Sphero Team
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Circuits are a great way to teach kids about electricity in a hands-on way. Building circuits develops students’ understanding of currents, power sources, and outputs, and educators can devise several fun activities to help meet key learning objectives. 

But have teachers being getting it wrong on circuitry all these years? Research has shown that high school students (and even university students) frequently misunderstand circuitry, often mixing up concepts like current, voltage, and resistance.1 Is it possible that the traditional setup of battery, alligator clips, and lightbulb is insufficient for showing kids how circuits work? 

In this article, we’ll discuss how to approach circuits for kids, and propose a number of fun activities to try. We’ll also offer tips for keeping students engaged and focused on achieving key learning objectives. 

Why is Circuitry Foundational? 

Circuitry is an important area of physics that helps kids understand electricity. When young learners put together their first electrical circuits, not only can they boost their understanding of electricity in an abstract sense, but they can also develop foundational engineering skills, giving them firm footing in other areas of STEM. 

Building circuits gives students a chance to accompany their theoretical knowledge with hands-on learning in a way that isn’t possible in all areas of science. This gives them a great opportunity to truly grapple with the concepts and form a core knowledge base. It also encourages the development of key soft skills like teamwork, problem-solving, and critical thinking. 

A group of students building a circuit.

Circuitry Activities for Kids 

Circuitry lessons typically involve students assembling a circuit themselves using components like a battery, wires, bulb, switch, and buzzer. However, there are many ways to structure circuit activities for kids. 

  1. Free Exploration: One way to begin teaching circuits is to provide students with the core components and see if they can achieve a simple goal (illuminating a bulb, for example) without instructions. While this can lead to frustration, it tests students’ teamwork and problem-solving skills.
  2. Build-a-Circuit Race: If your students can maintain focus in a stimulating environment, you could try sorting the class into teams and have them race to complete a complex circuit. This tends to work better in smaller groups — provided you have enough equipment to share around. 
  3. Mystery Box Challenge: Circuits are a great way to teach kids about conductive and insulating objects. Assemble a circuit containing a conductive object, hide the object under a box, and see if students can guess what it is. Alternatively, show students a range of conductive and insulating objects and have them guess if they will complete or break the circuit. 
  4. Snap Circuits: If you’re not getting much mileage out of the traditional battery and bulb setup, try a more exciting spin on circuits with a snap circuit kit. The littleBits STEAM+ Coding Class Pack contains a wide range of components, including LEDs, motors, buzzers, and fans, designed in an intuitive way to keep students engaged. littleBits also provides a bridge to other STEM subjects like computer programming. 

 

 

Teaching Tips 

Circuits for kids — built in the traditional way or with modern equipment like a littleBits kit — can contribute to a high-energy lesson. But how can teachers ensure they deliver key learning objectives while organizing these hands-on activities? 

Analogy is Your Friend 

To really understand how circuits work, kids need to absorb a lot of complex ideas at once. Teaching technical concepts like resistance and potential difference can be difficult — even if students are comfortable with the practical aspects of circuitry. 

Using analogies is a great way to teach these concepts. You can devise your own, but educators have often used water as a metaphor for how electricity flows in a circuit. In this analogy, voltage is like water pressure, while current is like water flow. The cell behaves like a water pump, a resistor like a narrowing of the water pipe, a switch like a water valve, and so on. 

A water pipe

Encourage Problem Solving 

Building an unsuccessful circuit is part of the learning process. When students put together a circuit that doesn’t work, try not to give away solutions immediately. Encourage students to develop their problem-solving skills and troubleshoot their broken circuits by offering hints rather than answers. 

Cater to Different Learning Styles 

Everyone can learn to understand circuits — provided they receive the materials in a way that suits them. When teaching circuits for kids, offer a mix of written instructions, visual aids, discussion, and group tasks to cater to different learning styles. 

It’s okay if students are more comfortable with some aspects of a task than others. For example, some learners may particularly enjoy making circuitry diagrams using colored pencils to illustrate different components, while others may prefer the process of physically assembling the circuit. 

Build Competency in Circuitry with Sphero 

Circuits can be one of the most exciting areas of physics for young learners. However, teachers have a responsibility to ensure that their students truly understand the science behind the activities. For lesson plan inspiration, browse the Sphero littleBits Resources library. 

About the Author

The Sphero Team

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The Sphero Team is comprised of current and former educators, education content and curriculum writers, product designers, engineers, executive leadership, and other experts in their fields. Learn more about who we are and what we do at sphero.com/about.