Recently, in the MAET program, we have been exploring the exciting possibilities of the
Maker Movement and Maker Education. Making is about empowering people to design and create the products of their imagination. People are learning that they, themselves, can find ways to make the products they dream up. It is important to know that making is relevant to teaching because it is all about problem-solving, collaboration and real-life application. Making requires reflection and encourages the mindset of accepting failure and learning from it. It is a great way to promote inquiry and perseverance, so it makes sense that one of our projects in the MAET program would be to harness the power of making to enhance a lesson that we already teach!
I chose to explore the idea of using conductive dough and the components of a simple circuit to create, “Squishy Circuits.” See the outline of my process and pedagogy behind it here. The idea of squishy circuits comes from AnnMarie Thomas, an associate professor of engineering at St. Thomas University. See what AnnMarie has to say about Squishy Circuits and making in this short TED talk, and then, read on to find my remix on building simple circuits with play dough!
In this activity, students will demonstrate how electrical energy is transferred and changed through the use a simple circuit and conductive play dough. The best part about this project is the there are so many options for exploration and growth!
- Batteries (4 AA or 1 9-volt)
- 10 mm light-emitting diodes (LED lights)
- Conductive Dough
- 1 cup Water
- 1 1/2 cups Flour
- 1/4 cup Salt
- 3 Tbsp. Cream of Tartar*
- 1 Tbsp. Vegetable Oil
- Food Coloring (optional)
- Insulating Dough
- 1/2 cup flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 Tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup deionized (or distilled) water (Regular tap water can be used, but the resistance of the dough will be lower.)
Prepare the Dough
Conductive Dough- Mix all ingredients except ½ cup flour in a pot and cook over medium heat, stirring continuously. Add food coloring. ( This will differentiate the two types of dough.) The mixture will begin to boil and get chunky. Keep stirring until a ball forms in the center of the pot, then remove the saucepan from the heat. CAUTION: The dough will be very hot! Allow it to cool before handling. Once cooled, mix flour into the dough until it is firm, but moldable (SciGirls).
Insulating Dough- Mix the oil and solid ingredients (setting aside ½ cup flour) in a bowl. Mix in 1 tbsp. deionized water and stir. Continue to add deionized water 1 tbsp. at a time until the mixture becomes moist and doughlike. Remove it from the bowl and slowly knead in flour until the desired consistency is reached (SciGirls).
The learner should know that a closed circuit allows electricity to flow in a circle like the cars on a circular racetrack. The electricity must exit the negative end of the battery, travel through the wire and the bulb and then enter the positive end of the battery to work; otherwise the electricity will not flow. The learner should also know that the conductive dough they are using is conductive because of the mineral (salt) elements in its composition.
Begin by sketching a simple circuit as a class and then move on to building the circuit with your materials. Once students understand the basics of a closed circuit and its main components and contact points (positive & negative ends of the battery, positive and negative ends of the bulb), they can begin manipulating the dough to create different paths of energy flow and transfer. Challenge students to create a short circuit and, when you’re ready to really start having fun, begin manipulating the dough into shapes that resemble things other than a wire. PBS Kids SciGirls offer a great guide to building circuits with dough and provide an interesting take on the creative process with “Dough Creatures.” Check out their page for helpful talking points and inspiration!
When exploring energy transfer and conductivity, remember to discuss resistance and its effects on the transfer. Although the dough is a conductor, it does not conduct as well as metal. Students may want to use the insulating dough for the bulk of their sculptures and add smaller amounts of conductive dough to the areas where lighting the bulb is intended to occur.
SciGirls. (n.d.). Dough Creatures. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from http://www.pbslearningmedia.org/resource/590bb20b-0f87-4946-bf5e-3705a0298131/dough-creatures/
Ted Talks. (2011, April 04). AnnMarie Thomas: Hands-on science with squishy circuits. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5M3Dow20KlM
Thomas, A. (n.d.). Welcome to the Squishy Circuits Project Page. Retrieved July 17, 2016, from http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/apthomas/SquishyCircuits/index.htm
Fourth Grade Michigan Standards:
P.EN.E.5- Electrical Circuits- Electrical circuits transfer electrical energy and produce magnetic fields .
P.EN.04.51- Demonstrate how electrical energy is transferred and changed through the use of a simple circuit.
Begin lesson by reviewing a few critical pieces of information.
- The four main forms of energy are: heat, electricity, sound and light.
- Video: Bill Nye Energy- Part 1
- Heat energy can be produced in three ways: friction, burning (chemical change), electricity.