Description of activity
Students design and make a game that uses electricity as an essential requirement of the structure of the game, not simply for decoration.
This activity could take approximately 3 to 4 hours:
- research, brainstorming and initial design planning
- construction, testing, evaluation and modification
- peer assessment (a playathon).
It is also advisable that this activity be carried out in groups of two to three.
Students have been studying electricity and have had experience in connecting electrical circuits using lamps or LEDs, wires and switches. They have had experience in drawing circuit diagrams and using recognised electrical symbols.
Knowledge and understanding
- Battery packs or batteries
- Insulated wires and connectors, aluminium foil
- LED lights, bulbs and bulb holders, switches
- Cardboard, cardboard boxes, shoe boxes
- Sticky tape, masking tape, butterfly clips, thumb tacks, blu-tack
Work, health and safety
Check relevant Work, health and safety guidelines.
Evidence of work for assessment purposes
- Design plan for a game that uses electricity as an essential feature, with annotations showing modifications
- Digital image of the constructed game that complies with the design brief
- Clear set of instructions and rules describing how to play the game
STEM teaching and learning activities
- Students should be reminded of procedures to ensure electrical safety.
- Brainstorm the different types of games that use electricity as an essential part of the game. It is important, at this stage, that students are guided away from complex electronics as students do not have the expertise or equipment to design and build their games. See Managing a process of design.
- Students research the way in which games and skill builders use electricity, in order to decide on the type of game they will design.
- Students produce a design plan indicating what materials are needed, a procedure for construction and a series of labelled diagrams of the finished product indicating how it will look. They use diagrams showing a top view and a side view. The design plan addresses the structure of the game and circuit diagrams. See Carrying out a design plan.
- Students follow the design plan to construct the game. They test the circuits as they connect them and make any modifications that are necessary to make the circuits work. If there are any changes, students note them on the design plan and explain why they are made.
- Students test their game to ensure that it works and make modifications where required.
- Students design, test and publish the instructions and rules of the game.
- Students display their game and other students play the game, following the written rules and instructions.
- Students provide constructive feedback to each other.
Circuit – a pathway for electricity to flow through
Conductor – material through which electricity can flow, eg metals
Insulator – material that does not conduct electricity, eg rubber
Resistor – material that will reduce the flow of electricity
Structure – the way in which the parts of an object are arranged or organised
Function – the purpose or activity for which a thing exists or is used
Material – the matter from which something is made, eg fabric, metal, wood
Justify – provide a reason to support a comment or argument
Feedback – information regarding a product or performance that is used as a basis for improvement.
Key inquiry questions
How many circuits will you need?
This question reinforces the fact that the students must use their design plan. It will influence the number of batteries, LEDs or bulbs and wire that will be needed.
Do each of the electrical circuits work?
Each separate electrical circuit needs to be tested to make sure it works. If the circuit looks complete but is still not working, then the components of each circuit should be tested.
Why is feedback necessary?
An essential part of any design process is feedback. Encourage students to seek feedback from their peers and from the teacher. If the task is done in groups, the group is the first source of feedback. Feedback is not cheating; it is developing skills in analysis, critical thinking and communication. Feedback should be positive and useful. It is not enough to just say 'It’s good' or 'That’s nice'. There always needs to be a suggestion for improvement. Even if the item is not particularly successful, feedback should find the positive and offer suggestions for improvement.
Children often find offering suggestions for improvement (other than superficial) challenging. It should be explained that thinking about ways in which someone else’s work can be improved, often leads to improvement in one's own work. Use the YouTube video 'Austin’s Butterfly' to help students understand the responsibilities and characteristics of feedback.
Why should you create a design plan?
Students will often just want to build. The skills in 'Working Technologically' revolve around the development of a design process and developing the critical thinking skills inherent in any problem-solving venture. Stress the importance of the design process.
All students will have ideas about games, but to make this a learning experience these ideas need to be interrogated. This is achieved through research which provides refinements and gives students factual information to help them justify their choices. By thinking about the design process and how they are going to achieve their finished product, students should be able to determine the equipment and amount of material they will need.
Once in the construction phase, students will often change their minds about something on their design plan. One of the criteria for success in this activity is that the object created is clearly related to the design plan. It should be emphasised that there is no problem changing the design plan. Do not discard the original plan; annotate it to describe the changes and explain why they were made. The student's justification for the changes should be that there was a problem that needed to be overcome, not just 'I didn’t like the old one'.
The changes and their justifications will make the design plan an interesting and valuable learning document.
The following statements outline some common preconceived ideas that many students hold, which are scientifically inaccurate and may impede student understanding.
Batteries have electricity inside them
Batteries contain chemicals which are able to transform their stored chemical energy into electrical energy. This electrical energy is carried through conductors. The electrical energy may be again transformed into heat, light, sound or mechanical energy. We say that a battery is dead or needs to be recharged when the chemicals within the battery have undergone their chemical reactions (to transform their stored energy) and have thus changed and can no longer carry out those reactions.
Things 'use up' energy
The First Law of Thermodynamics states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed from one form to another. This means that energy can never be used up. For example, the electrical energy that makes a light bulb light up is transformed into light and heat energy.
If the electricity that you are using comes from the mains supply, it may have come from the stored chemical energy in coal, which was converted into heat energy that heated water to turn turbines (mechanical energy converted to kinetic energy) to generate electricity. The chemical energy stored in the coal was derived from ancient forests, which originally obtained energy directly from the sun through the process of photosynthesis. Perhaps the source of your mains electricity was from hydroelectric power which gains its energy from the gravitational potential energy of water flowing down mountains, solar power, or wind power.
- Energy and Change – Electricity: Program notes
- Interactive sites for Education: Multiple interactive sites for students
- Electricity Teaching Resources with interactive sites for students
- Circuits: upper primary Scootle resources
- YouTube video: Austin’s Butterfly – showing how students can provide effective feedback to improve work
- Electricity Circuits – students make a variety of electric circuits online
Adjustments for the diversity of learners
Research and present ideas about the different ways electricity can be generated, eg burning coal or natural gas, and solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, wind and wave generated electricity (ACSSU219).
In this STEM activity, your students have gained practical experience in designing, making and modifying a design plan. The use of a design plan and justification of changes to that plan develop critical-thinking skills. Providing and receiving constructive feedback and making modifications to address issues raised develops student resilience and a culture of being able to learn from one’s mistakes.
Successful construction and representation of electrical circuits lays the foundation for further work in Science Stages 4 and 5 and Physics Stage 6. A general understanding of electricity is also essential in students’ studies of electrochemistry in Chemistry Stage 6 and the structure and function of nerve cells in Biology.