The Science and Safety of Electricity website is
designed for students in grades 6 through 10. The site uses articles,
experiments, and interactive games to teach students about the
of electricity, and how to use it safely in daily
Most of the site content is appropriate for students in grades
7 and 8, and meets the National Science Standards for those grades.
Some articles and activities will also appeal to 6th graders. Science
concepts and activities designed for older or more advanced students
are identified with a “High Power” symbol. These meet
the National Science Standards for grades 9 and 10.
Please note: Activities marked “GAME” are interactive.
Other activities can be done in the classroom or at home with the
materials listed (electrical components are available from Radio
Shack). Most of the interactive games have some music built in.
To turn the music off, click the speaker icon at the top right of
the screen or turn off the computer speakers altogether.
The site is divided into five major sections of educational content:
- The Body Electric—Electricity and the human body
- World of Wires—The electric distribution system
- Dangerous Waters—Electricity and water
- You’ve Got the Power—Electricity
in the home
- Fire in the Sky—Lightning and storm safety
Each of the major sections has five departments:
- Feature Story
- Do the Safe Thing
- Science Concepts
- Zapped! Activities
- Fantastic Facts
In addition to the major sections, the site contains the following:
- A summary of all the “Do the Safe Thing” safety
tips from the site.
- A section called “Tell Me More About Electricity,” with
detailed information related to electricity
for further study.
- A list of links to pursue various topics in more depth online.
- A Games page with direct links to the three interactive activities
and Trivia Game.
- This Teacher’s Guide.
Ideas for Classroom Use and Further Research
Electric safety tips appear in each section of
the site. For convenience, they also appear gathered together onto
one web page called Do the Safe Thing Summary. Here are some ideas
to help reinforce this safety information:
Have each member of the class choose one safety tip from the
site, do some further study and then make a report to the class
on that tip.
Do a simple art project in which each student picks a safety
tip and makes a drawing to illustrate that safety principle.
Post them in the classroom for a while as safety reminders.
Have students find two or three ways electrical safety
could be improved in their home.
This section explains what electricity is and how it works in
the human body. Science concepts focus on how the flow of electrons
carries electric current, and understanding the difference between
volts, watts, and amps. Safety tips focus on the dangers of electrical
Overview of Activities in The Body Electric:
Keep Your Ion the Ball — This experiment
tests the conductivity of a variety of beverages to see which
ones contain a higher concentration of electrolytes, or salts.
Setup: Make sure students strip enough insulation from the
ends of the wires to allow for good contact with the battery
and the beverages. Remind them to wipe off the tips of the
wires between each test.
Question #3: Students’ answers to the questions will
vary depending on the beverages they choose to test. Students
may think that only salty tasting beverages will contain enough
salts to make the bulb light brightly, but this is not the
case. Any beverage with sodium, potassium, magnesium, and/or
calcium will make the bulb light. Beverages with a higher
concentration of these substances (such as orange juice and
sports drinks) will conduct electricity better and should
make the bulb light up more brightly than those with a lower
concentration (such as water or tea). This may be a good opportunity
to teach students the concept of concentration, which is a
measure of the amount of dissolved substance contained per
unit of volume.
Couch Potato Fitness: Too Good to Be True? —
A research project on the effectiveness of muscle stimulators
for losing weight.
(HP) Nervous Energy — An experiment using
simple materials that simulates how nerve impulses travel from
one neuron to another in the form of electrical signals.
Setup: Arrange the equipment exactly as shown and described.
The experiment will not work unless all the connections are
made correctly. In addition, the LED must line up with the
Question #1. The hardware in this experiment models the parts
involved in conveying nerve impulses from one neuron to another
in the body. The batteries correspond to the neuron cell bodies.
The wires attached to the LED correspond to the axon. The
large LED corresponds to the axon tip. The space between the
LED and the phototransistor corresponds to the synapse. The
phototransistor and the wires attached to it correspond to
a dendrite. And the electricity corresponds to the nerve impulse.
batteries = neuron cell bodies
wires = axons
large LED = axon tip
space between the LEDs = synapse
phototransistor = dendrite
electricity = nerve impulse
Question #2. Just as a neurotransmitter is released by an
axon tip and must cross the synapse to be received by a dendrite,
so light from the LED must jump a gap in the circuit to travel
through the air to the phototransistor.
Question #3. The buzzer was used in this demonstration to
verify that the signal was actually received by the phototransistor.
- Question #4. Students’ answers will vary regarding what
the buzzer represents in the body. The buzzer is like the brain,
which takes note of a stimulus. It could also be thought of
as the body’s physical response to a stimulus.
Questions for Review/Discussion for The Body Electric:
Feature Story: How does the wire from Johnny
Ray’s head allow him to play music in his computer?
(It carries electrical impulses from an electrode in his
brain directly to the computer.) What are some other
possible uses for this discovery? (Other people with strokes
or paralysis could use it.)
Science Concepts: What is the difference
between a proton and an electron? (Protons are positively
charged; electrons are negatively charged.) How do tiny
electrons carry electricity? (When electrons get “bumped”
from atom to atom in a conductor, electric current flows through
HP Science Concepts: What are some ways
to help us understand and remember the difference between
volts, watts, and amps? (Volts are a measure of the pressure
of electricity, like the pressure of water in a garden hose.
Amps are a measure of the amount of electricity, like the
amount of water flowing through a hose. Watts are a measure
of the work that can be done by electricity per second. Watts
are a function of both the volts and the amps, just like the
work you can do with a stream of water from a hose depends
on both the amount of water coming out of the hose and the
pressure with which it comes out.)
Do the Safe Thing: What is likely to happen
to you if you contact electricity from a household appliance?
(Heart attack or muscle contractions that lock you to
the source of electricity.) What is likely to happen
if you contact electricity from a power line? (Fatal shock
Further Research for The Body Electric:
Are there other people besides Johnny Ray who have electrodes
in their brains that help them work computers? Find one of
them and write a report about that person.
What sorts of substances have loosely attached electrons?
What does their atomic structure look like? What is it about
these substances that make them good electrical conductors?
Use the atomic diagram in “What Is Electricity?”
as point of departure.
Do some library or Internet research to find an example
of someone who survived an electric shock from a power line
or an electric appliance. How did the incident happen? How
could it have been prevented?
This section explains how electricity travels through power lines
and home electrical systems. Science concepts focus on circuits
and the difference between AC and DC current. Safety tips focus
on overhead and underground power lines.
Overview of Activities in World of Wires:
Who Can Resist? GAME — This game teaches
students how to build a simple electric circuit and then test
a number of common objects to see if they are conductors or insulators.
Once the students have played online, it might be interesting
to get the necessary parts and build a real circuit in the
classroom. Use three pieces of 18- to 22-gauge wire with the
ends stripped, a 6-volt battery, and a 6.3-volt screw-base
lightbulb with matching base. Connect them as shown in the
game. (In lieu of the lightbulb and base, you can cut up
a string of mini-holiday lights and connect them to the battery,
but be sure to discard the remaining lights when done for
- Have each student bring in at least one object they think
is a conductor and one they think is an insulator. An Altoids
box is an interesting object: the painted outside is an insulator
but the metallic inside is a conductor!
(HP) Electromagic — Your local utility
delivers electricity to your home, but where does the utility
company get the electricity? This activity explains electricity
Setup: Make sure the compass and the nail are at least a
meter apart; otherwise the magnet will directly affect the
Question #2: When students touch the ends of the galvanometer wire
to the terminals on the D battery, they should notice that
the needle will turn in one direction. This is caused by the
direct current from the battery.
Question #3. The current is direct current (DC); the needle moved
in one direction only, just as DC current flows in one direction.
Question #4: When the magnets are moved back and forth over the nail,
the needle should move in one direction and then the other.
Question #5: Students should be able to conclude that the current
is flowing in one direction and then the other; thus, it is
alternating current (AC).
- Question #6: A stronger magnet or more magnets would make the needle
swing farther or faster. So would more coils of wire around
Questions for Review/Discussion for World of Wires:
Feature Story: Why are condors and other
large birds killed when they land on power poles, while smaller
birds are not? (Large birds’ wings can contact two
power lines at the same time, creating a short circuit for
electricity to flow through them. The same thing can happen
if they contact a power line and power pole at the same time.
Small birds do not contact anything but the power line they
sit on, and so electricity stays in the line rather than flowing
through them.) What is being done to prevent endangered
condors from dying this way? (Aversion training teaches
birds that will someday be released from captivity to avoid
power poles. The birds get a small shock when they land on
a simulated power pole.)
Science Concepts: What is a circuit?
(A loop for electricity to travel on.)
HP Science Concepts: What is electromagnetic
induction? (Using magnets to generate electric current
in a wire.) How does the process work? (Giant coils
of wire are moved past magnets. The pull of the magnets causes
the electrons in the metal wire to move, creating electricity.)
Do the Safe Thing: Do you ever use ladders
or long tools when working outside around your home? What
precautions should you take to stay safe? (Answers will
vary; precautions should focus on keeping all tools and equipment
at least 10 feet away from any power line, including the line
that leads from the power pole to the home.)
Further Research for World of Wires:
Research other efforts under way around the country to protect
birds and other wildlife from dangerous electric power lines.
Learn more about AC and DC current. Why is AC current so
much more dangerous to contact?
Find out how utility line workers protect themselves when
working around power lines. What type of clothing, vehicles,
and equipment do they use? What type of training do they receive?
This section focuses on water and electricity. Science concepts
focus on how to put out an electrical fire, and what a ground fault
is. Safety tips focus on the dangers of mixing electricity with
water and how to avoid this in the home.
Overview of Activities for Dangerous Waters:
You’re Grounded! — This project
teaches about ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) and then
asks the students to search their home or school for GFCIs and
perform a simple test to make sure they are working.
(HP) Famous Duo Splits Up — This activity
shows how electrolysis works. Using test tubes and simple ingredients,
students can separate the hydrogen and oxygen atoms of water molecules,
producing hydrogen and oxygen gases.
Question #4: The test tube that contains more gas will be readily
apparent; it is the one that has the largest air space at
the top of the tube. The tube that contains hydrogen gas is
the one that has the most gas in it. The tube that contains
oxygen gas has less (about half as much).
Question #5: Theoretically, another way to speed this reaction would
be to use more electricity (not recommended).
Questions for Review/Discussion for Dangerous Waters:
Feature Story: What are the different ways
to light an outdoor swimming pool? (Wet niche lighting
and fiber optic lighting.) How can it be safe to have
electric lightbulbs underwater? (All the parts of the
lighting system are kept dry and well insulated from the water.)
What kind of lighting have you noticed in pools you have visited?
(Answers will vary.)
Science Concepts: What should you do if
an electrical appliance catches fire? (Use a Class C fire
extinguisher to put it out.) What could happen if you
throw water on it? (You could be shocked.) Why is
that? (Water conducts electricity. Any electricity still
flowing through the appliance can travel up the stream of
water and shock you.)
HP Science Concepts: What does “grounded”
mean when speaking about electricity? (Touching the ground
or something in contact with the ground.) What are some
ways you could be grounded? (Answers will vary. Make sure
students know they can be grounded not only when standing
directly on the ground, but when touching or standing on something
in contact with the ground: holding or standing on a ladder,
touching plumbing pipes, standing on the cement slab floor
of a garage, standing on the sidewalk, climbing in a tree,
Do the Safe Thing: What is the safest way
to use electricity in areas near water? (Make sure the
appliance is plugged into a ground fault circuit interrupter,
also called a GFCI. These devices monitor the flow of electricity
in a circuit and if any is escaping the circuit, they quickly
shut off power to prevent serious shock. GFCIs should be used
with appliances in bathrooms, near kitchen sinks, and outdoors.)
Further Research for Dangerous Waters:
Find some stories about people who have been injured or
killed by mixing water and electricity. Examples: stepping
in a puddle with a fallen power line in it, or using a hair
dryer in the bathtub and dropping it in the water. Why were
these actions so dangerous? What lessons can be learned? (Use
the Internet, library, or personal interviews to find these
What are some things you can do around your home to make
it safer regarding water and electricity? Report to the class
about a safety measure that you have taken at home.
This section talks about both electricity as it
relates to our home environment. Science concepts focus on how
utilities bill for power, and the importance of building codes
tips focus on inspecting the home for electric hazards.
Overview of Activities in You’ve Got the Power:
Breaker, Breaker! GAME. This interactive activity
teaches about amps, watts, and what happens when you overload
a circuit. The goal of the game is to try to get as many appliances
as possible running without blowing a circuit. It has a good “under
the radar” message about conserving energy, since the higher-drawing
appliances tend to trip the circuit.
If you print out the amps calculation sheet ahead of time
and make copies for all students, you will have a head start
on the game. Students can take the time to do the calculations
before starting to play.
Encourage students to play the game more than once to see
if they can learn from their mistakes and get a better score.
- Follow up with a discussion of whether students have ever
blown a fuse or tripped the circuit breaker in their home. Which
appliances did they have running at the time?
(HP) Save a Watt. This activity is a long-term
homework assignment that teaches students about reading energy
bills and conserving energy and money!
Make sure students understand why they should compare the
same three months of this year’s and last year’s
bills—so they are comparing periods that have roughly
the same weather patterns and family habits.
Make sure students are comparing actual energy used, not
dollar costs. Help them look for these totals, which will
show up in kWh and therms used.
In some cases students may find that even though their household
energy use went down for the months they saved energy compared
to those months in the prior year, their bills went up due
to increased energy costs.
Some students may find that despite their energy conservation
efforts they were not able to reduce household energy use
compared to last year. Solving this mystery will take some
detective work. Have students think carefully about the activities
in their home that might have contributed to this. For example,
if students had more people living in their home or visiting
in the current year period, that means more energy was used
to run dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, and water
heaters for hot showers. If the current year period was a
lot hotter or colder than the prior year period, that means
more energy was used to run the air conditioner or heater
for longer periods of times or at higher settings.
Questions for Review/Discussion for You’ve Got the Power:
Feature Story: What kind of technology
or new appliances would you like in your home to make your
life easier, safer, or more fun? (Answers will vary.)
Science Concepts: How is electricity measured?
(Kilowatt-hours, or kWh, which is 1000 watts used for one
HP Science Concepts: Why are building codes
important? (These codes make sure buildings are constructed
and repaired correctly. They ensure a building is safe for
the people who use it.)
Do the Safe Thing: When was the last time
you or your family members checked the cords on your electric
lamps and appliances for cracks or worn spots? Do this as
a homework assignment and report your findings to the class.
(Answers will vary.)
Further Research for You’ve Got the Power:
Interview an electrician. What kind of training is required?
What kind of licensing? Has she or he ever been shocked? How?
What are some building codes in your community’s building
department that help ensure electrical system safety? Why
are these codes important?
Look at your home heating and cooling equipment, water
heater, clothes dryer, and oven. Which run on electricity?
If your parents bought these appliances, talk
with them to find out why they chose the models they did.
What features were important to them?
This section is about lightning, storm safety, and static electricity.
Science Concepts focus on static electricity, and theories about
the relationship of lightning to the origin of life (HP). Safety
tips focus on what to do in a lightning storm.
Overview of Activities in Fire in the Sky:
Charge It! Static electricity is the buildup
of electric charge on an object. In this activity, students build
up electric charges on balloons and investigate the forces that
they exert on other objects.
Setup: This activity will work best on a cold, dry day.
Question #1: When students hold the balloon near their hair, the
hair should fly up toward the balloon.
Question #2: Students should be able to conclude that unlike charges
attract. This may be a good opportunity to discuss the common
phrase, “opposites attract.”
Question #3: As you move one balloon towards another balloon that
is sitting on a table, the balloons repel each other. This
is because the balloons have like charges (in this case, both
have a negative charge).
Question #4: Just like the two balloons, the two strands of hair
would repel each other. This is because they are both positively
Question #5: Like charges repel.
Question #6: The paper sticks to the balloon.
- Question #7: The electrons, which are negatively charged, moved to
the other end of the paper, leaving the positive charges closest
to the balloon. This is why the paper was attracted to the negatively
(HP) A Little Lightning — Electric charges
can build up on an object, but an object doesn’t stay charged
forever. In this activity, students build up and discharge electric
charges on objects. The activity simulates lightning by producing
miniature “lightning bolts.”
Setup: Just like the activity above, this one works best
on a cold, dry day. It is best if done in a room that’s
Question #2: Students should see little sparks where their finger
contacts the balloon. They should hear crackling noises.
Question #3: In this activity, electric charge builds up when the
balloon is rubbed against hair and picks up extra electrons.
This charge gets discharged when you bring your finger close
to the balloon, because then the excess electrons on the balloon
jump back to your body.
Questions for Review /Discussion for Fire in the Sky:
- Feature Story: Talk about a lightning storm
that you experienced. What happened? Has anyone in the class
ever seen lightning strike something like a tree or building?
(Answers will vary)
- Science Concepts: What is a common example
of static electricity? (Your body can gather static electric
charges by walking across a carpet. Then when you touch a doorknob
or other conductive object, you make a spark and feel a small
“shock” as the charges discharge or move to that
- HP Science Concepts: Is it possible lightning
was involved in the formation of life? How could that be? Talk
about it. (Discussions will vary. Emphasize that there are
many theories about how life on Earth began, and this is just
one of them.)
- Do the Safe Thing: What’s the best
way to stay safe when lightning is approaching? (Get indoors.
Stay away from windows. Because lightning can travel through
plumbing pipes and electrical and telephone wiring, stay away
from tubs, sinks, anything electrical, and corded phones. )
Further Research for Fire in the Sky:
Find out the frequency of lightning storms in your community.
Has anyone in your community been struck by lightning? What
were the circumstances? How was the person affected? How could
the strike have been prevented?
During the buildup of static electricity, when electrons
move from your hair to a balloon (or from the rug to your
socks), does your hair (or your socks) maintain a positive
charge? How does it get its electrons back?
This is a trivia game that tests what the students have learned
on the website. There are questions from each of the main six content
sections of the site. If the user gets a low score at the end, she
or he is directed back to the site to learn more. Have students
play the game once, and note their score. Then have students study
the site again, play again, and see if their scores have improved.