It might seem a bit daunting to teach young children about electric circuits. After all, working with electricity can be dangerous and it is difficult to imagine children engaging in “open inquiry” when there is substantial risk of harm when using regular circuit components.
Dr. AnnMarie Thomas, Associate Professor of Engineering at the University of St. Thomas, came up with an ingenious solution to this dilemma. Dr. Thomas and her team have developed something called “squishy circuits” and the Maker Pedagogy Lab has been exploring the possibilities associated with providing future teachers with an experience using squishy circuits. We believe that the use of squishy circuits might contribute to the development of what we refer to as maker pedagogy.
Squishy circuits are circuits you can make out of LEDs, battery packs, and home made conducting and insulating “Play Doh.” Many of you might know that the Play Doh you buy in stores has a lot of salt (don’t worry – we won’t ask how you know that 🙂 ). Science teachers have used Play Doh for its conductive properties in demonstrations for many years. One of the contributions of Dr. Thomas’ team was to make a sugar-based dough as well. The two kinds of dough enables even very young children to make a variety of electrical circuits.
I recommend watching Dr. Thomas’ TED talk to get a sense of the possibilities:
We often use this project as the introductory activity for new members of our Maker Pedagogy Lab.
- Squishy Circuits Home Page: http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/apthomas/SquishyCircuits/
- Recipe 1: http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/apthomas/SquishyCircuits/conductiveDough.htm (I find lemon juice to be most effective)
- Recipe 2: http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/apthomas/SquishyCircuits/insulatingDough.htm
- Videos: http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/apthomas/SquishyCircuits/videos2.htm
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