Christmas Holiday Fun!
During that lovely quiet period between Christmas and New Year’s is a great time to break out the toy kits and the table games. There’s always a lot of lights twinkling in our home during Christmas and it seemed fitting to open up the Squishy-Circuit kit for a play. I can’t imagine anything more fun than squishing colourful play-doh through your fingers and then lighting it up!
Micro-Controllers are making appearances in the school curriculum. Most notably, the United Kingdom is giving each Year 7 child a free micro-controller called the Micro:bit to encourage interest in science and computing. A micro-controller is a small programmable computer. You attach it to your project to enable your project to “do work” or to be interactive.
One of the most well known micro-controllers in education currently is the Raspberry Pi:
Raspberry Pi Micro-Controller
An example of a Raspberry Pi project in the classroom could be students building their own weather station to collect data for a science experiment.
Building an Electrical Circuit
So, before children can attach micro-controllers to their projects, they’ll need understanding and skills to build a working electrical circuit as that’s how they’re often attached.
They’ll need an understanding of the different types of circuits (series, parallel) in order to choose the one that works best for their project.
They’ll need a good understanding of how electricity flows (closed circuit) and what disrupts it (open circuit) because they’ll be a lot of trouble-shooting when it doesn’t work (short-circuit)!
Squishy-Circuits is a lovely way for early childhood (and older!) to learn about electrical circuits.
Squishy-Circuits Kit (The dough and alligator clips are mine and not included with the kit)
Et voilà! I found a tweet combining squishy circuits with a micro-controller. This micro-controller is the Arduino.
The Squishy-Circuit kit comes with large LEDS (lights) in several colours, a battery pack, two buzzers, and a motor. Project ideas can be found on their website too.
Under the cover of the box are recipes to make conductive dough and insulating dough in your kitchen. The dough that you see pictured here is stuff I made. I used Wilton icing colours to colour the conductive dough (allows electricity to pass through). The colours come out WAY deeper and brighter than regular food colouring. You also need insulating dough to separate the different pieces of conductive dough in your projects. Otherwise, you’ll get a short-circuit. My insulating dough is the large beige-coloured ball to the left of the kit. It has that strange colour as oil is one of the main ingredients. I used olive oil, thus my dough took on that strange colour. Water has minerals and electrolytes that increase conductivity, thus I had to limit water in my insulating dough and cooking oil is used instead.
I added alligator clips, regular Play-Doh, and Play-Doh toys to our workspace. We discovered that regular Play-Doh is conductive, but not quite as conductive as what the recipe produces. (We used a multimeter to measure and compare the strength of the current flowing through the two.)
It was a huge amount of fun. We just messed about. It was entirely safe to play with. The buzzers drove me crazy, but the kids loved it. We attached a propellor to the motor and watched it whirl. I wish Kindergarten was like this when I was in school! 😉
Electrical Circuits 101
Electrical Circuits 101
Take a look at the butterfly above. The electricity travels from the positive (+) side of the battery (in the battery pack) through the red wire and into the purple conductive dough (making it the positive side). It then passes through the two LEDS, thus lighting them up. Then the electricity passes through to the other purple-side (negative-side) and then through the black wire and back into the battery pack to the negative (-) side of the battery. There, you have the closed circular circuit which is a working circuit.
Red is commonly used to denote positive. Black is for negative. The positive side is the point of highest electrical potential. In a battery, that would be the (+) side. Positive is also called “power“. The negative side is the point of lowest potential. In a battery, that would be the (-) . Negative is also called “ground“. Electricity flows from high to low and needs to make a complete circle.
We have the beige-coloured insulating dough in-between the two purple bits. Insulating means that it doesn’t conduct electricity. I need the insulating bit in-between the purple bits or otherwise the electricity would jump from the positive purple side (butterfly’s right wing) directly into the negative purple side (butterfly’s left wing). It would bypass the LEDS and the LEDs would not light up. Electricity wants to run the path of least resistance, thus it will bypass the longer route through the LEDs. THAT is why it’s called a SHORT-circuit when it fails. The electricity took a shorter route than you wanted it to. :p
Playing with variations on the wiring
More fun than probing your Christmas roast with a meat thermometer!
Police Car: siren, lights, motor (Click the speaker button on the vine to hear the siren.)
As I like to remind people, learning with technology doesn’t have to be staring at computer screens all day. There are many ways to keep children playing in the sandbox and exploring with their fingers to learn about their world. If you check out my blogposts tagged #TECHxture, you’ll find more examples. Embedding programmable micro-controllers, sensors, or (in this case) electricity into children’s learning experiences levels up their learning, and levels up the fun.
Go on, now! Squish your circuits and hack your play-doh!
What was your favourite activity while in Kindergarten?