investigating electricity with squishy circuits

Posted on: December 13th, 2014 by jnovakowski

I visited Dawn Lessoway’s Montessori class at Steves Elementary on Friday afternoon. These grades 3, 4 & 5 students welcomed me with a series of powerful questions, learning why I was there, my background and my connection to the Steves family and their neighbourhood.

I asked them what they knew about electricity to begin with and they knew it was used to power things and that electricity could come from water.

We were introducing squishy circuits to the students through a structured inquiry. The students worked in small groups and initially, each group was provided with a ball of conductive playdough, a battery pack with positive and negative wires and a small LED. I began by asking them to find out what would happen once they created a circuit into the ball of playdough, inserting the LED and turning on the power. Nothing. They wondered why.


Next, I asked them to remove the LED and separate the playdough into two balls, with the positive wire going into one and the negative wire going into the other. I then asked the students to carefully move the LED legs apart so they could put one in each ball of playdough and see what happened. Some lit up right away, others did not so we asked them to try and figure it out.

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The students realized that sometimes they forgot to turn the power switch back to on, that the LED “legs” needed to be switched (one leg is slightly longer and is the positive) or that their playdough balls were touching, thus creating a path of least resistance for the current.

This created the opening to introduce the insulating playdough, that can be used as a “spacer” between the conductive dough.


Now that the students had the basic understanding needed to work with Squishy Circuits, we wanted them to investigate their own inquiry questions. Lots of creative thinking and theorizing about electricity emerged.

A pair of boys wondering how they could create two circuits and how they would interact. Lots of theorizing about flow of electrons and investigating how circuits can be interrupted.


This group created a gingerbread man with LED buttons.


After awhile, I placed a beeper, buzzer or motor on each group’s table to inspire them to consider how to incorporate this into their circuit.

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To get the full effect of the beepers, buzzers and motors, watch the short video compilation linked here:

Animoto video compilation of students experiences

Our three new Squishy Circuits kits from the DRC arrived just in time to leave with this class so they may investigate further. I am looking forward to hearing about their new discoveries, creations and theories!


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