Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

TPiB: Squishy Circuits

“I’m going to show you two things you can’t do – these things are dangerous and can destroy the materials, which means no more fun. Then you guys can do whatever you want with this stuff.”

“Anything we want? Like, there’s no instructions?”
“Well, I have some instructions if you want them. They’re over on the counter. But it’s up to you.”

“Woah. Cool.”

Giving teens the freedom to explore and watching them all take their own path in a scientific investigation was the best part of this program. The low cost, innovative approach, and flexibility were pretty great too.

Meet Squishy Circuits. Here’s how it works.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5M3Dow20KlM]
Squishy Circuits is a way of safely and easily playing with and learning about electricity by using homemade play dough. The dough is simple to make and costs pennies. The other components can be bought on the cheap at a hardware store or Radio Shack, or purchased together for $25 in a reusable kit.

I ran this program with my illustrious Coding Club, who usually just work on computers. They loved having a hands-on project, and were flat out thrilled to be given free reign.

The basics are simple. In addition to two types of homemade dough, you need a power source, some wires, and something to show that the electricity is flowing – an LED, a motor, or a buzzer. The two types of dough figure into the project not just for building structures or shapes. One is conductive, and one in insulating. This allows you to build series and parallel circuits, create short circuits, and even make batteries. All of the recipes and details are on the University of St. Thomas site, available as easily printable PDFs so you can have them on hand for kids to explore on their own.
The best part of this for me was seeing the three teens each take on a different project and work independently — and then help each other solve the problems they had encountered by using the knowledge they gained in their own explorations! 
I come to this with very little technology background and no prior experience working with circuits and it went very smoothly. Even if STEM programs are intimidating to you, this is definitely one you can handle. Give it a shot, and check out the Robot Test Kitchen as we add more reviews of electronics and robotics projects for youth and teen librarians.

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