Editor selections by Topic and Unit

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Conceptual Physics: "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 (11)

Lesson Plans:

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

Activities:

Help your students build a conceptual framework with this comprehensive set of simulations and videos that model electrostatic processes. Each visualization is supported with a rich collection of related lecture notes and homework questions, all available for free. Highly recommended.

Item Type: Digital Collection
Level: High School Physics

References and Collections:

This website from the University of Rochester offers 20+ demos designed to promote understanding of electrostatic processes. Build a leaf electroscope, a "dissectible" capicitor, a moving charge sensor, a piezoelectric sparker, and more.

Item Type: Classroom Demonstrations
Level: High School

This free online textbook was created by a veteran professor who blends written materials from "lectures that worked" with calculus-based problems and solutions.  The first two chapters deal with electrostatic phenomena.

Item Type: Digital Textbook

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

Student Tutorials:

What happens when a charged object is brought near a neutral conducting object? This animation will help your students visualize the process of induction. It was developed by the author of The Physics Classroom tutorials for high school physics.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: High School Physics

This tutorial/animation goes into greater depth to explain and illustrate the process of induction.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: High School Physics

Assessment:

This is a teacher-made electrostatic quiz, not meant to be fully definitive, but as an example. It contains 29 questions in multiple choice and true/false format. Answers are provided.

Item Type: Online Quiz
Level: High School

  Electric Field (15)

Lesson Plans:

Looking for a truly interactive lesson on electric field? This package was developed by an award-winning high school teacher to accompany the PhET simulation Electric Field Hockey. Students place electric charges on a simulated ice field, then use their understanding of charge interaction to guide a hockey puck into a goal. The lesson integrates the game with free-body diagrams and vector addition.

Item Type: Simulation-Based Lesson
Level: High School Physics
Duration: 1-2 Class Periods

This outstanding resource integrates Java-based models of electrostatics with standards-based lesson plans and student worksheets. Your students will have fun moving charges around to investigate interaction of charged particles and watch as electric field lines are generated. The worksheets offer them structured guidance.

Item Type: Simulation-Based Module
Level: Grades 7-12

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

In this game-like environment, students place positive and negative charges on a simulated ice field.  Getting the puck into the goal can be easy or complicated, depending upon the charge interaction. Editor's Note: See "Lesson Plans" above for clicker questions and a student guide developed specifically to accompany this simulation.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 9-12

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

Visualizing electric field lines helps the student reinforce and comprehend the rules behind them. With one click, you can toggle between positive and negative charges, observing how this changes the direction of the field lines. Magnitude of charge can also be adjusted.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: High School Physics
Duration: 30 minutes

How is electric field created and how does it come to fill up space? This animation from MIT's TEAL Physics Project starts with two opposite point charges being separated to form a classic electric dipole field configuration. It will help students see that electric fields do not appear instantly in space when there is unbalanced charge. They propagate outward from a source in a predictable way.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: High School Physics

This 3D Shockwave simulation lets students explore how a dipole pattern arises as they move an "observation point" around two equal and opposite charges. By allowing them to see the field from a variety of reference points, they can visualize how each charge contributes to the resultant field.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: High School Physics

An outstanding, yet simple, simulation to help students visualize electric force as a vector with magnitude and direction. It features two particles with opposite charge. Change the position and magnitude of either charge and watch the electric field respond. The field can be viewed as "grass seeds", electric potential lines, or vector field.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: High School Physics

Understanding electric field can be easier if students start with a 1-D representation. This excellent simulation models the electric field at various points along a line. For a very simple version, use only one test charge and one charged particle. For a somewhat more challenging activity, add a second charged particle. Also contains a student worksheet specifically for use with this simulation.

Item Type: Computer Model
Level: High School Physics

References and Collections:

ESA is devoted to advancing communication among professionals in the field of electrostatics. ESA sponsors annual meetings, a free bi-monthly newsletter, and Conference Proceedings. If you're looking for cutting-edge applications of electrostatics concepts, this is your website.

Item Type: Reference Material
Level: High School Physics

Content Support For Teachers:

In this free resource, topics are connected in a well-organized concept map.  One click takes the teacher from electric field to related topics such as Gauss' Law, capacitance, and calculations related to force and field potential.

Item Type: Concept Map
Level: High School Physics

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

Student Tutorials:

This chapter in an online educators' guide is devoted to a conceptual exploration of electric field.  It is framed as a side-by-side comparison of electrostatics and gravity, which helps beginners gain understanding of how charge interaction is described and calculated in physics.

Item Type: Student Tutorial
Level: High School Physics
Duration: 30 minutes

Assessment:

This is a multiple choice traditional online quiz (with hints) for electric fields.

Item Type: Online Quiz
Level: High School

  Electric Force (9)

Activities:

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.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: Grades 9-12

An outstanding, yet simple, simulation to help students visualize electric force as a vector with magnitude and direction. It features two particles with opposite charge. Change the position and magnitude of either charge and watch the electric field respond. The field can be viewed as "grass seeds", electric potential lines, or vector field.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 9-12

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

Many students have difficulty understanding the interactions that cause an electric force between charges. It helps if they begin their investigation with a very simple 1-D representation of the electric force that one particle exerts on another. The user sets the amount of charge so that the particles can either attract or repel; then vector arrows appear to show the amount of force on each particle. One particle can be moved left or right along the line to see the effect of distance on the force. With one click, students can see a graph of the electric force as a function of position.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: High School

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:

This web page illustrates the concept of work against an electric force using examples of the Van de Graaff generator and lightning.

Item Type: Content Support
Level: High School Physics

In this free resource, topics are connected in a well-organized concept map.  This section gives a concise, yet thorough explanation of Coulomb's Law and how it it is used to determine the electric force between charges.

Item Type: Content Support
Level: High School Physics

Student Tutorials:

This interactive tutorial, part of The Physics Classroom, does a first-rate job of explaining the concepts underlying Coulomb's Law.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: High School
Duration: 30 minutes

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 (7)

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

Activities:

The classic demonstration of charging an aluminum pie plate by induction is depicted in this animation, with detailed text to explain grounding and separation of charge.

Item Type: Animation-Based Tutorial
Level: Grades 9-12

This item gives step-by-step animated depictions of charge interactions when a balloon is brought near a charge detecting device.

Item Type: Animation-Based Tutorial
Level: Grades 9-12

This is one of the best simulations we've seen to illustrate what happens at the particle level inside the two plates of a parallel capacitor. Students can set the number and magnitude of charges within each capacitor, then watch the charges distribute themselves along the outer edges of their enclosures. A great visualization of the Coulomb force in action.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 9-12

Content Support For Teachers:

In this free resource, topics are connected in a well-organized concept map.  One click takes the teacher from capacitors to related topics such as dielectrics, storage devices, and impedance.

Item Type: Concept Map
Level: High School Physics

This resource blends text with interactive java simulations to provide an excellent overview of the topic of capacitance.  It includes descriptions of how electric capacitors work and introduces simple calculations.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: High School

Student Tutorials:

Capacitors are electrical devices designed to store electric charge.  In this interactive java tutorial, students explore factors affecting capacitance and gain understanding of how it is related to electrostatic force field.

Item Type: Online Tutorial
Level: High School

  Electric Charge (15)

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

An exceptional internet-based module that blends computer modeling with traditional hands-on labs. The introductory video is guaranteed to "spark" attention: a car catches on fire during refueling. The driving questions for students to investigate: what caused the fire and how can we use a knowledge of electrostatics to prevent these accidents? (Developed by UC-Berkeley.)

Item Type: Project-Based Learning
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: Multi-Day

Looking for a truly interactive lesson on electric field? This package was developed by an award-winning high school teacher to accompany the PhET simulation Electric Field Hockey. Students place electric charges on a simulated ice field, then use their understanding of charge interaction to guide a hockey puck into a goal. The lesson integrates the game with free-body diagrams and vector addition.

Item Type: Simulation-Based Lesson
Level: Grades 9-12

Activities:

This animation illustrates the effect when a negatively-charged balloon is brought near two neutral conducting spheres.

Item Type: Animation-Based Tutorial
Level: Grades 9-12

In this game-like environment, students  place positive and negative charges on a simulated ice field.  Getting the puck into the goal can be easy or complicated, depending upon the charge interaction. See "Lesson Plans" above for a great set of teacher-created materials that supplement this simulation -- student guide, clicker questions, and more.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 9-12

This simple and effective Quicktime video shows a model of a negatively-charged particle being pulled in by the positively-charged sphere of a van de Graaff generator.  Although the particle is not touching the generator, they are in direct contact with a medium existing between them. We recommend viewing this item in stepped motion.

Item Type: Animation
Level: High School Physics

This Quicktime video accompanies the item directly above. In this model, a positively-charged particle is shown being repelled by the positively-charged sphere of the van de Graaff generator. Both videos promote understanding of the Coulomb force by showing the electric field existing between the charges.

Item Type: Animation
Level: High School Physics

An outstanding, yet simple, simulation to help students visualize electric force as a vector with magnitude and direction. It features two particles with opposite charge. Change the position and magnitude of either charge and watch the electric field respond. The field can be viewed as "grass seeds", electric potential lines, or vector field.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: Grades 9-12

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:

What happens when a charged object is brought near a neutral conducting object?  Electrons in the conductor are forced (induced) to move about the sphere, as they are repelled by a negatively-charged tube. Once the ground is touched to the sphere, the electrons leave the sphere and move through the ground. Now, the sphere acquires a positive charge.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: High School
Duration: 20 minutes

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 (7)

Activities:

Franklin's second letter about transfer of electrical fluid in Leyden jars is accompanied by descriptions for setting up the experiments in a classroom.

Item Type: Annotated Historical Lab
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: One class period

This item highlights Benjamin Franklin's historic first letter about points and Leyden jar experiments, describing how to set up the labs in the classroom.

Item Type: Annotated Historical Lab
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: One Class Period

This item integrates a third historic Franklin letter with directions on how to construct a flat-plate capacitor and an electrostatic motor.

Item Type: Annotated Historical Lab
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: One Class Period

Franklin's theory of atmospheric electrification is highlighted, with diagrams and annotations to enhance student understanding.

Item Type: Annotated Historical Lab
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: One Class Period

This item highlights Ben Franklin's proposal to experiment with the lightning rod.  Historic text is augmented with detailed diagrams, photos, and editorial explanations.

Item Type: Annotated Historical Lab
Level: Grades 9-12
Duration: One Class Period

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

  Electrostatic Induction (2)

Activities:

This Java simulation from MIT is one of our top choices to model the process of electrostatic induction. It breaks the process down into steps: charge separation within the conductor, grounding of charge, and ungrounding. It gives students an especially rich experience, as they can observe the changing electric field as "grass seeds", electric potential lines, or in a 3D view.

Item Type: Interactive Simulation
Level: High School
Duration: 20-30 minutes

Student Tutorials:

Electrostatic induction is a redistribution of electrical charge in an object. Induction is one way to charge an object (friction or rubbing is another way). The induction process can be confusing to students, and this Physics Classroom tutorial does a terrific job of making it clear. Includes a Q & A set to self-test understanding.

Item Type: Interactive Tutorial
Level: High School Physics
Duration: 1-2 Class Periods