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Back to School Electronics

By now, everyone is back in school, even the colleges and universities. For those of you with young children, getting them involved and interested in science early is a great way to set them down the path toward success! And what better way is there to involve a child in science than to give them an experiment they can do at home with mostly common materials? So here are 3 quick electrical projects you can give your progeny to boost their science aptitude!

Lighting Circuit

What you need:

  • An LED
  • 1,000 Ohm Resistor
  • A Battery

The lighted circuit is probably the simplest electricity experiment you can run for a child. It’s cheaper than buying a full electrical science kit and it’s about as close to “100% safe” as a learning exercise can get. The goal of this project is to get the LED to light up. Connect one leg of the Led to one leg of the resistor and the other leg to a terminal on your battery. Then connect the second resistor lead to the other battery terminal. The LED should light up, if it doesn’t you need to connect the led to the other side of the battery.

If you want, try this same technique with a Christmas light bulb as well. Take the two metal leads and connect them to either end of the battery with wire. Then do the same thing with the resister attached to one end of the light bulb. With the resistor in place the bulb will be dimmer.

What they’ll learn:

  • LEDs work in a single direction while incandescent light bulbs work in either direction
  • Adding resistance, either as a lightbulb or a resistor, takes up power leaving you less for light
  • How a basic circuit works

You can also teach them how a switch works with this simple setup.

Vinegar Battery Tray

What you need:

  • Nails
  • Copper Wire
  • Vinegar
  • An Ice Cube Tray

Power generation is important when it comes to teaching any element of electricity. We’ve seen plenty of potato-, orange-, and candle-powered electrical devices, but a better way to demonstrate how a battery works just vinegar, nails, and copper wire.

Batteries work because of a chemical reaction present between an anode (the “-“ lead) and the cathode (“+“ lead). An electrolyte such as vinegar can generate the flow of electrons necessary to light up a light bulb. As you can clearly see in the video below:

What they’ll learn:

  • What electrolytes are
  • Electron flow

Home Electric Generator

What you need:

  • Magnets
  • Copper Wire
  • Cardboard
  • A Nail

Electrical energy generation (when it isn’t being done by solar panels) is created by spinning magnets. As a turbine spins, magnetic field lines cross a set of wires. As magnetic lines move into and out of conductor, electron flow is produced. Wind, coal, and even nuclear plants are all simply methods of spinning a magnet to produce electrons (typically by boiling water to spin the turbine with steam).

All you need to build an electrical generator is a couple of magnets and a coil of wire. For guidance, wikiHow has an illustrated guide for building an inexpensive electric generator or you can get the materials and let the kids duplicate this experiment: