1. Working in groups

It is very important that pupils are given opportunities to think and behave scientifically. This can only happen with practical, hands-on activities. Pupils will be challenged and enjoy working in groups to discuss and discover things for themselves. It often helps their thinking if they use models as well as real items.

Activity 1 uses cut-out shapes to help pupils understand the need for a complete circuit in an electrical device. Case Study 1 shows how one teacher extended this activity and supported her pupils in their own investigations about electric circuits. This type of encouragement and recognition is very important to pupils.

Resource 1: A careful look at the torch bulb shows you how you can extend this work and lead pupils to a clearer understanding that electricity travels in a complete circuit inside a torch bulb.

You may also find it helpful to read Resource 2: Safe ways to investigate electricity , which explains the dangers of electricity but encourages you not to be frightened by the topic.

Case Study 1: Pupil-led investigations

When teacher Florence in Uganda tried Activity 1 with her class, she found that some pupils took the investigation further. They noticed that the metal tip of a ballpoint pen will also allow the bulb to light when it is placed between the top of the battery and the bottom of the bulb. She watched as they investigated other materials; a wooden pencil did not light the bulb, nor did a piece of cardboard, but the end of a metal spoon worked.

Florence gave them the chance to report on their own investigations and encouraged them to repeat and do further investigations. Later, she took the activity further to explore circuits and switches.

She asked her pupils to use their bulbs and cells (and other bits of scrap materials) to design a circuit so that when a visitor presses a switch a light comes on. Her pupils used paperclips, small pieces of wood, card and metal from cans to make really imaginative switches.

Then, some of the older pupils made model rooms from cardboard boxes and scraps of material and put two or even three lights in the room with a switch. One group even managed to add a warning light, which came on when a thief opened the door of the model room. Florence displayed all these models in her classroom and encouraged other teachers to come and look at them while her pupils explained how they worked. Her colleagues were very impressed at what the pupils had achieved and everyone enjoyed the afternoon.

Activity 1: Lighting a torch bulb

Each group of pupils needs one live torch cell, one working torch bulb, two 15-cm lengths of plastic-coated thin copper wire, at least five life-size cut-out shapes of a torch cell and five cut-out shapes of a live bulb. (See Resource 3: Lighting a bulb – templates and discussion –it is quite time consuming to cut out the shapes; you could ask older pupils to do this for you before the lesson.) They also need a blank sheet of card or paper and a small amount of glue. (Make sure all cells and bulbs are working before the lesson.)

Hand out a bulb and a cell to each group. Ask: ‘What do we get from these?’ Can they show this? What else do they need?

Hand out the cut-out shapes and the wire. Ask pupils to investigate different arrangements to see if they can light the bulb. Successful arrangements are recorded by gluing the shapes down and drawing in the position of the wire.

Tell them: ‘There is more than one arrangement that will light the bulb.’ Encourage them to find five possible different arrangements.

The groups report back at the end. ( Resource 3 discusses this activity in more detail and shows you the five possible arrangements).

Section 3 : Investigating electricity

2. Rotating group work