Taking Apart Electrical Appliances
- A fun introduction to some issues of the scientific
process and to the technology in everyday life.
- This project is meant to show that the electrical appliances we use are
not “magic”—you can open them up and see how they are
- This project will hopefully spark some interest in technology,
engineering, and science in general.
- Electrical appliances are designed to do a specific task.
- Electrical appliances are made up of individual components that work
- An electric appliance is made from a variety of parts—all designed
to work together.
- If a component breaks or stops working, the appliance will not work.
- Understanding cause-and-effect relationships
- Following directions
- Handout: Guide to Electrical
- Provide students with old and/or broken telephones, computer central
processing units, CD players, radios, electric typewriters, fax machines,
answering machines. See note below for where to find these things. [Also
see safety note.]
- Tools: you will need a variety of screwdrivers, wire snips, pliers, etc.
- Goggles are a good idea, since small wires may fly when cut!
- You can get old equipment by asking people to volunteer stuff around
their homes, or by going to an appliance repair shop. In Ann Arbor,
try U of M Property Disposition at 764-2470.
- Provide a large table area.
- Have students work in groups of 2-3 with one piece of equipment.
- Have students wash hands afterwards. Some of this old stuff gets dirty!
Safety and Precautions:
- DO NOT take apart equipment that is plugged in! THIS IS VERY DANGEROUS!
- CAUTION! DO NOT take apart TV sets or computer monitors!
Even when unplugged, they can have high voltages.
- DO NOT take apart smoke detectors: many use a radioactive element inside.
Procedures and Activities
- Ask students: “What do scientists and engineers do?” Talk
about how they explore things, trying to figure out how they work
and how to describe them, and they build things. Then say to students:
“Have you ever wondered how the electrical appliances we use
every day work? Today we will act like scientists and try to figure
- Ask guiding question: “How do electrical appliances work?”
Students may say, “They use electricity.” Review the needed
vocabulary: electricity, current,
electric power, etc.
- Pass out handout, Guide to Electrical
Components. Have students review it and have them look for these
components in the item they take apart. You may want them to put a check
next to the components they find.
- Review safety: Make sure whatever is to be taken apart is
UNPLUGGED! IMPORTANT! You must stress that it is unsafe to
open up any electrical appliance when it is plugged in. Tell students
never to do this at home. Also, you should warn students not to take apart
working equipment—they might not get it to work again!
- Have 2-3 students work together on one piece. Pass out a variety of tools
and safety goggles if needed.
- Have students take apart equipment. Walk around to the groups and
encourage the students to ask themselves what the components they see
might do, or how they all work together in the appliance.
- The students will have a fun time doing this! Encourage them to take
apart as much as they want!
Closing: Original Question
Ask, “How do electrical appliances work?”
- Student partners can demonstrate to others how their piece of
equipment or appliance works. Be sure they use terminology on
- Students may draw a diagram of how their appliance works and share
it with the class.
- Students may write a short paper describing taking apart the
appliance and what they learned.
- Students may use the electrical components to make something of
their own: a simple machine or an art project.
- Students may do activity again with a different piece of equipment
- Visit an appliance repair store, a power company, a phone company.
Careers Related to Lesson Topic
- The motion of electrons (negative charge), defined in units of
amperes (amps): the amount of charge to move through an area in
a certain time.
- Electrical Appliances
- Items powered by electricity that perform certain tasks.
- Electric Power
- The rate at which work is done by the conversion of electrical energy,
defined in units of watts. Electric power = (current) x (voltage)
- Describes the properties of electric charge: electrons and protons.
- Scientific Process
- Developing a hypothesis, exploration, testing
- The amount of potential (or stored) electric energy, defined in
units of volts: potential energy per charge.
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