3rd Grade Monster Paper Circuits with Chibitronics

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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?


4th Grade Circuit Stations and Interactive Switches

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A few years ago, I saw an interactive paper circuit mural on Twitter and was enamored with the idea of a large oversized collaborative paper circuit. I had a bit of trouble tracking down the original, but finally found it (thanks to Ryan Jenkins and Aaron Vanderwerff), and this collaborative lesson design from Creativity Lab at the Lighthouse Community Charter school. (Make your own oversized paper circuit thanks to Creativity Lab!)

Aaron V. also suggested using two different types of tape to differentiate between the positive and negative routing. (A GREAT TIP for students new to paper circuits!)

I loved the idea of the collaborative circuit, but was worried with my short time in the library and not having enough facilitators, that my students would get frustrated too easily.

Plus, I wanted students to create simple circuits in a different station and at this station, I wanted them to focus on completing the circuit by creating inventive switches (and playing with what is conductive and what is an insulator.)

By building an oversized paper circuit with multiple breaks where switches would need to be created, I hoped to create a playful atmosphere. One of the happy accidents of this prototype, was that students would not only have to complete each circuit to have all LEDS light up in parallel, but they would also have to work collaboratively to make sure all the lights stayed on!

I tried it out on my own 8 YO to make sure it was “tinkerable.”

Only 4-5 students could be at the collaborative paper circuit at once, and my other stations needed a little more guidance.  After the Scratch poetry unit, many of my 4th graders were enamored with Makey Makey, so one station was to test items for conductivity with Makey Makey (and their teachers manned this station.) I basically just set up a lot of weird stuff, and set out Makey Makeys with computers directed to the Makey Makey piano. They tracked their learning on a clipboard, and the students just loved finding out that water, plants, and fruit is conductive.

With the help of my QUEST teachers, I had a station where students created simple paper circuits using the Chibitronics template/ and squishy circuits.

The last station was the inventive switch station. Since I wanted this spot to be the most self-guided and playful, I set up the Tinkering Studio video about homemade switches, and told the group their goal was to light up all the LEDS…. then I let them play!

We had fun playing and seeing what materials would work on the oversized circuit. It was cool to see students engaged with curiosity and tinkering to learn!