many as you can see, hear or
c. 1here does the light energy come from that radiates from the light bulb@
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 9
metal sides
Base is insulated
from sides
boiler and pump
hot water
Learning About Electricity
d. If the heating system in a house is a good analogy for an electrical circuit, what does the boiler
and (um( com(are to in the circuit@
e. 0ow is electricity like hot water@
;. If you wired two batteries together in this circuit "instead of one&, what would ha((en to the light from
the bulb@ +ake a (rediction and write it in your 6ournal. 4hen try it and see if your (rediction is
a. 1hat does this tell you about energy in an electrical circuit@
b. 1hy do both batteries have to be (ointing in the same direction in order to work@
G. 1hat would ha((en to the light from the bulbs if you wired another bulb in the circuit, in such a way
that electricity went through one bulb first and then the other@ +ake a (rediction and write it in your
6ournal. 4hen try it and see if your (rediction is confirmed.
1hat does this tell you about energy in an electrical circuit@
H. 1hat would ha((en to your new circuit "with two light bulbs& if one of the light bulbs burned out@
0int: 4hink about what ha((ens inside a light bulb when it burns out. 2ook at the drawing above to figure
this out. 4hen you can answer what would ha((en with the other light bulb.
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 10
Learning About Electricity
How electrical circuits work
Scientists and electricians talk about electrical
charges moving through a circuit. 4hey can only
move through the circuit if the circuit is com(lete,
because when they are (ushed out of one end of
the battery, they need to be re(laced in the other
end of the battery. 4hat3s the way the chemical
reaction in the battery works 7 it needs a constant
flow of charges into one end, in order to (ush
them out the other end.
4hey call the flow of charges 9current.: 4hey
measure current in am(eres, or 6ust 9am(s: for
short. -uses in cars and circuit breakers in houses
are rated by how many am(s of current they can
handle before they blow. If too much current is in
a circuit, it might overheat the wires, causing a
fire. 4he fuse breaks first, causing an incom(lete
circuit, so no more electricity can flow and the
wires won3t overheat.
Current is moving charges.
A complete circuit is needed because the
charges have to return to the battery.
4he current carries the electrical energy to the
devices in the circuit. 4he battery 9gives a boost:
to the charges that come in one end, giving them
more energy. 1hen they flow through lights,
bells, motors, etc. some of the energy they carry is
converted into light, sound, heat, or energy of
motion. 4he amount of (ush that a battery can
give is measured in volts.
lectrical circuits are wonderful ways of
transferring energy from (lace to (lace, making all
kinds of electrical a((liances (ossible. 4hink of
all the things we would not have without
'urrent carries electrical energy through
&nergy transformations occur in electrical
circuits to (roduce light, heat, sound and
4here is a great little animation on the web of an
electric circuit, illustrating how a battery gives a
boost to charges moving around a circle, and how
each com(onent in the circuit uses the energy. Io
sonCJGelectrCelectriCsim(lcirCdefault.html which
shows one com(onent "light bulb, motor, bell,
etc.&. 4hey have another animation of two circuit
com(onents at
sonCJGelectrCelectriCsercirCseries.html. 4he te8t for
this second animation is about series circuits,
which 6ust means a circuit with more than one
com(onent, wired so that electricity (asses
through one at a time.
Another ty(e of circuit that is often used in homes
is called a (arallel circuit, where two wires come
out of the (ositive end of the battery and go to one
side of two light bulbs, then wires go from both
light bulbs back to the negative end of the battery.
4his has the advantage that when one light bulb
goes out, the other one doesn3t go out too. 4here is
an animation about (arallel circuits on this
website "the main DK2 is
rcuits.html&, but you don3t have to learn to
distinguish between series and (arallel circuits.
Conductors, insulators and short circuits
1hat would ha((en if you tried to use a (iece of
string in a circuit, in (lace of the wire@ It wouldn3t
work, of course, because string is not a conductor
of electricity. +etals are good conductors of
electricity, because charges can flow in them
easily. A string, or any other materials that does
not conduct electricity, is called an insulator or
non(conductor. 4he coating around a wire is an
insulator, so that the electricity does not flow to
any other ob6ect that the wire touches.
If the coating on a wire is rubbed off by mistake,
and the e8(osed wire touches something metal,
the electricity flows out of the wire into what it
touches, creating a 9short circuit.: 4he electricity
goes where it is not su((osed to go. Sometimes
you see s(arks when this ha((ens, because the
electricity can 6um( a short distance through the
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 11
Learning About Electricity
4he electrical energy su((lied by a battery is also
the result of a transformation of energy. 'hemical
reactions in the battery begin when a com(lete
circuit is attached to the battery. 4he substances in
the battery store chemical energy, which is
transformed into electrical energy when the
battery o(erates. 4he chemical reaction inside the
battery (roduces new substances which store less
energy than the original substances, giving u( that
energy into the circuit. 4he battery 9wears down:
eventually because the chemical energy stored in
the battery is used u(.
4he force that batteries e8ert on charges is called
voltage. +ost 9flashlight: batteries are 1.% volts.
If you connect two of them in series "(ositive to
negative& they combine their (ush on charges to
make # volts. 4he current in the circuit can carry
more energy, and therefore the light bulb is
brighter with two batteries. Bou can also make a
flashlight "with a different kind of bulb& that is the
same brightness, but the batteries last longer, since
there is more energy stored in two of them than in
Bou can take a(art a M volt battery "used in smoke
alarms and some radios& and see that they are
really 6ust ; 7 1.% volt batteries wired end to end.
/ousehold current
4he electricity that comes from (lugs in your
house is 11% volts. ?uchE 4his electricity comes
from (ower lines that connect your house to a
(ower generating (lant. Dsually the (ower (lants
run on coal, sometimes on natural gas. 4here are a
few nuclear (ower (lants in use in the D.S., and,
in those (laces of the country with large, fast$
running rivers, there are (ower (lants that work
from water$driven turbines "hydroelectric (lants&.
4here are even a few wind$(owered generatorsE
ach of these (ower (lants converts the energy in
coal, natural gas, uranium, flowing water or wind
to electricity. It travels through wires "conductors&
to your house, where it (owers electrical
a((liances. 1hat ha((ens in the electrical
a((liance@ Another energy conversionE 4ry to
name a few electrical a((liances and the kind of
energy conversions that occur in them.
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 12
Learning About Electricity
Activity 4
#ocus $uestion% 0ow do electrical devices work@
&quipment% V'K, 4V, audio com(onents, <V< (layer, etc. and wires needed to connect them. lectrical
kitchen a((liances such as toasters, electric mi8ers, food (rocessors, etc. A hair dryer to take a(art)
screwdriver to take a(art hair dryer. Science Aournal.
Instructions for 'tudents%
4here are two ma6or ty(es of electrical devices. ?ne works with 6ust electricity, transforming it into useful
ty(es of energy. A toasters is an e8am(le. It transforms electrical energy into heat energy, to make cris(,
brown bread.
4he other works with information that is carried by electrical circuits 7 information such as voice
communications on (hones, digital information on the internet, audio and video entertainment on '<3s,
<V<3s, or cable television.
In 9low tech: a((liances, the energy conversion is the end (roduct.
In 9high tech: a((liances, the information carried by the current is the end (roduct. nergy transformations
occur "mostly to light and sound in com(uter monitors, radios and 4V3s& but the content of the light and
sound are what3s im(ortant.
1. 2abel each device as working to A 7 (rocess information or B 7 (roduce useful work. -or those devices
that transform energy, indicate the kind of energy that does the useful work in the a((liance. -or e8am(le, in
a toaster, heat energy does the useful work.
A 7 *rocess
B 7 *roduce
useful work
B 7 1hat kind of useful energy@
hair dryer
digital watch
washing machine
garage door o(ener
'< (layer
electric lawnmower
electric toothbrush
(ower tools
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 13
Learning About Electricity
,. -or this activity you will use a hair dryer. It is very important +&0&1 to plug the hair dryer into the
wall socket when it is taken apart. 2ou could touch any of the components by mistake and possibly get
4ake a(art a hair dryer "make sure it is un(lugged during the entire time it is taken a(art&.
4o take a(art a hair dryer, first make sure it is not (lugged in. 4hen unscrew the screws that hold the two
(ieces of the (lastic cover together. *ut the screws in a container or other safe (lace. <o not se(arate the
wires from the com(onents, but sim(ly (ull the com(onents away from each other and away from the two
halves of the cover.
8amine the (arts. 'onsider how a hair dryer works and what each of its functions are.
Identify its ma6or com(onents.
<escribe the (ur(ose of each com(onent.
8(lain where each of the energy conversions takes (lace.
<raw a diagram of a hair dryer, showing how electricity might be wired to each of its com(onents.
4here3s a nice (hoto of a taken$a(art hair dryer at htt(:CCwww.howstuffworks.comChair$dryer#.htm. Bou can
see where the e8(osed wires are connected to the heating element 7 if you touched those screws while the
hair dryer was (lugged in, you could be killed.

Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 14
Learning About Electricity
#. Fow consider a television set and V'K. 4hey
are (lugged into the wall, of course, and they do
convert electricity into motion "to drive the
videota(e&, light "the (icture from the 4V& and
sound. But not sim(le sound, like a doorbell. And
not sim(le light, like from a flashlight. Instead, the
light and sound have com(le8 information
contained in them.
Instead of following the electricity and
determining the energy conversions, we need to
follow the information, in order to understand
how the com(onents work together.
'tep )% /ow does the information enter your
4here are three ways that information can enter
your house. ?ne is through a cable. 4his can be a
television cable or a tele(hone wire.
Another is through radio
waves. Kadios (ick u(
signals that are
broadcast from radio
towers. 'ell (hones (ick
u( signals that are
broadcast "and they send
back signals to the cell
(hone towers&.
4elevisions can (ick u( 4V broadcasts through
their antennas.
And the third is when you carry a '<, <V<,
videota(e or other recorded medium into your
'tep *% /ow does a device display the
4he information contained in the cable or
broadcast signal, or on the recorded medium, is in
an electronic code. In the cable 4V, standard
tele(hone signal, or internet connection "by
(hone, cable modem or <S2 (hone line& the
electricity itself is coded. 4hat is, electricity flows
through the cable or tele(hone wire "a lower
voltage than house current&, and the electricity is
coded to contain the information. It has to be
decoded by the 4V, V'K, tele(hone or com(uter
and converted back into meaningful images "light&
and meaningful noises "words, music, other
1ith a cell (hone, 4V broadcast, A+ or -+ radio
or satellite 4V, the radio signal is coded. Again,
the cell (hone, 4V or radio decodes the signal that
is 9carried: on to( of the radio fre5uency. 4he
decoded information contains the (icture, music,
or (hone conversation.
In the case of internet connections and (hone
conversations, information goes two ways 7 into
your device "(hone, com(uter& and back out again
to another (hone or another com(uter. 4he words
you say go out over a radio signal to the cell
(hone tower and are relayed to the other (hone.
1ith the internet, when you ty(e a website
address into your browser and hit 9return,: the
address is sent to another com(uter and relayed on
to the com(uter that stores those web (ages. As
you interact with the web (age, the signals race
back and forth.
'<3s, <V<3s and videota(es are different. 4hey
don3t use electricity or radio signals to carry
information. Instead, the information is coded by
lasers "'<3s and <V<3s& or electromagnets
"videota(e& into the (lastic of the '< or the
magnetic material of the ta(e.
0ow are V'K3s, stereo systems and 4V hooked
together to record and (layback information@
I5 6ire a 0C1 and T0 together so that you can
play videos. +ake a diagram of how the wires
connect the two devices together, labeling your
diagram with the names of the connectors "the
(lugs, or 6acks 7 they are called 9(orts: on
com(uters& on the V'K and 4V.
<oes information flow from the 4V to the V'K
or from the V'K to the 4V@ 0ow do you know
1hat is the (ur(ose or function of the
94VCV'K: switch@
0ow do the names of the connectors tell you
about the flow of information@
'onnectors on 4V3s and V'K3s "or <V<3s& have
names like 9audio in,: 9video in,: 9video out,:
9antenna in,: etc. 4here are often different
connectors for video "(icture& and audio "sound&.
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 15
Learning About Electricity
Sometimes there are several choices for video
signals, de(ending on the kind of connecting
cables you have and the ca(abilities of the 4V.
Bou have to figure out what (lugs into what by
looking at the kind of connectors you have and
deci(hering the labels on the V'K or 4V. 9Video
In: means that the (icture is going into the 4V at
that connector. 9Video ?ut: means that the (icture
is going out of the V'K through that connector.
1hat you have to reali/e, of course, is that the
information is stored on the videota(e and has to
make its way to the 4V through the wires.
II5 6ire a 0C1 and T0 together with a cable
or antenna 7satellite or broadcast5 so that you
can record one program while watching
another. <o this by thinking about how the
information has to flow 7 where it starts, where it
has to go. +ake hy(otheses within your grou(,
test your hy(otheses, and see what works.
4he 94VCV'K: switch is a critical element in this
set u( of com(onents. As its name suggests, it
allows either the V'K or the 4V to control what
you watch. 1hen the V'K is in control, you can
watch a video or change channels through the
V'K3s tuner "with the 4V set to either channel #
or !, de(ending on how you set the 9#C!: switch
on the back of the V'K&.
1ith the 4V in control, you can change channels
on the 4V. In this setting, you cannot watch a
videota(e, because information is not coming
from the V'K.
?nce you get it working, make a diagram of
how the wires connect the devices together,
including the names of the connectors. Dse arrows
to show the flow of information through the
1hen you can figure out how to connect a V'K
and 4V to ta(e one show and watch another, you
can figure out how 6ust about any system of
electronic e5ui(ment should work together. Aust
follow the flow of informationE
If you are interested in reading more about other
electronic devices, use How Stuff Works.com.
4hey have a search bo8 that lets you look u( 6ust
about any device. 'ell (hones, for e8am(le, are
written about at
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 16
Learning About Electricity
Teacher +otes for ctivity 8%
4he goal of this activity is for students to figure out how electricity flows in a useful a((liance, and what the
energy transformations are the make the a((liance useful.
9ake sure that students never plug the hair dryer into a wall socket when it is taken apart. There is an
&:T1&9& &;&CT1<C"TI<+ /=1D from opening the hair dryer when the cover is off.
4he main com(onents of a hair dryer include the switch, the blower motor and fan, and the heating element.
4he blower motor and fan transforms electricity into energy of motion "moving air&. 4he air moves across the
heating element "in which electricity is transformed into heat energy& and gets hot, moving out of the hair
dryer and onto someone3s hair.
4he website 0ow Stuff 1orks.com has an article on hair dryers, which you should use with students. 4hey
show a (hoto of a taken$a(art hair dryer.
4he electrical diagram for this a((liance should show electricity from the source "wall socket& going through
a switch, then going to both the heating element and the blower motor, then returning to the other side of the
source. 4here are two ways to draw this, both correct, as shown below, but the second drawing is more
traditional "although harder to gras( at first&. 4he simulation of two light bulbs in a (arallel circuit at the
website given on (age 1J shows essentially the electrical circuit of a hair dryer, drawn similarly to the second
diagram below. "htt(:CCwww.science6oywagon.comC(hysics/oneClessonCJGelectrCelectriC(arcirCdefault.htm&
+any hair dryers use a three$way switch, ?--, 2?1 and 0II0, which controls the amount of electricity
going to the fan and heater 7 more on 0II0, less on 2?1.
6iring a 0C1 and cable T0 to record and watch different programs%
?f course, students could follow the wiring diagrams in the instruction booklets. But the in5uiry activity
here, and the (ur(ose of the benchmark, is to figure out how the wires must be connected so that the
information flows to the a((ro(riate (laces.
Bou can easily do activity I& 7 wiring a V'K and 4V together to (lay a ta(e 7 in the classroom. Activity II&
re5uires a cable or satellite 4V feed, which many classrooms do not have. nlist the hel( of your media
s(ecialist or technology s(ecialist to find a location for this activity where all students can (artici(ate.
0ere3s how the 4VCV'K set$u( works: 4he information comes into the house through the cable "for cable
television& or through an antenna wire for satellite 4.V. It goes into the V'K, where it is 9tuned: by the
controls on the V'K to the channel that you want to ta(e. Bou can also watch that channel if you hit the
94VCV'K: switch so you are viewing the V'K signal "this is, you can set the 4VCV'K switch so that the
V'K is in control of what you watch&.
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 17
and fan
motor and
Learning About Electricity
4he 9video outCaudio out: connector "sometimes labeled 6ust 9out: or 9to 4V:& sends a signal from inside the
V'K to the 4V. If you dont want to watch what the V'K is ta(ing, the 94VCV'K: switch 7 set to 4V 7
sends the signal from the cable directly to the 4V. If you do want to watch what the V'K is ta(ing "or what
has already been recorded on a ta(e&, the 94VCV'K: switch 7 set to V'K 7 sends the signal from the V'K
mechanism to the 4V.
Student drawings should show how the information flows in this set$u(, de(ending on how the 94VCV'K:
switch is set.
4he tuner is the channel controller. -or the V'K to (lay through the 4V, the 4V is usually set to channel # or
! and left alone. A videota(e can (lay through the 4V, or the tuner in the V'K can be set to any channel and
(layed on the 4V.
Teacher notes for ctivity >%
A demonstration motor is available from the Aackson 'ounty +athematics and Science 'enter that shows
how motors work. 4he s(eed of the motor can be controlled by changing how often the (olarity of the
electromagnets is changed. 4his demonstration motor used an ingenious design to change the (olarity of the
Answers to 5uestions:
2ook at the drawing. 0ow would you (redict that the s(inner magnet would move@ 4he north (ole of
the electromagnet would re(el the north (ole of the (ermanent magnet, and the south (oles would re(el,
making the bar magnet s(in counterclockwise.
Aust when the s(inner magnet moves one$half circle, the electromagnets have their (olarity changed, so
the one on the left is now F, and the one on the right is not S. 4hen what would ha((en to the s(inner@
4he reversed (olarity of the electromagnets would again re(el the "changed& (olarity of the bar magnet,
continuing the s(inning motion.
0ow could you change the (olarity of the electromagnets@ Keverse their connection to the battery that
(owers them. Actually, in many motors, A' current "house current& is used "rather than <' current in
batteries&, which changes its direction ;J times (er second.
0ow could the motion of the s(inning magnet be continued@ 'ontinue to reverse the (olarity of the
electromagnets at 6ust the (recise time to give the bar magnet a continued (ush.
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 18
switch on TV
switch on VCR
Learning About Electricity
#ocus $uestion% 0ow can you make an electromagnet@
&quipment% Batteries, thin insulated wire, a large iron nail, some metal ob6ects that may be attracted to a
magnet, a com(ass. ?(tional: a bar or horseshoe magnet, (a(er and iron filings.
Instructions for 'tudents%
1. +ake an electromagnet by wra((ing wire around a nail "at least %J turns& and attaching it to a battery. 4est
it with the com(ass. Dse it to (ick u( ob6ects.
A nice descri(tion of electromagnets and how they work can be found in +arshall Brain3s How Stuff
Works web (ages, at htt(:CCwww.howstuffworks.comCelectromagnet.htm. 4hat website includes the
following diagram for making an electromagnet:
,. 1hat could you do with an electromagnet@ 0ow many a((lications of electromagnets can you think of@
#. 0ow can you make a stronger electromagnet@ 4hink of two different ways you might make a stronger
electromagnet, and try them. 0ow can you measure the strength of your electromagnet@
1hy can a magnet, either a (ermanent magnet or an electromagnet, (ick u( an ob6ect that it is not
touching@ 1rite your initial ideas in your science 6ournal.
Investigation% See how close you can get your electromagnet to a (a(er cli( before the (a(er cli( starts
to move towards the magnet. <esign an e8(eriment to test the strength of an electromagnet using this
(rocedure. In your write$u( of the results, include an e8(lanation of this 9action at a distance: effect.
<oes it de(end on which end of the electromagnet you use@ <oes it de(end on whether you try to attract
the (a(er cli( to the mid$(oint of the nail@ <oes it de(end on the strength of the nail@
0ave you ever (laced a (iece of (a(er over
a bar magnet "or a horseshoe magnet& and
s(rinkled iron filings on the (a(er. If you
giggle the (a(er a little, the filings make a
(attern that is related to the sha(e of the
magnet "your electromagnet will work for
this, too&. Iiven what you found in your
investigation, what do you think this (attern
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 19
Bour electromagnet should have at least %J
turns of wire around the nail.
Learning About Electricity
1hat do you know about 9magnetic (oles:@ 0ow are they like the arth3s Forth *ole and South *ole@
1rite what you know about magnetic (oles in your 6ournal.
!. <esign a tool that could slide ,J feet down into a metal baseboard air duct "galvani/ed steel, not
aluminum& and retrieve a lost key "also attracted to a magnet&.
%. Kead the article at htt(:CCwww.howstuffworks.comCmotor.htm about electric motors. +otors are a very
im(ortant a((lication of electromagnets. A (ermanent bar magnet is attached to a s(inner, with "obviously&
north on one end and south on the other. 4wo electromagnets are (laced at o((osite ends of the s(inner, 6ust a
little distance away from the ends of the (ermanent magnet.
2ook at the drawing. 0ow would you (redict that the s(inner magnet would move@
Aust when the s(inner magnet moves one$half circle, the electromagnets have their (olarity changed, so
the one on the left is now F, and the one on the right is not S. 4hen what would ha((en to the s(inner@
0ow could you change the (olarity of the electromagnets@
0ow could the motion of the s(inning magnet be continued@
A motor has a mechanism in it that changes the (olarity of the electromagnet at 6ust the right (oint to kee(
the (ermanent magnet moving. 4he (ermanent magnet has an a8le through it3s middle, attached to gears that
can be used to drive wheels, fans, drills or anything that needs a motor to runE
Bou can build your own motor with a kit available at many hobby sho(s or through science su((ly
4his website also (rovides an e8(lanation of how motors work, based on electromagnets:
Another increasingly im(ortant a((lication of electromagnets is in 9maglev trains: 7 trains that levitate
above the tracks on magnetic fields. See the article at htt(:CCwww.howstuffworks.comCmaglev$train.htm.

Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 20
Learning About Electricity
ssessing 9iddle 'chool 'tudents, "nderstanding
+ost of the (roblems (osed for students in Activity # can be used as 9embedded assessments.: 4hat is, you
can watch, listen, and ask (robing 5uestions of students as they attem(t to wire various circuits, and you can
read their 6ournals to assess their understanding.
Along with embedded assessments, the following 5uestions can give you insight into students3
understanding. Bou might ask them to write out answers individually, or discuss within their grou(s and
write grou( re(orts.
Ouestions for deliberation:
1hy is a com(lete circuit needed to make an electrical a((liance "bulb, bu//er, refrigerator& work@
1hat ha((ens in a house circuit when you turn on or off a switch@ 'an you make a diagram to show this@
1hat moves around a circuit@
1hat does the battery do in a circuit@
1hat does the conce(t of conductivity mean@
1hat does a switch do in terms of conductivity@
1hy does a strand of holiday lights stay on even when one burns out@ 'an you make a diagram to show this@
1hy do scientists say that magnetism and electricity are related@
Also see the unit assessment on electric circuits develo(ed by the Aackson 'ounty +athematics and Science
'enter +iddle School Assessment 4eam, available with the Aackson 'ounty +odel Science 'urriculum.
*erformance assessment:
A standard (erformance assessment is to have students wire a model house. 4his draws on their
understanding of how circuits work, and allows them to use their creativity in the design.
Jackson County Mathematics and Science Center p. 21