Series and parallel circuits activities teach kids about paths electricity can take. The difference is just one wire! Instead of reading about circuits, let your students build them. Tinkering with batteries and bulbs helps kids understand electrical energy.
Ms. Sneed Plans Series and Parallel Circuits Activities
Our favorite fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sneed, was planning the next activity for her electricity unit. “I’d like to include inquiry,” she told here teaching partner, Mr. Frank. “It worked so well when kids explored batteries and bulbs, simple circuits, and conductors and insulators. But how can we give kids a great science lab with series and parallel circuits?”
“Instead of just talking about it, let’s try building them ourselves.” Mr. Frank walked to the science cabinet and grabbed some supplies. When he returned, he set some wires, battery holders, batteries, bulb holders, and 1.5-volt bulbs on the table.
“First, we’ll ask kids to make series circuits.” Ms. Sneed. “I’ll build that.”
After snapping the batteries into the holder, she clipped wires to each clip. Then she screwed the bulbs into the holders and clipped them onto the wires. Finally, she attached one wire so the two bulb holders were also connected. “There. A series circuit is configured in a loop and uses three wires. If I remove one bulb, the other goes out.” She unscrewed one bulb to demonstrate.
“Now you build a parallel circuit,” said Ms. Sneed.
Mr. Frank snapped in the batteries and bulbs. Then he paused for a minute, thinking. “Oh yeah, first I’ll connect one bulb to make a simple circuit.” He clipped two wires to the battery holder. Then he attached the other ends of the wires to a bulb holder. “There we go,” he said as the bulb lit.
“Next we attach a bulb holder to this bulb holder.” He threaded additional wires through the clips on the first bulb holder.
“Look, you need four wires for this circuit,” said Ms. Sneed.
“And when you remove one bulb, the other stays lit,” Mr. Frank added.
Using Inquiry to Teach Series and Parallel Circuits
“Do you think we could just ask each science group to build one circuit with three wires and another with four?” Ms. Sneed asked.
“Hmm. Some groups may struggle. But great learning always involves struggling. In the end, we can always give some guidance if they get stuck.”
“Let’s try it!” Ms. Sneed sat down at the computer and whipped out a simple lab sheet.
Reinforcing Series and Parallel Circuits
“Once the kids are finished with the lab, we can reinforce their understanding with a video,” said Mr. Frank. “I really like this series and parallel circuits video.”
Ms. Sneed sat down to watch the video. “Brilliant!” she said. “After that, I’d like to have them build series and parallel circuits independently. Since we’d need a lot of equipment, they can use this PhET Interactive Simulation.”
She took control of the keyboard and quickly found it. Then she gave control back to Mr. Frank and let him try it. “This is so cool!” he said. “I can’t wait to use these fun activities in my classroom.”
Over the course of her career, Ms. Sneed realized that there were 6 steps to enjoy teaching. In order to survive, she had to organize, plan, and simplify. Then, to thrive, Ms. Sneed needed to learn, engage, and finally – dive in! Follow the Fabulous Teaching Adventures of Ms. Sneed and learn how you can enjoy teaching too.