squish1Full disclosure: I’m embarrassed of the way I taught circuits in my classroom many years ago.  I was bored with the topic.  I mainly lectured to my 10 year old students and asked them to draw a circuit. Then we moved on faster than I could grade the tests and check their regurgitation. I’m sharing this because I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.  We weren’t taught how much fun circuitry can really be, nor were we encouraged in our teacher training to veer off the path of the textbook and engage kids with Playdoh.  But everything has changed in my mind.

Squishy Circuits are featured in this amazing TED Talk by AnnMarie Thomas.    It takes the intimidation of wires out of learning about circuitry, conduction, and electricity, and puts the focus on clay, colorful lights, and your imagination.   While this activity primarily makes it way through younger maker crowds, it’s great for makers of all ages.

What do you need to get started?

You can get the entire Squishy Circuits Kit based on University of St. Thomas’s work.  The kit is honestly well worth the initial cost. It’s reusable and you won’t have to hunt around for the parts to get started.  But if you are looking to start smaller, you can purchase the materials yourself.  Here’s what you need:

squish2The minimum? A 4 AA battery pack. LED lights. Playdoh, or make your own homemade dough that contains salt.  The salt is key for conducting.

TIP: LED lights come in a variety of sizes. I love the 10mm size, especially for tiny hands, but the 3mm and 5mm size are more widely available and less expensive.  Their lights are equally impressive.

Taking it to the next level?  The minimum, plus modeling clay, an electric buzzer.   The modeling clay, a non-conductor, allows kids to build clay figures using the clay as a barrier in the Playdoh.  squish3

After the art of positive and negative creations are mastered, add in Copper tape to lengthen the leads and raise the bar.  Toss in a motor to add spin to designs. Cardboard to build bigger and better.  Cardboard, just like the modeling clay, is a great barrier between the positive and negative dough. Kids can experiment with what conducts or doesn’t conduct. Paper? Cardboard? Model Magic?  Plastic? Small wood scraps?

What do Squishy Circuits Offer Students Across the Curriculum?

Reading:  What book character can I build?  How might I light up words I’ve built with dough?  Where can I read about circuits in the library?

Writing: How do circuits work? What kind of story can I create about the creature I built with light up hair?   What will happen if I try…?

Math: How many volts are the batteries?  How many lights will this set of batteries power?   How long does my wire need to be to reach the playdough?

Science:  What is a conductor?  What materials conduct electricity?  How do I build a circuit?  How do LED’s work?  How can I use copper tape instead of Playdoh in a similar way?  Do humans conduct electricity?

Social Studies:  How might I use LED’s to light up a topographical map?  How was electricity developed and by who?  What careers are available in the field of electricity?

But these questions will be even more powerful if you start with one thing….

Play.  Explore.  Let them try things.  Try things yourself. See what happens.

And Playdoh becomes the foundation for playing, learning, and reimagining science in the classroom.  Design, dreaming, and doing.  The way it was meant to be.