Electro dough is a great way to introduce lessons on circuits to younger learners. It is such a tactile way to get involved with building and engages the creative mind, placing more emphasis on creative play and hands-on exploration. Another advantage is that is it less fiddly to handle than some traditional electronics components – especially for very young children.
Many of the kits and online tutorials come with recipes on how to make conductive dough which are all very helpful but for our activity we decided to fast track the process by using some of our Play-Doh packs we already had to hand. This is a useful hack if you are less keen on the messy mixing aspect of making the dough yourself. On the other hand many children respond well to the hands-on mixing and getting your hands dirty activities. It all depends on the young learners and their respective ages, abilities and preferences.
If you don’t already have basic electronics supplies like wires, clips, LEDs etc then the kit we used for testing helpfully comes with all the parts you’ll need. The one we tested for this activity was the Electro Dough DIY Kit from Technology Will Save Us, a great little kit to get you started.
As you can see from our example photos play dough is such an approachable medium and one which children are already so familiar with. This reduces the barrier to entry with an exercise introducing them to the concepts of electronic circuits. There is plenty of capacity to initiate the project with creative modelling exercises and maybe some storytelling ideas – themes around which the tasks can be based. Anything which can help to make STEM engaging for individuals with less of a technical or engineering make up can only assist in broadening the apparent appeal of STEM subjects. That’s why we here at STEAMship love the term STEAM. Introducing a creative aspect by fitting Art into the STEM curriculum expands the subjects capacity to engage a wider audience.
The size and relative clumsiness of the dough means you have to experiment with your circuits and this process of trial and error or tinkering is a great way to encourage learning through experimentation. Its easy to end up with short circuits and everyone can participate in the process of analysis by easily pulling apart and modifying the circuits.
Once the basic concepts are mastered you can move on to introducing further principles of electronic engineering such as switches, serial circuits, parallel circuits, conductors and insulators (other materials which can serve to solve design problems but also expand the look and feel of your sculpture circuits). You could introduce plastic, metal, wood and paper objects and experiment with how they affect the operation of the circuits. Also consider the idea of testing and recording by noting down how various approaches and materials contribute to the experiments and then encourage the discussion and evaluation of these results.
Consider also the theatrical and performance aspect of the activities. Is it possible to encourage a storytelling phase towards the end of the activities – our sculpture circuit, for example, turned out to be a hungry monster who was rather partial to an ice cream in a cone. By incorporating these fun elements of creativity into the design we used LED’s or light emitting diodes in our monster’s eyes and the ice cream cone formed the basis of a simple switch. Thus our little monster’s eyes light up with joy each time it takes a lick of it’s delicious snack. Even coming up with these ideas and then trying to tie together all the elements into a successful circuit design presented it’s own challenges for example where the components would sit, how two isolate parts to make the electricity flow where needed, how to avoid short circuits etc.
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We used the very impressive Electro Dough DIY Kit from Technology Will Save Us. Available to buy on Amazon via the following link…
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