Static electricity was the focus of this week’s science lessons in Room 411. One of the few good things about winter (aside from an occasional snow day) is the ability to create a lot of static electricity. We put this ability to good use in my room with our annual Roller Can Races.
I Overcome My Fear
This science experiment is one of my all-time favorites…and that’s even with my wholly unreasonable and 100% irrational fear of balloons. Yes. Balloons. I’m just not a fan of sudden and loud popping sounds – drives me crazy. Well, a few years ago, I decided to get over myself and do this experiment with my students. Where there’s a will, there’s a way, and I’ve certainly found a way!
Static Electricity Lesson
After watching a Bill Nye video about static electricity, and reading about the concept from our online textbooks, students were ready to create and use static electricity themselves. Here’s what we did:
- Give each student a balloon. Fortunately, I teach 4th graders, so they can both blow up the balloon and even tie it off themselves. 🙂
- Each student also needs an empty, clean soda can. Usually, I’m a planner about every detail of a lesson, but I’ve never had a problem asking students to bring in a can. There are usually one or two students who can bring in a whole class supply of cans.
- Rub the balloon on your head to generate static electricity.
- Hold the balloon a few inches from the can and slowly move the balloon. The static electricity will move the can with the balloon.
Here’s a link to a website with a full set of instructions and illustrations.
Roller Can Races
After practicing for a few minutes, I invite students to participate in races. Due to the size of my classroom, I can only have two students race at a time, so through a process of elimination and multiple races, one winner finally emerges. If you do this, be sure to invite students to participate – not everyone enjoys the thrill of competition. We then pop the balloons (while I cover my ears!) and clean up any trash.
The Bigger Picture
The purpose of learning about static electricity, however, isn’t just to have fun with balloons. I then show students a short YouTube video of what could happen when filling up your car’s gas tank if there’s a spark from static electricity. It really gets their attention! To close the lesson, we write a short paragraph about static electricity.