Primary Physics Training Day on Electricity

Dulwich College Thursday 1st November 2018

The Ogden Trust aims to increase the uptake of physics for all at post-16, particularly for those from under-represented groups. The Trust supports schools, projects and programmes that are committed to enhancing physics teaching and learning.

Through collaborative partnerships, enrichment and enhancement activities, working with families, developing career awareness and supporting teacher CPD, the Trust wants more students to develop a physics identity – to believe they can be a scientist and to see what studying physics can mean to them.

The priority audiences for the Trust include teachers without a physics background, teachers and students in remote rural areas or in areas of social deprivation, and students on free school meals.

Introduction: The Primary Physics Professional Learning course (P3L) from The Ogden Trust is delivered through CPD days hosted by independent schools. P3L is themed in a four-year cycle, to cover the key concepts of the physics primary curriculum. In 2018 the topic was Electricity. The course is ideal for subject leaders wishing to develop and enhance the profile of science within their school or wider network, and those new to the role of subject leader. P3L offers teachers the chance to participate in a day of CPD to support physics teaching in primary schools, with a box of resources to take away at the end of the day.

I am a trained secondary school physics teacher but I decided to go on the course to see what sort of things went on in the primary sector. As a supply teacher I had to pay for the course myself and it was the best £50 I had spent in a long time.

What the course made me realise is that we secondary school teachers are so fixated on exams that the joy of learning can be lost. It is depressing to have classes of year 7s excited to be doing science and having them lose this excitement quite quickly.

Primary science seemed to be such fun.

Workshop 1: Exploring electricity in the early years and key stage 1

The aim of this section of the course was to spark children’s natural curiosity with a range of games and resources, developing scientific knowledge and understanding.

Key concepts – Working scientifically:

WS1e using observations and ideas to suggest answers to questions

WS1a asking simple questions and recognising that they can be answered in different ways

WS1d Identifying and classifying

Key concepts – Early learning goals

ELG 01 Understanding – Children answer “how” and “why” questions about their experience and in response to stories or events

ELG 14 The world – Children know about the similarities and differences in relation to places, objects, materials and living things

Suggested resources included things that you wouldn’t automatically link with electricity:

The lumberjack’s Beard. The story is not about electricity but the idea here was to see how the lumberjack used electricity

How did he make his pancakes? How did he light his cabin?

When Oscar the kitten finds a tractor in a field and accidentally turns on the windshield wipers, he is full of questions about electricity. Luckily, Bird knows the answers! With the help of his friend, Oscar finds out how electricity is made and stored, which machines need electricity to work — and why we always need to be careful around wires, batteries, plugs, and sockets.

These books show how many devices require electricity to work


Electric circuit games

A relay of items that use electricity – a good excuse to get lots of toys out

20 questions game about an object that needs electricity to work (Good for verbal reasoning)

Create a beard through static electricity


Workshop 2: Cosmic Circuits

The practical workshop looked at the link between static and current electricity. Key concepts of circuit building were looked at as were troubleshooting strategies for problem circuits.

Key physics idea:

Current is a flow of charge; Current is the same at each point in a series (single loop) circuit; Materials that allow current to flow through them are called conductors (all metals plus graphite); Materials that do not allow current to flow through them are called insulators ; Potential difference (voltage is the term that is acceptable at primary school) is a measure of the amount of energy per unit charge

As you add more cells to a series circuit you increase the voltage and the bulbs get brighter. As you add more bulbs to a series circuit you increase the resistance to current flow, the current decreases and the bulbs are dimmer

Children find electricity “hard” because it is conceptual

A common misconception is that only one wire is needed to make a circuit work

Static electricity requires friction to remove electrons or add them to an insulator. Hair and rubber are good materials.

Cut up a plastic bag into ribbons. Charging the pieces up causes them to repel each other an electric field keeps a piece of foil in the air


Charging the coke tin can cause the aluminium strips to repel each other

Workshop 3: Working scientifically

Key ideas:

Children need to be taught how scientific ideas have changed over time – till roll timeline, washing lines and card games are really helpful when doing this

Learning about characters from the past and how through working scientifically they change our ideas about the world around us is a great opportunity for children to develop research skills. Webquests are a useful way to scaffold children’s researching through the internet

Children need to be taught to use evidence to support their arguments when they are both agreeing and disagreeing

There are always opportunities for children to apply their mathematical skills and knowledge to science ideas e.g. plotting graphs

This resource has been developed for the Ogden Primary Physics Professional Learning (P3L) programme and is part of the CPD course on electricity. Looking at how ideas about electricity have changed over time helps children develop their understanding of how science works as well as enabling them to see the relevance of their learning in real world situations. There are of course thousands of events, scientists and inventors involved in the full history of electricity, but this activity helps children to explore a very small sample of significant ideas and discoveries. Taking time to think about how our ideas about science have changed over time, by exploring the work of notable and current scientists, provides many opportunities for children to develop their science capital.

When looking at the historical timeline of how our ideas about electricity have changed over the centuries, the story begins in 600BC when Thales of Miletus discovered static electricity by rubbing amber. Thales was a Greek philosopher living in Asia Minor (now Turkey). He was one of the first philosophers to break from the use of mythology to explain the world around him and instead used science to make sense of the phenomena he observed. After this initially discovery, the next significant event in the electricity timeline is over 2,000 years later which is where our timeline begins – 1600AD with Queen Elizabeth I on the throne.

I had a go at researching somebody; I am ashamed to say, that I had never heard of before;


Mildred Dresselhaus

Born in the Bronx, USA

Born November 11, 1930 and died February 20, 2017

Her most significant discovery was the lithium-ion battery

“Working scientifically skills” included asking a lot of questions

Her discovery was important because it led to rechargeable batteries

She was one of the first female physics professors at MIT

Some of the following sheets have not copied well. I am sure that the Ogden Trust will let you have copies if you ask

The Age of Electrical Invention



Why does the graph have this shape?

Workshop 4: Creative Currents

Key Physics Ideas:

The key concept of electricity could be taught using a creative approach and through embedding the skill of “working scientifically” with the learners


Build a scribblebot;

Investigate conductive dough;

Squishy circuit caterpillars – mini electronic circuits from play-doh! Use different coloured play-dough, different coloured LED lights, goggle eyes and straws so that the children can make ‘play-dough monsters’ how they want.

Play-doh is a salt dough so it conducts electricity and can be used to make play doh circuits. Plasticine is an insulator so can be used to separate sections of the play-doh.

Play-doh is a fun and very low cost way to learn about circuits. In the circuit use components called Light Emitting Diode (LED). These are quite easy and inexpensive to get from online stores or electronics shops. They can be used to bridge the plasticine regions of the caterpillars. Light emitting diodes light up when electricity flows through them (like light bulbs). They only let electricity flow through them in one direction, so if you put them in the wrong way round, they will not light up.


Make a fruit battery


Conductors and insulators investigations using a “Cosmic Ball”





Applying: You should never place metal objects into toasters. Can you explain why?

Why do nursery schools use child safety covers on main sockets?

Water can be a good conductor of electricity. List some examples of when this could be dangerous


Get creative with conductive paint

Explore conducting materials with a Makey Makey

Key Physics links:

Draw a circuit diagram for each of the activities; Identify the key parts of the circuit such as cell and the different components; Discuss why conductors are used to construct circuits; Explain why a complete circuit is needed

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