Academic journal article Science and Children

Getting Crafty with the NGSS: Using Multimedia Circuits to Teach Electricity in Elementary School

Academic journal article Science and Children

Getting Crafty with the NGSS: Using Multimedia Circuits to Teach Electricity in Elementary School

Article excerpt

Traditionally, electricity and circuits are taught using alligator clips, lightbulbs, batteries, and wires. Although these circuits engage students in building, they don't always provide opportunities for students to deeply explore energy, electricity, polarity, and circuitry. Multimedia Circuits is a curricular unit made up of three projects that allow students and teachers to engage in science learning from a more artistic perspective by constructing circuits using different media (i.e., clay, paper, and fabric). By engaging students in a craft-based approach rather than a traditional classroom approach, Multimedia Circuits gives students a new way to engage with science content (Gu et al. 2016). Additionally, with its strong focus on modeling and the engineering practices of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States 2013), Multimedia Circuits empowers elementary teachers to engage their students in science learning and integrate their curriculum more fully. Current research finds that learning outcomes are as good, if not better, with multimedia circuits as with traditional circuit materials; additionally, student interest and identification with science improved significantly with these projects (Gu et al. 2016). Students who do not express interest in science are often engaged by this unit because they are able to craft circuits with familiar materials (e.g., paper, fabric, clay) and initially perceive the activities as art more than science.

Materials and Unit Description

Traditionally, wire is used to conduct electricity in circuits, but the Multimedia Circuits activities introduce a variety of materials designed to conduct electricity: salt-based clay for Squishy Circuits, copper tape for Paper Circuits, and stainless-steel thread for Sewable Circuits. We present Multimedia Circuits during a two-week, six-lesson electricity unit. These projects can be done in sequence or in isolation, depending on teachers' curriculum, goals, and time constraints. Table 1 provides an overview of the recommended time for each lesson, along with links for where to find lesson outlines and resources.

The unit is comprised of three projects that gradually increase in complexity and build student understanding through hands-on, craft-based learning:

* Squishy Circuits (Johnson and Thomas 2010): Students build model circuits by creating animals out of conductive and insulative clay, batteries, lights, and wires (Figure 1, p. 50). Students build circuits quickly using a familiar material (clay).

* Paper Circuits (Qi and Buechley 2014): Students use copper tape, LED lights, and batteries to explore simple, series, and parallel circuits (Figure 2, p. 50).

* Sewable Circuits: Students design and craft circuit bracelets using LED lights, batteries, and conductive thread (Figure 3, p. 51). This project engages students with polarity and short circuits.

During these activities, students integrate their own aesthetic choices into scientifically viable and accurate circuits. Students also explore nonmetallic materials that are conductive. These projects are expansive and adaptable, so they can easily be tailored to suit the teachers' specific needs. For example, a teacher using an open-ended approach can spend an hour or more on paper circuits to deeply address particular concepts, whereas another teacher using a direct instruction approach can complete paper circuits in as little as 20 minutes to prepare students for a subsequent circuity project.

Teachers who have implemented these activities typically begin with an age-appropriate lesson, such as a group discussion with clarification and explanations regarding the content being taught. Often, a KWL (Know, Want to know, Learned) chart acts as an entry point for assessing students' prior knowledge and misconceptions about electricity. The KWL chart also serves as a tool that helps teachers choose the activity best suited as a starting point for students. …

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