Exploratory Stations: simple circuits, magnets, and Makey Makeys builds

By: Meghan Thoreau, OSU Extension Educator

The short program highlights videos of the simple circuits, electrical stations, and Makey Makey exploration stations.

This month students built on their electricity skills introduced in September to better understand how electricity and magnetism are related, as well as learned about other forces that can accelerate a body, or how the center of gravity is a pulling force that acts upon two things.

A student proudly shows off their center of gravity project.

Center of Gravity

We explored balancing basics and the center of gravity. Students learned that if they support the center of gravity, the object will balance and be stable. If an object is not supported directly below its centre of gravity then the object will be unstable and topple over. Any object is more stable when the center of gravity is near the center of the base of support. Wobbler toys are another example of using physics, torque, and the center of gravity to keep toddlers entertained for hours. (1)

gravity: center-of-gravity - Students

Students had an opportunity to look at several types of balancing objects and understand how each object’s mass was distributed and how stable its center of gravity was. For example, they were able to interact with objects with different bases and structural shapes and see firsthand that a smaller base is less stable than an object with a larger base. A triangular pyramid shape is much more stable sitting on its broad base than on its point, which in turn can also serve as a resting point to balance another object because of its stability and take advantage of the upper object’s center of gravity.

A balancing toy utilizes the concepts of stability and low center of gravity. By having two heavyweights on the two sides, the toy will make the object very stable. The students learned about stable systems and how they return to their state of initial rest after disruption or being disturbed. (2)

After class-led activities, students broke into groups and rotated through simple circuits, magnets, electromagnets, Makey Makey interactive installations, and origami-making stations.

Simple Closed Loop Circuit

Electrical devices surround us every day – calculators, space heaters, remote controls, lights, cell phones, drones, electric vehicles. Students started with the voltage source such as a battery that is required to close the circuit and operate the device. As the students moved to the different stations they engaged in the science and engineering practice of making observations as they used batteries, wires, small light bulbs, and light bulb holders to explore the phenomenon of electricity and learn the difference between open and closed circuits. They also engaged in concepts of electric current, energy transfer, and electromagnets, and how circuits can be used with circuit boards and code to make more advanced electrical systems and work.

Examples of some of the simple closed-loop circuit stations and electromagnetic exploration stations.

Makey Makey Circuit Board Stations (using coding)

Makey Makey is a circuit board that you plug into your computer and in some ways acts like a keyboard. Each metal pad that you see on the Makey Makey is a conductive touchpad. The touchpad can be connected to other things in a circuit to invent and try out different design concepts. Alligator clips and a USB cable can be connected to the circuit board to complete closed-loop electrical signals to send the computer either by a keyboard stroke, or sensory touch that closes the loop. In the Makey Makey stations, depicted below, students interacted and explored a coded electrical guitar, an electrical keyboard, and an interactive educational poster on butterflies. Makey Makeys are powerful tools for youth to use for prototype electrical ideas for more advanced designs and projects.

Pictures Makey Makey coded projects that used Scratch and a Makey Makey circuit poster-coded program that the educator prerecorded sound bits and GIF images into for the circuit to play when closed.

Engineering Connection

Electrical engineers design the circuits and batteries that are in the devices and appliances that we use every day. Circuits can be found in music players, computers, video games, appliances, microwaves, phones, televisions, cameras, medical equipment, vehicles, and many more products. Engineers take seriously the responsibility of designing circuits that work dependably and safely. While new devices are constantly being developed around the world, engineers strive to create safer, more efficient products that ultimately help improve people’s lives.

1 Balance basics. Science World. (2022, June 9). https://www.scienceworld.ca/resource/balance-baseics/#:~:text=If%20you%20support%20the%20centre,of%20the%20base%20of%20support.

2 Evantoh. (2023, October 20). Evan’s space. Evan’s Space. https://evantoh23.wordpress.com/


Girls Who Code Virtual Summer Immersion Program

Girls Who Code Virtual Summer Immersion Program

Girls Who Code currently is accepting applications for its Virtual Summer Immersion Program (SIP). During this FREE, two-week virtual program, participants will learn the computer science skills needed to make an impact, get an inside look in the tech field and join a supportive lifelong sisterhood — all while being virtually hosted by influential companies, such as Twitter, AT&T, Bank of America, Walmart and more.

Girls and non-binary students in grades 9-11 are eligible to apply. SIP is 100% free and need-based stipends of up to $300 are available for those who qualify. Low tech? No tech? No problem! Girls Who Code can help.

Apply here before the early acceptance deadline in mid-February and remember to mark the Ohio Department of Education as the Community Partner on the application to receive priority consideration.

Join the Girls Who Code Application Party. Sign up to attend the SIP ApplicationParty on Feb. 8 at 6 p.m. EST. Join a Girls Who Code staff member and other students to begin the application and get answers to questions.

Ohio 4-H Computer Science Spin Club for 3rd -6th Grade

Come join us and learn about the basics of coding, computer technology, and software. If you enjoy exploring computers or apps then you’ll love learning in this totally virtual environment with people your own age. Learn about hacking, coding, computational thinking, and more!

Every Tuesday & Thursday, starting May 19-June 4 | 2:00 pm to 3:00 pm

Upon completion of this form, you will be enrolled in Ohio 4-H in the Ohio 4-H Computer Science SPIN Club. Once your online registration is confirmed you will receive an email with a link to join the virtual meetings. The link to join the meetings will be the same for all 6 meetings. If you are already enrolled in 4-H your home county will be notified that you are participating in this SPIN Club. If you have any questions or need help with this registration please contact Elliott Lawrence at lawrence.638@osu.edu or Mark Light at light.42@osu.edu.

Location: ONLINE! Click below to join https://go.osu.edu/computerspin.


The New Superpower: the Power of Code

By: Meghan Thoreau, OSU Extension Educator

STEM Club Program Highlight Video, by Meghan Thoreau, produced in iMovies. Hack Your Harvest and Pitch Your Passion are two coding activities from a Google Grant and 4-H OSU Extension Educator, Mark Light.

Q: How many computer science jobs will there be in 2020?

A: In 2020, an estimated 1 million computer programming-related jobs in the US are expected to be unfilled. Many tech organizations are now turning to non-traditional applicants and internal training to fill these gaps. Learn more: Full Scale.

Here are some quick facts according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics for computer and information research scientists:

Quick Facts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019.

This November, Teays Valley Elementary Students learned about a new “superpower” that isn’t being taught in 90% of US schools – the power of CODE. Students watched a short video starring Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, will.i.am, Chris Bosh, Jack Dorsey, Tony Hsieh, Drew Houston, Gabe Newell, Ruchi Sanghvi, Elena Silenok, Vanessa Hurst, and Hadi Partovi. Directed by Lesley Chilcott, executive producers Hadi and Ali Partovi, break down stereotypes about what it means to learn to code, how in-demand the skill set is, how coding impacts humanity, and especially how fun, interactive, and full-service some larger companies design their office space to attract and keep their talent pool.

Image from the program presentation by Meghan Thoreau, go.osu.edu/CODE_offline_scratch.

CHALLENGE 1: The kids started with the basics, binary code, which is a coding system using two digits (or bits) ‘0’ and ‘1’ to represent a letter, digit, or other characters in a computer or other electronic device. For example, the lower case ‘a’ in binary code is the string of 8-bits, ‘0110 0001,’ called a byte. Computers process instructions using this two-symbol system. The students made binary bracelets to practice decoding a letter into binary code.

Pictures from STEM Club Program, by Meghan Thoreau. 

CHALLENGE 2: To code or to write a program, is to write a set of instructions to a problem, or an algorithm. An algorithm is a process or set of rules to be followed in calculating or running a problem-solving operation by a computer. Below is a simple algorithm to make a PB&J:

Image from the program presentation by Meghan Thoreau, go.osu.edu/CODE_offline_scratch.

A good coder is a person who can think strategically through a problem and then write a clear set of instructions to end at a solution. Some instructions are easier to follow than others. Some instructions get to the solution more directly. The kids experience the skill in writing instructions, writing an algorithm, using a tangram challenge. A pair of students worked together verbally telling another pair of students how to arrange a series of shapes to end with a hidden image as the solution.

Pictures from STEM Club Program, by Meghan Thoreau. 

CHALLENGE 3: students went online, https://world.kano.me/challenges, and chose their own themed coding challenge to actually write a program and see what that looks like in JavaScript, a popular computer programming language.

Pictures from STEM Club Program, by Meghan Thoreau. 

NEXT MONTH: students will continue with the coding challenges on Kano Computer Kits. Computers that kids can build and start to learn to code through interactive tutorial options to code art, music, games, browse the internet, watch YouTube, access Google docs, write stories, and upload more than 100+ Apps. The computer plugs into an HDMI screen. The product is ideals of kids 6+ in age. Read an earlier blog by Educator, STEM Parenthood: every childhood needs a little coding. The students will also be developing their own public service announcements in a coded animation in Scratch!

Pictures from STEM Club Program, by Meghan Thoreau. Kano STEM Kit from Civil Air Patrol received for free through their CAP Educator Membership.

Bureau of Labor Statistics computer science career video by CareerOneStop: https://youtu.be/jlZucw7_qWU