Mobile STEM: Electrical Art!

WMSI Mobile Lab had some electricity in the Lancaster classroom this week! Literally. Now that we've played around with programming robots, we're zooming into the computer by looking at the circuits which make electronics possible! Most students in the room had never worked with electricity before. They were skeptical; nervous - "can you really make art using electricity?" The youth leaders and I reassured them - no chance of electrical shock, we're going to learn the basics you'd need to make your own electrical equipment, and we're going to make art! First prompt? Build an electrical circuit on paper using copper tape. attach LEDs so that light shines onto the other side of the paper. Next, draw art around the light - what's the coolest art you can make that incorporates an LED?

Students took off with the challenge!

 One student quickly discovering the most simple circuit

One student quickly discovering the most simple circuit

We began by discussing circuits and how charged stuff moves through certain materials. We then discussed conductivity. Students, without prompting, immediately tested the most basic circuit: an LED with a watch battery between both leads! (above). The basics were in place and the challenge was on! students grabbed rolls of copper tape and started making! (below)

 Digging into possibly the messiest art supply since glue: the copper tape. 

Digging into possibly the messiest art supply since glue: the copper tape. 

Students quickly made functioning circuits with a + end, - end, and an LED taped onto the conductive side of the tape. They next dealt with the big creativity piece: what drawings look cool with LEDs? Students created houses, reindeer, police cars, and many other cool designs!

 One student proud of her drawing

One student proud of her drawing

 Rudolph himself never shined this brightly!

Rudolph himself never shined this brightly!

Next challenge: how can we get multiple LEDs to work at the same time in an art project? The big thing here is that we can't just put one LED in after another. Circuits work a little like baseball playoffs. In the world series, playing 4 to 7 games in a row is exhausting - you have less potential energy in game six than you would in game one. It's the same with putting LEDs in series, one after the other. The sixth LED won't have enough potential energy (voltage) to light up; however, if you have 4 teams that play two games at the same time (in parallel), all 4 teams will have the same level of potential energy (because each player only plays one game). Thus, if you put LEDs in parallel (each light has a different path back to the battery), each LED will be able to light up. 

 A parallel circuit: Each LED is like a baseball game. Charged particles are the players. Any one charged particle only has to go through one LED to finish the circuit

A parallel circuit: Each LED is like a baseball game. Charged particles are the players. Any one charged particle only has to go through one LED to finish the circuit

Understanding lit up students faces as they tinkered around and figured out the parallel circuit. Explorers drew multistory houses, light bulbs incorporating several LEDs, and their names with the I's dotted with LEDs. 

 One STEM Explorer quickly discovering the secrets of the parallel circuit!

One STEM Explorer quickly discovering the secrets of the parallel circuit!

One student even developed a switch in his circuit that allowed his police car's lights to blink!

Mrs. K, an outstanding Lancaster teacher and our Onsite Coordinator for the school, has done some cool projects making stained glass using copper tape. She had a lot of useful tips to share with students (below).

 Mrs. K helping students diagram their electrical circuit!

Mrs. K helping students diagram their electrical circuit!

We ended on a high note as Explorers excitedly pulled their parents into class to show them their creations! Next session's challenge? Let's test out conductivity by making keyboards out of fruit!

More soon!