Thursday, November 14, 2013

Tinkering with LED lights and pipe cleaners

Recently we have been exploring creating simple circuitry tinkering projects. Last week in a 4th grade class we explored a project using pipe cleaners and LED lights. I had initially intended to use electrical wire but thought, why wouldn't colorful pipe cleaners be conductive? After stripping the ends off of two pipe cleaners and testing them out, I realized that they were conductive and the cool thing is that you can keep adding pipe cleaners to the structure and the circuit will not break. Unless you cut off the fuzz, the pipe cleaners stays insulated. In a google search I saw that there were several Instructable projects using pipe cleaners and circuitry: light up necklace and light up ornaments.
It was also cool to find this Stanford graduate project using pipe cleaners in a DIY kit to introduce  high school students to digital electronics: Logic Bites

MATERIALS FOR EACH STUDENT: 2 pipe cleaners with ends stripped of fuzz, five additional pipe cleaners, construction paper, tape, small rubber band, a disc battery (from IKEA store), one LED light with anode and cathode legs curled. Colored pencils optional. (more materials info here)

The simple circuit: two pipe cleaners (with ends stripped of fuzz), one LED light (with legs curled), two paper clips, rubber band and disc battery.
  1. Show samples of Alexander Calder's wire art for inspiration.
  2. Students check that their light works with their battery by having it straddle the battery. Set the battery aside.
  3. Students wrap a  raw wire end of a pipe cleaner to a paper clip. They take their second pipe cleaner and attach a paper clip in the same way. They should have two pipe cleaners, each with a paper clip foot. They should double check that they wrapped the wire tightly around the paper clips and that the wire of the pipe cleaner is touching the wire of the paper clip.
  4. Now for the LED light attachment. The other end of each pipe cleaner is wrapped around one loop of the LED light (the anode and cathode legs need to be curled with pliers to create the loops). The LED light now looks like it has two pipe cleaner legs with paper clip feet.
  5. Students test out the circuit by touching the paper clips at the same time to different sides of the battery. 
  6. At this point they have a working circuit. They attach one paper clip foot to the battery with a rubber band or tape. The other paper clip foot is the on/off switch that they tap against the battery to turn on.
 Students now pick up extra five pipe cleaners and a sheet of paper to turn their circuit into wire art.
 More photos of the student work here: Tinkering with pipe cleaners & LED lights 
LED light on.
The on/off switch

a clown with light up hat, a  student's rabbit with light up nose, and a student's blue tree with light up star on top.
A student's light up flower

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