Four lessons that are actually fun and educational

If like a lot of parents, you were forced into teaching duty in late spring, we don’t blame you if you’re sick of textbooks, lesson plans, and everything else you had to deal with.

Now that virtual school is out for the summer, you may be looking forward to temporarily (or permanently) hanging up your chalk. But that doesn’t mean your kids have to stop learning. We’ve got some experiments they can do that are fun and will help teach them about electricity. The best part is that you can use stuff you probably already have around the house.

Salt and pepper separation

This one’s simple. Basically, all you do is put some salt and pepper in a bowl and mix them together. Have your kid run a plastic comb through their hair then hold the comb over the bowl.

The comb will attract the pepper and cause it to jump out of the bowl. To make it a little more fun, you can also use a balloon with a face drawn onto it so the pepper can make a “beard.”

Why this works: Running that comb (or balloon) on hair gives it a negative charge, aka static electricity. The result is an attraction to a neutrally charged item, which in this instance, is the pepper. (It attracts both the salt and pepper, but more so the pepper because it’s lighter.)

Water bending

Another fun use of static electricity is using it to bend water. For this experiment, you just need to again charge a comb or balloon. Then turn on your kitchen faucet to get a small flow of water. Holding the comb or balloon close to the water will cause it to bend.

Why this works: When the comb or balloon is rubbed on hair, negatively charged particles are created. The water has both positively- and negatively charged particles. When the comb or balloon moves toward the stream, it attracts the water’s positively charged particles.

Electrified cornstarch

Do the kids want even more static electricity amusement? Try this one. Put about 1/4 cup of cornstarch and 1/4 cup of vegetable oil into a bowl and stir them together until it thickens. Take your balloon (and if it’s wet and/or covered in pepper, perhaps blow up another one) and rub it on somebody’s hair. Scoop up some of the cornstarch mixture in a spoon and hold the balloon close to it. It will start moving toward the balloon. If you put the balloon close enough, it will actually jump on it.

Why this works: Again, this is all about electrons. The new electrons you’ve added to the balloon have a negative charge. Because the cornstarch has both negative and positive electrons (therefore, it’s neutral), the negative attracts the positive. And because it’s light – like the pepper – it will be moved.

Penny battery

Making a homemade battery is probably a lot easier than you think. All you need is about five pennies, paper towels, lemon juice, and sandpaper.

The first thing you’ll want to do is sand down the pennies on one side to reveal their zinc inner core. Cut the paper towels into small squares and soak them in the lemon juice for about five minutes.

When they’re ready, take a penny zinc-side up and then put a paper towel square on it. Alternate pennies and paper towels until you’ve used all the pennies. That’s it, you’ve created a battery. If you have a little LED, this will let you see that it works. Another way to do this is to use both silver (really zinc) coins, actual copper coins, and vinegar.

Why this works: This is an example of a wet cell battery. Most batteries consist of two types of metals that are separated by an acid. When a chemical reaction occurs between the metals, this creates an electric current that will keep flowing until one of the metals gets used up.

While electricity can certainly be fun, it can also be dangerous. So if you’re experiencing any issues with the system in your home or business, get in touch with the pros at Universal Electrical.