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October 2002
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Electrifying Experiences
by Linda C. Joseph, Columbus (Ohio) Public Schools, Library of Congress 
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"Whoever wishes to get a true appreciation of the greatness of our age should study the history of electrical development."
—Nikola Tesla, 1915
[Editor's note: URLs mentioned in this article appear in the chart that follows on page 35.]

Charge up your classroom with cool experiments, awesome demonstrations, and noteworthy historical information about electricity. Learn about people who made major scientific contributions that opened up new frontiers leading to household lighting, the long-distance transmission of power, and electronic devices that made life easier. Visit these Web sites for background information, illustrations, explanations, lessons, and insight into the world of electricity.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Benjamin Franklin: Glimpses of the Man

Benjamin Franklin was a Founding Father who had a curiosity for science. The Franklin Institute provides glimpses into his long life as a statesman, scientist, inventor, printer, philosopher, musician, and economist. Links to lessons and electricity safety tips are also included.

Benjamin Franklin's Kite Experiment

How did Franklin's experiment with the kite work? Why did Franklin remain unscathed while holding the string? Why was he shocked when he touched the key? Answers to these questions are thoroughly explained through a series of diagrams and 18th century illustrations. The Bakken Museum and Library in Minneapolis is a center for education that furthers the understanding of the history, cultural context, and applications of electricity and magnetism in the life sciences and their benefits to contemporary society.

The Education Site/Electricity

Read snippets about the historical figures who played important roles in the discovery and use of electricity, like the Greek philosopher Thales, who noticed that when he rubbed a piece of amber on cloth it would attract lightobjects, or Michael Faraday, who demonstrated that passing a magnet through a coil of wire could produce electricity. In addition, you can find brief facts about batteries, circuits, insulators, and other electrical devices and terms. PowerGen, one of the U.K.'s best-known names in electricity and gas, sponsors this site.

Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of Thomas Edison

This American Memory collection from The Library of Congress features 341 motion pictures, 81 disc sound recordings, and other related materials, such as photographs and original magazine articles. In addition, there is a timeline and biography about Thomas Edison.

Tesla: Master of Lightning

Edison is well known for his many inventions, Franklin for his kite experiment, but who is Nikola Tesla and what scientific contributions did he make during his lifetime? Nikola Tesla was considered a genius in the area of low-frequency electrical power generation and transmission at the turn of the 20th century. Some of his key inventions were alternating current, the Tesla coil, and remote control. Tesla also conducted experiments on transmitting electrical power from one point to another without wires. Unfortunately, he was decades ahead of the wireless technology, and the project was abandoned. George Westinghouse purchased Tesla's patents, but it would not be until the 1930s that another attempt was made to transmit power without wires in the confines of the Westinghouse Laboratory. [See the sidebar "An Early Attempt at Wireless Transmission."]

WORLD OF ELECTRICITY

The Atoms Family

Famous gothic horror characters like Frankenstein's monster and Dracula present activities about different forms of energy, including electricity. In Frankenstein's Lightning Laboratory, you can make a battery using a lemon to light a bulb and learn about electrical safety from the mistakes of his friends.

Ippex Online: Electricity and Magnetism

Students will enjoy this virtual learning module on electricity and magnetism. Concepts covered include charged particles, electric current, resistance, voltage, and circuits. Through a series interactive visualizations, students will learn about static charges, how to construct a circuit, and the relationship between magnetism and electricity. This project originated in 1996 at the Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory as part of a National Science Foundation grant, administered by the Center for Improved Engineering and Science Education (CIESE) at the Stevens Institute of Technology.

Theater of Electricity

Why is it safe to be in a car during a lightning storm? (The answer is not that it has rubber tires.) How did Benjamin Franklin conduct his kite experiment? What are Tesla coils? Learn fascinating facts about electricity at the Boston Museum of Science site, demonstrated by the Van De Graaf generator. Robert Van De Graaf built the generator in 1931 to conduct early atom smashing and high-energy X-ray experiments. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology donated the generator to the museum in the early 1950s. Today it is used to educate the public and school children about electricity and lightning.

What Is Electricity?

The first question you may ask is what is electricity? Electricity has several different and contradictory meanings. According to this article written by Bill Beatty, electrical engineer, there is no such thing as "electricity." Instead, there are names for all the separate phenomena associated with the term. Read this thought-provoking essay and see what you think.

SAFETY TIPS

Electric Universe

Four sections target different audiences. In Louie's Space, grades 1-4 are given a tour through the science, history, and safety of electricity. New Frontiers is designed for grades 5-8 and covers safety, conservation, and careers. Mind Power is well suited for teenagers in grades 8-12, with loads of information for reports, including brief biographies and illustrations of inventors. Rounding out the site is the Teachers Lounge, which contains experiments, a glossary, and links to other sites.

Electrical Safety World

Electrical Safety World uses information, experiments, games, and activities to teach students the principles and practices of electrical safety in a fun and entertaining way. The site is geared for a range of interests and reading levels and can be used by students in elementary and middle school. Hazard Hamlet is an animated simulation for younger students about the dangers of electricity. Find the Hidden Dangers is an interactive game designed to teach students about outdoor electrical hazards and requires reading skills. Other games test the safety knowledge of students. This is a great site that will have many Web addresses. The Culver Company created the content to license to electric companies.

LESSON PLANS

AC/DC

Check out this PBS site for an excellent visual demonstration of the differences between direct current and alternating current. The scientific principles behind batteries, copper wire, and light bulbs are also described.

Make a Light Bulb

Light up your classroom with this cool experiment. All of the materials and procedures are provided along with safety tips. Students will tackle the question "How long can you make the iron filament glow?" This would also make a great spreadsheet and graphing project.

The Science Zone

After studying a unit on electricity, Mr. O's students designed projects. Some were designed completely by the students, while others were borrowed from books and manuals. His students documented their work on this Web site, so any of these projects can be duplicated in your classroom. This will be a great "outlet" for your students as they try their hand at creating a cardboard switch, constructing a quiz game, or building a motor home.

Snacks About Electricity

All sorts of teacher-tested experiments are presented in the Exploratorium's Snackbook series. In the electricity section, discover how a pinball machine works, make a simple motor, start an electric flea circus, and investigate electric phenomena.

Sparks of Light

Create a lab in your classroom. Decide on a list of experiments. Organize your students into groups of scientists and let them decide which experiment to try. Design how you want to conduct the experiments. You may want to begin with a hypothesis or determine probability. Have your students keep a journal or log. Use a spreadsheet to chart and evaluate the results. Watch as your scientists light up with awe over the wonders of electricity.

Be sure to visit the MultiMedia Schools home page [http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools] with active links to all of the Web sites mentioned in this article. Then fly overto CyberBee [http://www.cyberbee.com] for more curriculum ideas, research tools, and activities to use with your students and staff.


Be sure to visit the MultiMedia Schools Home Page (http://www.infotoday.com/MMSchools) with active links to all of the Web sites mentioned in this article. Then fly over to CyberBee (http://www.cyberbee.com) for more curriculum ideas, research tools, and activities to use with your students and staff. 

Lesson Plans 

An Early Attempt at Wireless Transmission
This experiment was the basis for a demonstration of power transmission without wires at the Westinghouse exhibit at the Chicago World's Fair of 1933-1934. 

The light shown in the picture needs no current. It lights merely by reason of its presence in an ultra-high-frequency field. The field is produced by a standing wave oscillator, which sends out from the antenna overhead 15,000 watts of power as ultra-short radio waves (known as microwaves today). 

This tremendous power lights all lamp bulbs within 40 feet, cooks food in a matter of seconds, and raises body temperature 1 degree per minute—all due to the electro-magnetic field. In the picture, H.V. Noble, Westinghouse research engineer, hurriedly explains the phenomenon to Evelyn Tray (left) and Vera Goga, because, after a few more minutes in the field's influence, they too will feel "lit."

An Early Attempt at Wireless Transmission
This experiment was the basis for a demonstration of power transmission without wires at the Westinghouse exhibit at the Chicago World's Fair of 1933-1934. 

The light shown in the picture needs no current. It lights merely by reason of its presence in an ultra-high-frequency field. The field is produced by a standing wave oscillator, which sends out from the antenna overhead 15,000 watts of power as ultra-short radio waves (known as microwaves today). 

This tremendous power lights all lamp bulbs within 40 feet, cooks food in a matter of seconds, and raises body temperature 1 degree per minute—all due to the electro-magnetic field. In the picture, H.V. Noble, Westinghouse research engineer, hurriedly explains the phenomenon to Evelyn Tray (left) and Vera Goga, because, after a few more minutes in the field's influence, they too will feel "lit."

Bright Idea

This is a great way to introduce electricity to students or to evaluate their knowledge. See how many ways your students can light a bulb with the following materials.

Materials:

  • Insulated wire, 6 inches long; or a 1/2-inch-wide, 6-inch-long 

  • piece of aluminum foil
     
  • D-cell battery  

  •  
  • Flashlight bulb  

  •  
  • Tape (optional)  
Procedure:

1. Strip the ends of the wire so 3/4-inch to 1 inch is showing.

2. Experiment with connecting the wire/aluminum foil, battery, and light bulb until the bulb lights up.

3. Sketch your designs and mark what worked and didn't work.

Questions: 

  • What differences are there between the two ends of the battery?  

  •  
  • Where should the wires be placed? Why?  

  •  
  • What happened to the battery when both ends of the wire/aluminum foil were connected to it? Why?  

  •  
  • What were you creating through this experiment?  

  •  
  • What kind of current is being used?  
Caution: The battery becomes hot when doing this experiment.
Resources and Web Site addresses 

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND

Benjamin Franklin: Glimpses of the Man
http://sln.fi.edu/franklin/index.html


Benjamin Franklin's Kite Experiment
http://www.thebakken.org/electricity/Franklin-kite-experiment.html

The Education Site/Electricity
http://www.the-education-site.com/electric/

Inventing Entertainment: The Motion Pictures and Sound Recordings of Thomas Edison
http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/edhtml/edhome.html

Tesla: Master of Lightning
http://www.pbs.org/tesla/

WORLD OF ELECTRICITY

The Atoms Family
http://www.miamisci.org/af/sln/

Ippex Online: Electricity and Magnetism
http://ippex.pppl.gov/interactive/electricity/

Theater of Electricity
http://www.mos.org/sln/toe/toe.html

What is Electricity?
http://www.amasci.com/miscon/whatis.html

SAFETY TIPS

Electric Universe
http://csu.electricuniverse.com/html/index.html

Electrical Safety World
http://www.culverco.com/consumersenergy/

LESSON PLANS

AC/DC
http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/edison/sfeature/acdc.html

Make a Light Bulb
http://www.si.edu/lemelson/edison/html/making_a_light_bulb.html

The Science Zone
http://home.att.net/~sciencezone/

Snacks about Electricity
http://www.exploratorium.edu/snacks/iconelectricity.html
 

Linda Joseph is the author of Net Curriculum: An Educator's Guide to Using the Internet, published by CyberAge Books. The recipient of numerous awards, in addition to her work in the Columbus Public Schools and the Library of Congress, Linda is a part-time instructor for Ohio State University. Communications to the author may be addressed to her at Columbus Public Schools, 737 East Hudson Street, Columbus, OH 43211; phone 614/365-5277; e-mail: ljoseph@iwaynet.net.
 

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