Grade 5 Physics: Electricity

Electricity…it’s electric! We spent two days on the theme of electricity within our physics block. If you are just joining me, there are several blog posts about our physics block. The plan, which has gone reasonably well so far, follows:

Introduce Energy, Force, and Momentum2 days
Simple Machines3 days
Waves and Sound2 days
Light2 days
Magnets2 days
Electricity2 days

 Like the rest of our physic block, play-to-discover mode worked the very best for these activities. I laid several items on the table including alligator clips, light bulb bases with light bulbs, and batteries. I had several folks ask me if this was a kit. It was not, but when looking for the links for the individual items, I found this kit that has all the items that we played with and a little more that would be great for facilitating more discovery. It does only have 4 alligator clips and 4 light bulb bases. I think one could manage with 4 light bulb bases, but would definitely need more alligator clips. Here are a couple of links to the light bulb base and the replacement bulbs as well. If your child plays to discover, inevitably many a light bulb will be blown as they increase the number of batteries, and you will need more. 

If you need a refresher on electricity, like I did, is a great place to start.

 I allowed her to play with these items for more than 15 minutes before I started asking questions and directing play.  Through this play we discovered or discussed the following concepts:

circuitselectrical chargeatoms
currentstatic electricityconductors

Following her uninterrupted play, I asked her what she was noticing. Her observations were:

  • A circle path was required for the light to come on. (circuit)
  • The more light bulbs there were, the less dim the bulbs were if the number of batteries were the same.
  • If the number of lights did not change, the more batteries she used the brighter the lights.
  • When she turned a battery backwards, it didn’t work at all or not as well. (This led to a great discussion of charge, what electricity is, and current.)
  • You could run the electricity through some things — paper clips, stapler remover, compass — and the light bulb light. While others, such as the eraser, did not allow the electricity to flow through them. (insulators and conductors)

The following day when she played with the circuits again, she was more intentional in her experimenting with conductors and insulators. We also did a static electricity demonstrations. 

  • We took two medium size balloons.
  • We blew them up and tied them off.
  • Then we tied a piece of yarn (~3ft) around each of them so that they could be held by the yarn.
  • We held the balloons by the yarn to see how they react normally. The fell next to each other.
  • We took each balloon and rubbed them against a wool sweater (loading the balloons with electrons and giving them a negative charge.)
  • Then we held the two balloons by the yarn again, and the balloons repelled each other, staying several inches away. You could see the push against each other.
  • When we moved the balloons near another (neutrally charged) object, the balloons were attracted to it and would pull towards the objects.

We discussed how the electrons were moving from the sweater to the balloons when we were rubbing the balloons against the sweater. This loading of electrons was causing a negative charge. Since like charges repel, the balloons pushed against each other. We also talked about how the balloons were attracted to other objects neutrally charged, because of the balloons charges. 

I’ve discussed in earlier blogs that we have used Building Foundations in Scientific Understanding for many of the exercises in this block. These exercises were not from those books. However, I needed a little refresher on electricity (and a check list to make sure I was not missing anything I wanted covered.) For that I referred to

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