“Giftedness is not what you do or how hard you work. It is who you are. You think differently. You experience life intensely. You care about injustice. You seek meaning. You appreciate and strive for the exquisite. You are painfully sensitive. You are extremely complex. You cherish integrity. Your truth-telling has gotten you in trouble. Should 98% of the population find you odd, seek the company of those who love you just the way you are. You are not broken. You do not need to be fixed. You are utterly fascinating. Trust yourself!”

Linda Silverman~Gifted Development Center Denver

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Electricity Games Galore!

For the past few weeks, I have been meaning to write about the big project my class just finished.  It has been very busy at school and I finally have a chance to share some photos and the instructions for this project with my blog followers.  

Each year for Hallowe'en the students in my class run a "Penny Arcade for UNICEF" at our school.  I like linking this project with a social justice theme.  All funds collected are donated to UNICEF.(The United Nations Children's Fund - UNICEF - works for children's rights, their survival, development and protection, guided by the Convention on the Rights of the Child.)

Students in costume with their finished game.

I start to prepare my students for this project well in advance of the day.  During the summer, when I send home a letter to the families of my upcoming class, I remind them that the first big project will be creating an arcade game using electrical circuits.   I suggest they start to think of ideas for games by looking on the Internet, and by reflecting on successful games they have seen at previous years arcades.  

Once school begins, I start teaching about the concepts of electricity immediately.  I post the vocabulary we will be using on a bulletin board in the classroom (see free download for your copy of the vocabulary), along with some posters of circuits (both parallel and circuit).  I make good use of our school board's media department and borrow a variety of videos and DVDs which demonstrate basic concepts to the students.  I am also fortunate enough to be able to borrow science kits which contain materials to build the games.   I also have collected a large personal collection of things such as battery holders, bulb holders, alligator clips, LED bulbs (cut up from Christmas lights), electrical tape, wire, batteries, wire strippers, etc.  I keep adding to my "electricity" box whenever I find things on sale or at the local dollar store.  Over time I have amassed quite a large stockpile of materials for my students to use.

At the beginning of the project, I give my students a science notebook which they will use for note keeping for the duration of the project.  It is essential to get them into the habit of writing down their notes, creating diagrams, and drawing illustrations early on in the process.   I model how each page should look, including a date, title, and neat, legible writing.  I encourage them to carefully record each step of the process, and spend time each period constructing and recording their findings and the process they used each day.  I collect the notebook at the end of the project as part of my overall assessment.

After doing some "diagnostic" activities in which I have the students create both a parallel and a series circuit for me using simple materials from the science kit, I hand out a copy of the project outline. Students can work in pairs or individually to construct a game.  (I do this to allow for the distribution of materials.)   The project outline is kept generic, as each year I may change it depending on the needs of my class and availability of materials.  This year, the game my students created had to include a parallel circuit, a series circuit and a light and a buzzer.  The buzzers can be expensive, and they can be easily broken.  Some years I don't have enough buzzers so I can only use light bulbs and LEDs.

Click on the image above to see the entire project in my TpT store.

Students create a plan for me in their science notebooks.  They split each page of a 8 1/2 by 11 notebook into four squares.  Each square must include one step in the planning process.  They are to use words, pictures, and diagrams in the planning phase.  They also have to create a circuit diagram of the entire game prior to having their plan approved by me.
I keep a checklist of each step in the process on a clipboard.  During each science period, I circulate and check in with each group of students to see what stage they are at in the planning or constructing phase.  Once I have given students approval for their plan, they are able to start collecting materials for the construction of the game.  I use plastic bins which I purchased at a dollar store for each pair of students.  Students label the bin and keep all their components in it during the game construction.  I encourage the students to bring supplies from home.  Things such as cardboard boxes, toilet paper rolls, aluminium foil (for making pressure switches) are brought in and shared by the students.  I also have some large cardboard display boards which work well for creating flat board surfaces or for stand up games such as the PLINKO game you will see below.

Students working on construction
Construction takes a LONG time.  I started the construction phase with my class on September 19th this year and they were finished the day before Hallowe'en.  I allow this much time so that the students can prepare the day before the arcade by making their "oral presentation" to the class just prior to the big event.  This allows them one last chance to iron out any kinks before the actual arcade display.

My class spent approximately 60-80 minutes per day working on this project during science time.  Some days we missed out because of a field trip or special event, but for the most part we worked on the projects every day until completion.

A maze game where the circuit is closed when a marble falls on a pressure switch.
 What is interesting to me as an educator is allowing the students to "learn on a need to know basis".  As part of the science curriculum in Ontario, students in grade six do need to learn about "switches" and I provide a variety of switches for students to use, mostly "knife" switches which come with the science kit.  This type of switch will only work in certain situations.  As I do not allow my students to "operate the game manually", the switches must work as an integral part of the game and not be turned on and off by the game creators themselves.  This allows for the "need to know" moment.  Many students had to learn how to create pressure switches which would allow their games to function the way they wanted.  I do not teach explicit lessons on how to create these types of switches, but I do provide basic instructions on a laminated card which I post with my electricity posters and vocabulary words.  The instructions are open ended enough that students can learn the basic concept but are challenged to vary the materials they use based on what their specific project calls for.  Below you can see one of my students has created pressure switches using "foam" and cardboard circles.  They used the foam once they realised that the switches they made out of plain cardboard were too stiff to allow for the switch to close under the weight of the object falling on the switch.

Student making multiple pressure switches for his game board.
 Students created a variety of different games which allowed students from junior kindergarten to grade five to experience challenge and fun.  Below you can see one game which was appealing to all ages, but the students differentiated by creating skill testing questions for each grade level.   You can see the Popsicle sticks below in a container.  Each stick had questions geared to a different grade level.

Game board in two parts.
 Games were decorated at the very end of the construction phase.   Students used paint, stickers and foam decorations I found at the dollar store.  I did allow students to use a glue gun to aid in construction, but this was done only with direct teacher supervision.
A finished game using a maze and pressure switches.

A finished game.

A catapult game created by one student.

Playing a "golf game" at the Penny Arcade.

Students attaching wiring to their motor.

Painting the inside of a "plinko" type game.  The students attached wooden skewers to the poster board using a glue gun (under direct teacher supervision).

A work in progress.

Construction continues.
On Hallowe'en day the students set up their games in our gym.  I put Hallowe'en themed table cloths over the large tables and gave students plastic bins to collect pennies in.  The students from kindergarten to grade 5 signed up in classes to visit the "arcade" in half hour periods.  My students had created posters to accompany their games.   These explained the prices (2 to 5 cents on average) and instructions about how to play the game.  My students provided the candy which was given as prizes for winning games.    Each class visited during their allotted time and had a great time playing the games, and collecting a LOT of candy!

Instructions on how to play the game.

This poster accompanies the game below.

This was one of the most successful and popular games at the arcade.

I link this project with language arts as well.  Students gave a brief oral presentation prior to the Penny Arcade which demonstrated that their game worked, how it could be played, the choices they made in terms of circuits and switches, the materials used and the safety considerations given. 

Now that the arcade is over, the games have been deconstructed and reusable pieces saved or recycled.  The science kits have been packed up and shipped back to our science kit centre.  I have put away all the decorations and my materials for next year BUT the student learning has not finished.  Students are now working on crafting a science report which will summarise the entire project.  I taught some modelled lessons on report writing, shared exemplar work from previous years students, posted a report writing anchor chart, and gave the students a checklist of "success criteria" to assist with writing the report. 

Students were given a week to write a rough draft, which they handed in to me yesterday.  I gave each student written and oral feedback based on the criteria. Students now have another week to revise, edit and meet with a peer to receive feedback on their final report before they submit it to me for final evaluation.  I made sure I took lots of pictures during the construction phase, during the presentations, and during the penny arcade itself, so that students would be able to incorporate these into their final reports. 

I look forward to collecting the student notebooks and the final reports next week.  I have already used the evaluation rubric (included as part of the package you can download by clicking on the project outline) to assess the construction and oral presentation.  I will be able to add my evaluation of the knowledge and skills acquired from their notebooks and final reports.  This integrated project is challenging for the students and for me their teacher.  Ultimately though they are successful and feel a great sense of accomplishment.  All their hard work is presented to the entire school, and all the funds raised go to a very worthy cause.   One student came to me this week and said "This is the hardest thing I have ever had to do!"  I smiled and reminded her that "in this class we don't do easy, we make easy happen through hard work and learning".  She agreed and said how proud she was of being able to accomplish something she thought she would never be able to.  What more could a teacher ask for?


  1. I love this idea and the connection to a real world application. Do you have any additional photos or an example of a science notebook for me to see. I would love to do this with my students!Thanks for the great idea.

  2. I have some photos but I cannot share them as they have student faces in them. Also, I don't find the project photographed well this year. I guess it was just the "photographer" (me). Unfortunately, as this project was done in September/October, the students have already moved on to new science notebooks. I will keep that in mind for next year though. Thanks for the comment and the suggestions!