One way we can tell if our unit is successful is that the kids will go home and tear electric things apart. The kids will also have a basic understanding of important concepts in electricity and magnetism through their hands-on explorations in class with switches, energy sources, circuit breakers, and static electricity, to name a few topics. Our overall movement in this unit is to start out with small, basic concepts, such as atoms and electric flow through circuits, and then to move to increasingly complex systems. We felt that a logical progression from basic to complex systems is especially important for electricity, where both concepts and components build upon one another.
Some of the activities in the unit that were favorites for us and our students were making circuits out of a wide range of materials (clothes pins, tinfoil, batteries), and being able to suspend a needle in mid-air with a magnet. As the kids worked with bulbs, magnets, wires, motors and batteries in our classroom, we also wanted to make the unit practical for their everyday lives, so we made frequent connections to common experiences with electricity. For instance, we examined the nature of electric flow and use in a house, and the students even made a circuit breaker. Further, a representative from the local power company spoke with the children about how power is generated and moves from stations to substations to their homes, and about the safety concerns involved. This relationship to health and safety is one of the many interdisciplinary connections we have included in our unit.
As a culminating activity, the electric fair is both an open exploration for the students and a means for us to assess their understanding of concepts from the preceding unit. The kids are basically told to consider their own knowledge, consult other resources, and develop a science-fair style project that demonstrates an extended inquiry and a response. Stages of their work include brainstorming issues and questions, messing about, and pulling together their experiments and results. We have found that some of our students take the electric fair much further than we had imagined, and that overall, it is highly successful in inspiring the students and in promoting a synthesis of their learning.
As we have noted, we believe that it is important for the students to have an understanding of the basics of electricity and magnetism in and through their explorations. At the same time, we are interested in developing our unit further toward work that goes beyond the basics, leading the students into more complex problem-solving and critical thinking. If you would like to share your ideas for this development, or if you would like more information about our unit, please e-mail either Renae or Linda.
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