Static Electricity Visualizations and Activities

Static electricity demos and activities can be finicky. Humid air is a demonstration killer. Latex allergy? Forget the “classic” balloon activities. Fortunately there is an array of great static electricity demonstrations, visualizations, and virtual laboratories for your kids to explore with more finding their way online everyday.

“Balloons and Static Electricity” PhET interactive

Balloons and Static Electricity – PhET Simulation

iPad friendly simulation helps students visualize the imbalance that forms in the charge of objects when balloon is rubbed on sweater. Pulling balloon away from sweater and letting go will allow balloon to drift back toward sweater and stick (opposites attract!) By rubbing both balloons to sweater you can move the other balloon around as the same charged objects repel one another. Also demonstrates why balloons will stick to neutral wall (electrons on wall repel away, positive charges on wall remain and attract negatively charged balloon.)

“John Travoltage” PhET interactive

John Travoltage – PhET Simulation

Requires Java and therefore requires your laptop or CPU lab. I recommend projecting this on classroom whiteboard and asking students to make observations about the behavior of the negative charges (illustrated by blue dots that fill John Travolta as he rubs his feet on the rug) and why they make their way toward the surface of his body (same charged objects repel! Electrons want to get away from one another and move to extremities of the body.) Moving John’s finger to metal (conductor) door knob creates an escape point for electrons to flow back to the floor, putting all objects back into charged balance.

National Geographic’s “Make Lightning Strike”

Make Lightning Strike – National GeographicRequires Java and therefore requires your laptop or CPU lab. Good visual representation of charges, the anatomy of a lightning bolt, and facts surrounding lightning strikes and common misunderstandings about lightning.

As I find new resources I am continually updating my Google Documents for teachers to reference. They are shared publicly with all so that teachers beyond Burlington and put them to use! You can find the most updated static electricity resources here. If you have a resource you’d like to share PLEASE leave a comment on this post or the Google Doc and thanks in advance for sharing!

About Sean Musselman

Teacher Dad and Burlington MA Schools K-5 Science and Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator. NSTA Professional Development facilitator and author of "Think Like a Scientist: Investigating Weather and Climate" NSTA Kids ebook.
This entry was posted in 3-5, 6-8, 9-12, Digital Tools. Bookmark the permalink.

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