Academy Curricular Exchange
Columbia Education Center 

TITLE:   Brown Bag Science

AUTHOR:   Judy Adair, Spring Creek Elementary,
          Broken Arrow, OK

GRADE LEVEL:   Appropriate for grades 1-5

OVERVIEW:  This is a hands-on science investigation on electricity.
Students learn through the discovery method how electricity works.
The student's natural curiosity and sense of exploration will enable
them to explore and learn on their own with little input from the

PURPOSE:  The purpose of this investigation is to introduce students
to the concept of electricity and dispel any fears they may have that
they don't understand the concept.  This is excellent for girls, who
often feel that they don't or shouldn't understand electricity as well
as boys.

OBJECTIVES:  As a result of this activity, the students will:

1.  Be able to draw and explain how an electrical circuit works.

2.  Be able to define and use vocabulary associated with electricity.
Vocabulary:  circuits, electrons, force, conductors, switch, insulation

3.  Be able to construct a simple circuit and a parallel circuit.

4.  Be able to make an electrical motor work and add a switch to turn
it on and off.

RESOURCES/MATERIALS:  All items can be bought very inexpensively
at Radio Shack  or from Edmond Scientific Elementary Catalogue.


1.  The teacher will prepare ahead of time a kit for each two or three
students.  If students work in larger groups, some will not get hands
on experience.  Each kit will include a brown lunch sack, one C cell
battery, two insulated copper wires, one battery holder and two
brass battery clips, one small flashlight bulb and socket.  All these
items must be separate and in random order in the bag. The bag must
be closed, sometimes I close it with one of the copper wires like a

2.  Give each pair of students a bag and allow 10 minutes for
exploration.  During this time the teacher must remain quiet unless
asked a question.  The students will be very busy trying to find out
what to do with the contents of the bag.  Do not give any clues as to
use of contents.  This is exploration time.

3. Before the 10 minutes are up some students will have undoubtedly
have made a simple circuit with the contents of the bag.  At this
time you can stop for discussion.  Have the students explain what
they did so others can follow. You can now talk about the concept of
electricity, the flow of electrons through a conductor , discuss what
things are conductors, etc.  Discuss where the electricity comes
from and where it goes, how does it make the light bulb light.
Discuss how the battery stores electricity.  How do we know that
electrons are flowing?

4. After all students have been successful with the simple circuit,
each pair must draw what they have done in their science log or on a
piece of paper.  Older kids will label all the parts of the circuit, etc.

5. At this time, I give each pair of students a second battery and let
them experiment.  Does the second battery change anything?  Does
the light get brighter or dimmer? Does the way the batteries are
connected make any difference in the way the light works.  Try
different ways of connecting the batteries.  Some students will
make a parallel circuit.  At this time stop and have the students tell
what they did.  Discuss the concept of parallel circuits.  Each pair of
students draw what they have done.

6. A follow up activity if you have time is to have switches available.
For those students that finish quickly, they get a switch.  See if they
can connect it into the circuit to make the light come on and off. 
Discuss how electricity flows.  Why does the electricity not cross over
the switch when it is open?  Does electricity jump?  Again, each pair
must draw what they have done.  This completes the thinking process and
makes the learning more personal.

7.  Electrical motors can also be added.  Students enjoy making small
fans out of the motors.  Each pair of students can exchange their
light bulb and socket for a small electric motor and try to connect it
into the circuit.  Torn or cut paper makes great fan blades.  Let the
students experiment to find the best size and shape to make the fan
go very fast.

8.  The role of the teacher in this activity is to be a facilitator.
Please refrain from your urge to teach.  In this activity, students
discover the concept of electricity. The less you show and tell the


1.  Check each pair of students diagrams and leave small personal
messages so they will know that you have looked at what they have

2. Encourage all students to share what they have learned with other
students and parents.

3. I have done this activity with students in grades 1-5 and all have
learned and had great fun doing so. For the younger students their
drawings will be less sophisticated and you do not need to dwell on
vocabulary. With older students, they will need to label and use the
vocabulary correctly. Most students are so eager to get hands on
experience in science and with this activity, all students can
experience success.

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