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Physical Sciences K-8: "Static" Electricity Units

Characteristics of "static" electricity include: 1) The number of of positive and negative electric charges within a material may not be equal, 2) voltage is high and current is low, 3) electrical forces (attraction and repulsion) can reach  across great distances, and 4) electric fields (as opposed to magnetic fields) become very important. (Electric fields are also called "electrostatic fields" or "e-fields." Units are not listed in a prescribed order.

  Teaching About Electrostatics (8)

Lesson Plans:

This page links to five lesson plans in static electricity for beginning learners.  Designed for easy set-up, the lessons are intended to help beginners understand charge, electrostatic induction, and how transfer of electrons occurs.

Item Type: Hands-On Activities
Level: Grades 4-8

This lesson plan for beginners includes a creative update of the "Kissing Balloon", plus  three activities designed to enhance student understanding of electric charge, electron transfer, and polarization.  Try teaming it with Chasing Cheerios below.

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: Grades 8-9
Duration: 1-2 Class Periods

A Cheerio is suspended from a string and brought in contact with a charged plastic ruler, then neutralized by touching it.  This lesson illustrates both induction and conduction.  A second activity is included, with a printable student data sheet and reference materials.

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: Grades 6-9
Duration: 30 minutes

Using neon bulbs as a "test charge" for a current or for an electric field. this is a description for a lesson plan or activity.

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: Grades 8-9
Duration: One Class Period

References and Collections:

This unique resource integrates the scientific work of Ben Franklin with lab guides for replicating historic experiments in secondary classrooms. This introductory section describes the history of Franklin's work, and provides details of the equipment that will be used for the entire unit.

Item Type: Lab Experiments
Level: Grades 6-12

Content Support For Teachers:

Common misconceptions about the topic of electrostatics are fully explored in this resource for both teachers and learners.  The author debunks more than a dozen myths as he offers comprehensive explanations of related phenomena.

Item Type: Reference Material

The study of lightning is an exciting way to learn about electric field and charge. During a thunderstorm, separation of charge produces enormous electrical potential both within the cloud and between the cloud and ground. Eventually the electrical resistance in the air breaks down and a flash begins. This NASA resource is a complete "primer" on the subject of lightning -- it explains the lightning discharge process, modern data collection, and a brief history of the scientific study of lightning.

Item Type: Reference Material

Looking for a refresher on the basics of electrostatics? This tutorial from The Physics Classroom does a solid job with explaining basic charge interactions, electric force and Coulomb's Law, electric field and action-at-a-distance, and methods of charging.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial

  Electric Field (5)

Activities:

The Exploratorium "snacks" are miniature versions of popular exhibits at the museum, all do-able with inexpensive materials. For electrostatics, click on "Charge and Carry", "Electroscope", and "Holding Charge".

Item Type: Classroom Experiments
Level: Grades 6-12

We can't see an electric field. It helps students to have a pictorial tool to visualize it as a region of space. This simulation lets them explore both the vector field concept and the field line model. Click anywhere within the field and a field line is automatically drawn. Color-coded vectors surround each charge to show the strength of field. Sign can be changed to view both attraction and repulsion.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 8-12

The concept of electric field can be very difficult for beginners. This package of Java simulations allows students to move charges around and see the force; observe the electric field generated by charge configurations; and observe the motion of test particles in electric fields. Includes instructor's guides and printable student worksheets. The package was created for use in middle school and 9th grade physical science, but can be adapted for high school conceptual physics.

Item Type: Model-Based Unit
Level: Grades 7-12
Duration: Multi-Day

Sometimes students ask, "So what happens when one negative charge interacts with one positive charge?" This simulation uses two oppositely-charged "point charges" to address this question. Just move them around on the screen. The electric field changes shape depending on the distance separating the two particles and also on the magnitude of their charge. A point charge is an idealized model of a particle that has electric charge. It is represented here as a mathematical point with no dimensions.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 7-8

Content Support For Teachers:

This educator's guide provides a conceptual explanation of electric field. It is framed as a side-by-side comparison of electrostatics and gravity, a solid analogy for understanding how charge interaction is described and quantified in physics.

Item Type: Content Support

  Electric Force (5)

Activities:

In this Java simulation, your students play with a replication of Coulomb's historic torsion balance -- a device used to measure electric force between charges. Coulomb's methodical measuring laid the foundation for Coulomb's Law, a fundamental principle of electricity and magnetism.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 8-12

References and Collections:

This is a wonderful collection of materials on the scientific works of Benjamin Franklin, integrating historical background with descriptions of the actual lab experiments. The lab guides explain how to set up identical (or very similar) experiments in the classroom and provides video how-to's for several lessons.

Item Type: Digital Collection
Level: Grades 6-12

Content Support For Teachers:

Inverse relationships are common in nature. In electrostatics, the electrical force between 2 charged objects is inversely related to the distance that separates them. This interactive tutorial from The Physics Classroom is the best we've found on the web for exploring and applying the inverse square law to electrostatics forces. Great refresher for K-8 science teachers!

Item Type: Content Support

Electric force and gravitational force are two types of non-contact forces. Coulomb's Law equation for electrical force bears a strong resemblance to Newton's equation for universal gravitation. Both show an inverse square relationship between force and separation distance. This interactive tutorial will help K-8 science teachers gain insight about the nature of electrical forces, which, unlike gravitational forces, can be either attractive or repulsive.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial

Student Tutorials:

This short biography on Charles-Augustin de Coulomb (1736-1806) gives background on the pioneer's work, which resulted in the fundamental physics law named after him. Coulomb's Law states: the electric force between charged objects inversely depends upon the distance between the objects. This tutorial helps students understand this relationship.

Item Type: Historical Background
Level: Grades 6-12

  Capacitors and their Effect on Electricity (2)

Lesson Plans:

This lesson plan explains how to make a simple electroscope, a device used to detect electric charge. It updates the classic "kissing balloon" activity with creative additions. It is standards-aligned and includes printable student data sheets.

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: Grades 8-12
Duration: One Class Period

References and Collections:

Capacitors are electrical devices designed to store electric charge. This Java tutorial blends text with simulations to provide an excellent overview of the topic of capacitance.

Item Type: Reference Material

  Electric Charge (7)

Lesson Plans:

The Exploratorium "snacks" are miniature versions of popular exhibits at the museum, all do-able with inexpensive materials. For electrostatics, click on "Charge and Carry", "Electroscope", and "Holding Charge".

Item Type: Activity Collection
Level: Grades 6-12

A neon bulb is an object that can be lighted either by electric current or by static electricity.  This creative lesson, which requires no math,  helps students form an understanding of electron transfer.  Included is a printable student data sheet.

Item Type: Lesson Plan
Level: Grades 8-12
Duration: One Class Period

Activities:

Explore static electricity by rubbing a virtual balloon on a sweater, then on an adjacent wall. The interactions among the sweater, balloon, and wall illustrate charge transfer and polarization. See "PhET Teacher Ideas" directly below for a step-by-step student guide to use with this simulation.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 6-12

This printable student guide was developed specifically for use with the PhET simulation "Balloons and Static Electricity". It gives explicit directions for set-up, plus open-ended questions to help kids explore charge interactions. See the item directly above for a link to the simulation, which must be open in a browser to complete this activity.

Item Type: Student Guide
Level: Grades 6-10
Duration: One Class Period

References and Collections:

The Van de Graaff generator, invented in 1929, is an example of a nearly ideal current source, as it can supply the same small current at almost any electric potential. This site offers information needed to understand the operation and maintenance of Van de Graaff generators.  The author includes helpful hints for classroom demonstrations.

Item Type: Reference Material

Content Support For Teachers:

This NASA resource is a complete "primer" on the subject of lightning.  It includes an easily understood description of the lightning discharge process, modern data collection,and a brief history of the scientific study of lightning.

Item Type: Reference Material

Student Tutorials:

This multimedia resource from NOVA explores the electrostatic forces that cause lightning. It features a nine-minute Flash video, an interactive tutorial on varieties of lightning, an "Ask the Expert" question-answer session, and background information for teachers.

Item Type: Multimedia Package
Level: Grades 6-12
Duration: One Class Period

  Franklin and Electrostatics (4)

Activities:

This resource takes learners on a journey through history with primary source historical documents (written by Franklin) about his lightning rod experiments.  It includes a translation of a 1752 experiment conducted in France.  It is intended for integration with the item directly above.

This web page integrates historic text and drawings with annotations and ideas for applying Franklin's theory of electrostatic induction in labs designed for the modern high school science classroom.  It includes a 1750 letter by Franklin describing an accident resulting in his own near-electrocution.

References and Collections:

This is the introductory segment of materials by author Robert Morse on the scientific works of Benjamin Franklin. It integrates historical background and primary source documents alongside lesson plans for setting up identical (or very similar) experiments in the classroom. It includes a template for building a generator, plus video how-to's for several lessons.

Item Type: Digital Collection
Level: Grades 6-12

Content Support For Teachers:

This short tutorial provides a glimpse of the history behind electrostatics, including the contributions of Franklin and Coulomb.

Item Type: Tutorial
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: 20-30 minutes

  Static Electricity for the Early Grades (4)

Lesson Plans:

The "snacks" are scaled-down versions of exhibits relating to electricity at the Exploratorium museum.  Find activities related to electrostatics, charge, force and field potential, and circuits. Many are appropriate for elementary school: easy set-up and adequate content support.

Item Type: Activity Collection
Level: Grades K-8

Activities:

This simulation is fun for teachers and students alike. Rub the virtual balloon against the sweater and watch the charge transfer from the wool to the balloon. Then move the balloon to an adjacent wall with neutral charge -- kids will see an interaction they probably won't expect. These interactions among the sweater, balloon, and wall will help students understand that opposites attract in charge interactions, while identical charges repel. Just as important, the model shows that charge is conserved.....the electrons are separated and transferred somewhere else.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 4-9
Duration: 20-30 minutes

Content Support For Teachers:

Looking for a refresher on the basics of electrostatics? This tutorial from The Physics Classroom does a solid job with explaining basic charge interactions, electric force and Coulomb's Law, electric field and action-at-a-distance, and methods of charging.

Item Type: Online Tutorial

Assessment:

This free 8-part video workshop addresses all aspects of science assessment: embedded and authentic assessment techniques, math/science integration, and information about assessment reform. It can be freely downloaded in a WMP format.

Item Type: Digital Workshop