Electric Art

Tonight was the inaugural MakerBox workshop!  Three lovely young ladies came out to learn how electricity works and create their very own circuits.

We began the evening by discussing what we already knew about electricity.  All three girls had a pretty good idea that it had something to do with wires covered with plastic, which was a great starting point for a conversation about conductors and insulators.  Once we had definitions out of the way, the girls categorized a box of items into piles based on their likelihood of being a conductor, insulator, or something in between.  A rubber toy was quite obviously an insulator and a metal stapler was clearly a conductor, but other items, such as a fluffy chick made out of pipe cleaners, were a bit more difficult to place.  These items we had to test!

Using battery packs, alligator clips, and circuit blocks we tested the items we were unsure of.  If the LED on the circuit block still lit up when we added the uncertain item to our circuit the item was conductive, if the LED did not light up the item in question was an insulator.

Two young girls experiment with circuit blocks to see how many they can power with one battery pack.

Students experiment with circuit blocks to see how many lights they can power with one battery pack.

Afterwards the girls played around a bit with the circuit blocks, through this activity we were able to discuss how electricity flows in a circuit.


Electricity has a very specific way in which it travels.  As it exits from the positive side (red wire) of the battery pack it travels through the wire, into the longer, positive side of the LED, out the shorter, negative side of the LED, back down another wire and into the negative side (black wire) of the battery pack.  We also learned how a switch made out of conductive materials can be added to this circuit to turn a light on or off.  The light only turns on when the switch is closed, thus completing the circuit.

DrawingWith a new-found understanding of exactly how electricity travels, it was time to create our cards!  The girls got to work sketching out their designs and colouring them.  After their batteries were placed, the girls had to take care to correctly identify the positive and negative sides of their LED before adding them into their circuit.  It is important to know the polarity of your LED so electricity can flow through your circuit and light up your LED.  Perhaps the most difficult part of electric card creation was the final step of adding in the switch.  It can be quite difficult to think about where it needs to go in order to properly complete the circuit.

Painting circuits and preparing to add a switch.

Painting circuits and preparing to add a switch.

 Electricity is lazy and will always take the path of least resistance so it is very important to make a simple circuit with only one pathway to and from the battery.  For a project such as this, if you complete your circuit without adding in a switch your LED will quickly burn out.

For this project we used Bare conductive paint, 3v coin-cell batteries, LEDs and various crafting materials.  The circuit blocks used in the lesson were handmade by me from common household materials and electronic components.  In the future I think I might try using copper conductive tape instead of paint.  You can’t create nice curved lines with it, but there is significantly less mess and it is easier to fix if placed in the wrong spot.  Copper tape also has zero drying time, which is quite nice for instant gratification.

Completed circuit with switch

Completed circuit with switch

Overall, it was a lovely project for a chilly winter evening. We won’t be offering Electric Art again this term, but if you have a child who is between the ages of 8 and 10 and is interested in electronics we will be offering a three day Recycled Robotics class during the spring hols.  You can register online at MakerBox.org.nz

Note: When doing this project, it’s a good idea to stress to students that they should never put coin-cell batteries anywhere near their mouth.  Most school age kids won’t attempt it, but it is always best to err on the side of caution.  If swallowed coin-cell batteries can have disastrous effect on internal organs.


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