As you know, in their science center my third grade classes are studying electricity. The started the year by constructing a variety of circuits from directions in booklets. They tested different materials, and sorted them into either conductors or insulators. Lately, they've taken notes over five different kinds of switches (knife, slide, rotary, push, toggle) and looked for different examples in everyday life. Now, they're constructing their own switches using provided materials. They follow the scientific method, beginning with the choosing of their materials and writing a hypothesis to test. If their hypothesis fails (and most did) they reevaluated and brainstormed another idea.
This process has been so much fun, and so challenging, for both the students and I. Creating things shows the deepest understanding, but being told to make a functioning switch can sound intimidating. Some kids got had their idea in their head the minute they heard the assignment, while others continue to struggle even know. It's been a great way to put all the information they've put so much time into gathering into use. It's been just as hard for me as it has them. Helping them generate ideas, without just thrusting my own on them, is so hard sometimes. The art of asking the right questions is so much more difficult than it sounds. Eventually, I got the hang of it. I would ask them if their switch was working, and why or why not. Often, the switches would help the circuit to turn on, but not off. Other times, it wouldn't turn on at all. I tried to coach them through the science of it, asking questions like "Why do you think it isn't working?" and "So, how could you fix that? What needs to be done?".
These students amaze me every single day. These are eight and nine year old kids, and they are engineering functional electrical equipment with paper clips and aluminum foil. They began the year not knowing what a circuit was, and now they can create one in minutes using alligator clips, a battery, and a light bulb. Their problem solving skills are sharp, and they come up with ideas that I can't even fathom. I can't tell you how many sketches they showed me that I just told them to go ahead and make it, because I couldn't quite follow their train of though. Every switch is different, and every one works a little differently.
As hard as this lesson was, I really enjoyed it, and learned even more. Here's the switches my Monday class made, and their write ups for them, including the name of their switch, type, materials used, and how it works using science vocabulary.