So, for the first time, I attempted to introduce Kindergartners to Electrical Engineering (EE). These Kindergartners go to school with my daughter, Maddie, at the excellent Waynewood ES, just south of Washington, DC. Now, to be fair, we just started with the basics, but I had been looking forward to seeing if this age, as a group, could get anything out of EE, or if, we’d instead just have a shared exercise in frustration. I had already exposed Maddie to some of the core EE concepts and she was able to grasp them, but I happen to think she is exceptionally bright (no bias here), and more importantly, she gets exposed to this stuff all the time. So how would this group of kids, so young, respond to their first dose of EE? I had about 50 minutes with them to find out.
- Kindergartner question: Why is the sky blue?
- Worst Answer (it’s wrong): We’re seeing a reflection off the oceans.
- Bad Answer (it helps nobody): Leave me alone.
- Better Answer (accurate, but overwhelming): Photons from the Sun travel along different wave lengths, some of which are more highly absorbed and/or refracted. Blue becomes the predominant color to reach our eyes.
- Sort of good, but not helpful answer (Socratic, but not informative): Why do _you_ think it’s blue?
- Best answer (accurate, and at the right level): It has to do with how light from the Sun goes through the air. It’s pretty, isn’t it?
So, the electric current starts here at the positive terminal, or where the plus sign is. Now, Mr. Current wants to go out for a walk and return back home. He goes out the front door, the positive side, and has to return through the backdoor, the negative side. Mr. Current goes along down the wire, which is kind of like a road for him, and he’s always looking around for the easiest back to his home. Since Mr. Current is just out for a nice walk, he doesn’t does not want to any work while he is out, he just wants to enjoy his stroll. If he has to do some work in order to get back home, he will, but only if he doesn’t have any choice. As Electrical Engineers, we want Mr. Current to do some work for us, like making our LED light up, so we’ll arrange the roads, or wires, so that the only way for him to get home is for him to go through our LED which he’ll light up as he passes through. Our LED is like a bridge, where at the middle of the bridge, in order to pass, you have push your way through a big door which lights up our LED. The door is really heavy and hard to push for somebody that was just out for a nice walk. If Mr. Current can find a short cut home without pushing that heavy, he’ll take it. Our job it to make the only way home to be through our LED bridge, doing the work need to light up the bulbs.
I gave the kids conductive play dough. I call it Lightning Dough, which makes up a Squishy Circuit. This gives a viscereal medium to work with and get the kids out of the metal-wire mindset. Squishy Circuits are just really fun – a great way to start.
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