Last week Mrs. Merritt wanted to have her class create some monster paper circuit cards for Halloween. She shared a lesson and template with me that she found online. It was a great template, but instead of just assembling a template with a pre-done drawing, I suggested having the students create their own monster drawings to accompany the glowing monster eyes.
Since I always start with a template and then have students draw, my plan was to for students to use a parallel circuit template first. Then after having a successful circuit creation, they could draw monsters to go around the lights. However, Mrs. Merritt was one step ahead of me! Her amazing students had already drawn monsters…and I’m so glad they did! It challenged my thinking and the way I normally attempt paper circuits with kids.
All of the students had very different drawings, so the placement of the battery and LEDs would have to be determined by each student on an individual basis (and in under an hour!)
I came to Mrs. Merritt’s room on Halloween and asked the students if they could define parallel lines. Serendipitously, they’d just learned that parallel lines are two lines that never intersect. (We repeated the mantra over and over throughout the session, that the two lines could not intersect or they would have a short circuit.)
I shared that we would be working together to create a parallel circuit to light up the monster drawings created the day before. To help guide them, I showed the students this great tutorial from Jie Qi. I also had a copy of the parallel circuit template available at each table group as a reference.
Students had to draw out where to place the battery and draw the positive and negative trace. Once they’d drawn the circuit, I gave them copper tape and a battery. (Mentioning over and over not to pull all the backing off the tape, but rather affix the tape slowly and press down on the tape with a thumbnail to make a smooth connection.) Once the two parallel lines looked manageable, I handed them chibi stickers.
About twenty minutes in, I got a little worried because the kids were having a lot of problems creating their own circuit and finding success. I looked at Mrs. Merritt and said, “Oh, I should’ve warned you that this might be frustrating at first, because a lot of kids are going to run into problems.”
And run into problems they did! But the motivation to get those monster eyes shining brightly pushed our kids to persevere! To help debug, I showed students how both “legs” or copper pads of the LED had to touch a circuit trace and how to add tape to try and fix or debug their faulty paper circuits. Sometimes, the students problem was only that the copper trace wasn’t touching one side of a battery. Once a student understood how to get a working circuit, they quickly turned to help a friend. It was amazing to see them struggle and then turn around and become the teacher. By the end of our short time, they all had at least one LED working. It was pretty phenomenal! Plus, by creating their own circuitry instead of following a template, they seemed to have a better grasp of how paper circuits work. One kid kept repeating, “I just want one LED, because I don’t want the second LED to steal the power.”
It was a fast and furious making session, and I’m so happy to see such young makers push through and problem solve to find success!
Here’s a Clips video I made throughout the one hour session. You can see how each circuit is different and how much debugging went into some of their work. Plus you can see almost every drawing in this quick under a minute video:
What are your favorite paper circuit activities to try with students? What other ways have you integrated paper circuits with your curriculum?