Roxane Ohl - Dec 10, 2019

Making Real-World Connections

I was comfortable enough to wire my own home after taking Physics in college. I must admit, the hands-on activities were very realistic and there was no question in my mind that what I was learning was how to wire lights and outlets.

True story.

When I was a buyer at Nasco my third grader was able to put together Snap Circuits kits and determine which component was malfunctioning in our product shipment following a customer complaint. She had been introduced to the activity in school. I was impressed. Imagine my surprise when she was in high school Physics class and commented that they had started an electricity unit and she knew nothing about electricity! I reminded her about the Snap Circuits episode. She had not associated the ‘game’ with learning about electricity. I have always taken this little lesson to heart. How often does our model miss the mark for students so they do not make the intended connection? Since my daughter shared this with me, I have been a firm believer in making models for learning as realistic as possible. 

When running an after school program with fourth graders on Building Electromagnets, we used real batteries, wire, and steel bolts. Students were making all kinds of connections. They were asking questions like, "why do we plug lamps into the wall?" We even talked about three pronged plugs and grounding, because they were asking. The students were able to plan an experiment to determine which way to connect batteries, series or parallel, to increase the power of the electromagnets they built. They were able to discuss conductors and insulators, why wire was sometimes coated, and why electrons move through wire. Suddenly, students could explain why static electricity could make a balloon stick to a wall. Opportunities present themselves for making all kinds of connections and taking time for discussions is time well invested.

So, I prefer electricity and electronics activities that use real components because the concepts and components go hand in hand. How often, I wonder, do we lose the science within the game or craft? In the interest of more students making the intended connection, in designing a kit I choose materials as close to the real thing as possible. In any case, a thorough explanation of the model and its shortcomings is essential. Of course having plenty of discussions and examples for making real world connections is also critical. After all the investment in the activity, never skimp on the discussions and explanations!

Kemtec Electricity Class Kits that use real components:

Written by Roxane Ohl