Electricity Unit: Atoms, Electrons and More! (Hands-On Activities)

As many of you know, we are doing an electricity and circuits unit. Today I thought I would share some of the hands-on activities we did as we started off this unit!

We started off the year with a unit on the States of Matter. Then we went on to talk about the Physical and Chemical Properties of Matter.  We touched on conductivity (and insulators) briefly as physical properties, but in that unit we spent more time discussion density. Now in this unit, we are going to explore conductors, insulators, electricity, batteries and generators, currents, resistors, circuits (simple and parallel circuits),  and so forth in much more detail.

Hands-On Activity

balloonBefore we read or talked about anything, we started off with this simple activity with a balloon.

We took the balloon and I had the kids try to place it against a wall.  It wouldn’t stick. Then I had the kids rub the balloon on their hair.  After several minutes of rubbing the balloon on their heads, I had them try to place the balloon on the wall.  It took a couple of tries, but we managed to get it to stick to the wall!! We then talked briefly about static electricity. Electrons can be exchanged between materials on contact as with the hair and the balloon! Static electricity results from an imbalance between negative and positive charges in objects.

Of course, these electrons are invisible to the naked eye.

We went on to read  What’s Smaller Than a Pygmy Shrew? (affiliate link) By Robert E. Wells. This book does a wonderful job of explaining just how small an atom and the parts of atoms really are… by comparing things to one another – a shrew to an elephant, a ladybug to the shrew, a water drop to a ladybug, a paramecium to the waterdrop, and so forth right down to electrons, protons and neutrons.

whats-smaller-than-a-pygmy-shrewWe then went over the first page in our new packet and talked about the parts of an atom, friction, static electricity, etc.  Protons attract electrons because of their opposite charge. When we talked about the charges of protons and electrons, I said it was similar to the attraction in magnets. We brought out our magnet set and the kids worked with that for a while.


At the beginning of this unit we also read Read Switch-On, Switch-Off (affiliate link) by Melvin Berger. This book did a great job of explaining how electricity works in your home.  It also had a great explanation about generators.  We did a couple of activities as we read through this book.

switch-on-switch-offpole-top-transformerHands-On Activity – We went outside and looked at the power lines. Our pole had a pole-top transformer.  The transformer converts the high ‘primary’ voltage of the overhead or underground distribution lines to the lower ‘secondary’ voltage of the distribution wires inside your house (or building).

Note: the electricity cable is the one at the top. The lower (thicker) black lines are the cable wires.

The next day we created our own generator (this is discussed in Switch On, Switch Off) with wire, (affiliate link) a magnet and a compass.

electricity-unit-create-your-generatorThat was the very beginning of our very-hands on unit on Electricity and Circuits! Next up, we’ll be talking about electric current, conductors, insulators, and light bulbs. We’re going to make some very simple circuits with LED diodes, button batteries, AAA batteries and we’ll be making a lemon battery. (affiliate links) More about that soon!

In all, we have more than a dozen different activities we’ll be doing over the next couple of weeks! And, we’ll be working through out latest packet (which is over 30 pages right now, but I always add to it our packets as we make our way through the material!).

Check out the Electricity and Circuits STEM Unit and all of our Chemistry Units at our Chemistry Page.


Electricity Unit

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you decide to make a purchase.

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You might be interested in these related posts:


 In this unit we covered:

Matter: Elements, Compounds, Mixtures

Organization of the Periodic Table

Molecular vs. Structural Formulas

Describing Matter: Physical and Chemical Properties

Density Activities – Mass÷Volume

Mixtures: Solutions, Colloids and Suspensions

Properties of Matter - Elements Compounds Mixtures - viscosity density and more

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