Brief Description:

Students experiment with static electricity and test to see if they can use it to pick up various objects.

Grades: 3-6

Time: 1 hour

Concepts: static electricity, protons, electrons, friction


Lesson Objectives:

  • Students will be introduced to the concept of static electricity
  • Students will understand how electrons are transferred from one object to another via friction
  • Students will understand how the addition/loss of these electrons affects attraction and repulsion

Materials:

  • Balloons
  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Paper
  • Paperclips
  • String
  • Glitter
  • Aluminum foil

Procedure

  1. Introduce static electricity. Static electricity is a stationary electric charge, typically produced by friction, that causes sparks, crackling, or the attraction of dust or hair. Can you think of some examples?
    1. Sticking a balloon to your hair.
    2. Shocking someone after walking across a carpeted room.
  2. To explain how static electricity occurs, we must first explain the nature of matter. Everything is made up of atoms, the smallest unit of matter. Atoms are so microscopically small that we would need to magnify it 500,000x in order to be able to see an atom. Atoms are made up of protons (+ charge), neutrons (no charge), and electrons (- charge). Protons and neutrons are held together tightly at the nucleus (or center) of the atom, but electrons can move freely between atoms.
  1. Friction moves electrons from one place to another, thus creating an imbalance of positive and negative particles, making the atom (or object as a whole) positively or negatively charged. Opposites attract and like charges repel.
  2. By rubbing a balloon against your hair, you charge the balloons, meaning it gains electrons and a negative charge. Holding it near a neutral object will make the charges in the object move.
    1. Depending on the material, more or less electrons will be able to move on that object, thus influencing whether or not you will be able to pick it up with the balloon.
  3. Students will each be given a balloon and various materials. They must charge the balloon and then test to see if they can pick up the various objects. Using the worksheet below, students will record their observations.
  4. Discuss with class why some materials can be picked up and others cannot.

Extensions and Modifications:

If the classroom happens to have a sink, an interesting demonstration would be to show how static electricity affects a stream of water (it will repel it). If the classroom does not have a sink, you could use a funnel or some type of vessel with a small hole and a bucket of some kind to catch the water as it falls.

 

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