Student Engagement: Using Electrical Experiments in the Classroom

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 3.05.24 PMSociety has evolved in part because of the discovery of electricity. While many people give the credit of discovery to Benjamin Franklin, there are actually several scientists who experimented with electricity. With each successful experiment, these men brought us one step closer to the circuits, magnets, and light bulbs that we know today. Teachers can use these experiments as examples to help students understand a variety of different concepts. Highlighted below are some of the scientist who discovered electricity and how teachers can create similar exercises to engage students. Charles du Fay was a French chemist who noticed that objects rubbed with glass and amber would repel or attract one another. This showed that objects hold electrical charges and he named objects rubbed with glass vitreous electricity and objects rubbed with amber resinous electricity. These names were later changed to positive charge and negative charge respectively. Teachers can use his experiment to help students understand what atoms, electrons, neutrons and an electrical charge are. Fay also noted the difference between conductors and insulators which teachers can show students through the transfer of heat since both are forms of energy. Alessandro Volta was an Italian physicist who suggested a theory that two different types of metal with a moist material between them could create electricity. Volta used alternating discs of copper and zinc with pasteboard between them. By varying a number of units, he could increase or decrease the amount of electricity. His experiment was improved over the years to create the small battery that we know today. With this knowledge, students should be able to create a battery using a zinc screw, copper wires, and a lemon. By inserting the screw and copper wire into the lemon and allowing them not to touch students are creating a unique experiment. Teachers can use a voltmeter to show how much electricity their lemon battery is making and be able to compare it with other types of batteries available. Jack Kilby was an American electrical engineer who debuted the world’s first integrated circuit and microchip. Kilby concluded that a semiconductor was all that was needed and all parts could be made out of the same material in order to manufacture a complete circuit. Teachers can show his work on electrical circuits to teach students how electricity travels from one area to another. This will also lead itself to help students understand the difference between open and closed circuit as well as a series or parallel circuit. Students can create circuits by using different types of wires, a power source and a load (light, bell, motor). Allowing students to experiment with different variables will help emphasize the different components of electricity. To learn more about early electrical experiments that teachers can use to supplement their science curriculum look at the article below from Ohio University’s Master of Science in Electrical Engineering program.
While most of the society knows of electricity, few know the path electricity had to take to enter our daily modern world. The electrical research event most people know of is Benjamin Franklin’s Kite & Key. The legend goes that Benjamin Franklin tied a key to a kite and flew that kite in a lightning storm to prove electricity was a natural occurrence. This act of reckless abandon to understand our world, although not historically accurate, is respected because of the bravery. Several historical inaccuracies include:
  • Benjamin Franklin’s son was the only witness.
  • The kite was never struck by lightning. Had it been struck, Benjamin Franklin would have died.
  • Static electricity, not lighting, is what caused the key to give Benjamin Franklin a shock.
  • Part of the experiment was not the kite, but the kite string. The hypothesis was that electricity could only travel down a wet kite string. A dry kite string would not allow electricity to flow.
This primal curiosity was not contained to only one legendary man. Indeed, the world saw a number of brave scientists experimenting with this wild force of nature. These individuals acted as a conduit toward our modern world. Each step unlocking a bit more information, a new technology, a modern wonder. With these wonders around us on a daily basis, let us take a step back in time to understand the path that electricity took to enter into our daily lives in this infographic created by Ohio University’s Master of Science in Electrical Engineering program.
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