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Squishy Circuits!

“Where do you begin? If you’re going to teach robotics, how do you start?”

SquishyCircuts fixed


That’s what Christine said around three minutes into our conversation. I always love running into teacher Christine (recently of the Discovery class, formerly of the Primary class, often in both). I was looking over her shoulder in the office, reading a Newsweek article about the Maker Movement in education (a whole ‘nother topic I’d like to dive into soon!) when her wonderful enthusiasm bubbled off of the page we were reading and onto the desk in front of us with a small thump. Her enthusiasm this time took on the form of a box of play dough and wires and funny looking chips of some sort or another, all which sat in the box and looked up at us both rather dully.

And then Christine started pulling them out of the box and everything came to life! It all came off of a TED talk by Dr. Ann-Marie Thomas from the University of St. Thomas, Christine told me. “It was really fun to watch. She literally pulls this stuff out of her pocket and makes it light up. And I’m like, ‘Oh, I want those pockets!'”
Squishy Circuits are made of play dough, a battery, and, in our school’s case, LEDs (at least for now). The play dough is broken down into a conductive dough, which Christine found could be any kind of play dough as long as it has salt in it, and an insulating dough, which is made with sugar, making it “super sticky and hard to deal with,” according to Christine.
The LEDs themselves have a negative side and a positive side, so students have to problem solve to get the circuit running. Thinking of it as a little wire person, students insert the LED’s two “legs” into the appropriate blobs of conductive dough with a non-conductor blob in between. “You have to have them separated, because electricity is lazy,” Christine explains. “If you have the play dough right next to each other it will just go in between the play dough and not go to the leg.”
The conductive dough is then hooked up to a battery. Christine prefers plain old 9 volt batteries over the trendy black battery packs. Kids associate them more with electricity, and it doesn’t take long before students figure out that more batteries means more electricity and you can make more things light up. “You can do more!” Christine exclaimed, followed by an obligatory Evil Scientist Laugh.
That’s the basics of it. You can add a motor. You can add sound. “And when you add the sound to it and you stretch the dough, it alters the sound. Which I haven’t gotten to yet because I can’t imagine how loud that would be with a group of preschoolers!”
Squishy Circuits are just the beginning. Like the opening of the article implies, robotics and other technologies are finding a nicely holistic niche into the curriculum at Five Acre School, and I’m looking forward to what all this shall become…