Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Electricity and Magnetism Supplies

For this unit, we had some of the basic components we needed on hand, and I ordered a few more. I was wishing someone would tell me all the sorts of things I would need so I didn't have to figure it out myself, and so I wouldn't be caught without something we needed. For that reason, I give you this list. You can pull batteries out of flashlights and improvise bulb holders, etc., but if you're a beginner and need guidance, I think the following things made up a pretty good basic electricity exploration set:

Alligator clips--get several so you can make different kinds of circuits
Tiny light bulbs--These work well with D batteries as the power source, and light bulbs are the easiest way to test if a circuit is working or not! Again, getting several will let you construct parallel and series circuits, etc. Also, it's nice to have extra in case you burn some out.
Bulb holders--Not totally necessary, but so much easier than holding or taping the contact of the wire to the bulb base!
Insulated copper wire--Nice and safe, but you'll have to scrape the insulation off the ends for your contact points. If you have the right tool (wire stripper?) it's probably fine, but we didn't. I finally used a butter knife (too sharp of a knife will just cut the wire!) to scrape-scrape-scrape, and that worked pretty well.
Bare copper wire--sometimes you want bare copper wire, like if you're making a dimmer switch and want to be able to connect the circuit at any point along the wire.
Magnet wire--good for making motors
6-volt battery--I like this because the terminals are so accessible and easy to clip wires to! 
D batteries--It's good to have a bunch of these on hand
Carbon-zinc batteries--safe for dissecting!
LEDs and resistors--fun to use in circuits, but because they use so little voltage, you sometimes have to use the included resistors as well (a 9-Volt battery will burn them out instantly)
Mechanical pencil lead---for a homemade light bulb

For exploring magnetism, any old magnet will do, but we also found these supplies really fun:
Iron filings--for sprinkling on paper or putting into oil to make magnetic fields visible, or just for giving your magnets funny furry beards. They're kind of messy but SO fun! And much easier than the "steel wool shavings" many instructions suggest substituting
Basic bar magnets--marked with North and South Poles
Horseshoe magnet--stronger than the bar magnets, and makes a different kind of field

I generally think getting things in "sets" is a waste, since they inevitably include things you don't need/don't like/are flimsier than you would have gotten separately---but these both looked pretty good, so we also got these two sets:

Motors and generators kit--because making the coils of wire big enough and sturdy enough to work in a generator is pretty hard, and this has that part done for you. You can see how the motor and the generator work in reverse of each other, and the magnets snap on to the sides so nicely. We thought this kit was very easy to use, while remaining useful because you can tell what's going on!

Maglev Kit--This probably could be made without a kit, but there was no way _I_ was going to be able to figure out all the components. And because my children LOVE maglevs, and had been wishing and wishing to make one during our Train Unit, I thought this kit would be worth our while. The maglev was really fun to make, and although it needs some adjustment to run perfectly (sanding off the sides, making the weight balance perfectly, etc), the process itself is fun enough to be worth it.

Also contact cement--you need this to go with the Maglev Kit

We also have (and love) this Snap Circuit set---and there are lots of other sets that look fun too! Someone gave us this one specifically about electromagnetism, and it's fun, but not that great on its own. I'd recommend the set above instead, because it does a lot more.

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