I thought I would post a few labs or activities that have been big winners with my students in engagement and learning, whether or not I designed them. This one comes via Cornell’s Center for Nanoscale Systems Institute for Physics Teachers (CIPT). (Do a find for “foutan”* on the page.) There are parts lists, lab handouts, and teacher notes available there.

Here’s a hot tip from the author, Jim Overhiser: short dowels on the corners (as pictured) make for good stacking.

Update: Here’s a nice redesign they’ve made at Cornell.

**Handout**

*What came before:*

- Students lit a bulb with a battery and a wire
- Students dissected a bulb to trace the loop
- Students set up series and parallel circuits to observe brightness of bulbs and generalize rules

*What they learn with this activity:*

- Utility of circuit diagrams
- Gain comfort with diagrams
- Gain comfort with series and parallel
- Trouble-shooting, such as finding that two bulbs are equally bright — are they in series or in parallel? Unscrew to test.

*Why I love it:*

- Lighting the bulbs is an engaging puzzle that
*motivates* the need for circuit diagrams.
- Students are tracing paths on the diagrams, reinforcing a good model for current.
- Instant feedback and revision (The bulb didn’t light! Try again…)
- Students come out with good feel for series and parallel.
- Boards can be used in other settings for quick set-up of many simple circuits; students like the quick usability.
**Students loved this and were ***wildly productive* for a solid 90 minutes.

*Some notes:*

- Some students will want to approach this somewhat randomly — flick several switches, then look up what’s lit. Watch for and cheerfully disarm this practice; they won’t learn much that way.
- The leads from the 9V are usually the least hardy components. I change the batteries.
- Not everyone has to finish the first page.
- There are plenty of sophisticated puzzles in the mix. They are not in order of difficulty.
- I projected the diagram on the white board, and students would come up with markers to work through together, sometimes across groupings, on the challenging ones.

*How will you know if students are applying a viable conceptual model for current?*

- Have them rank these circuits according to the brightness of bulb A. (Note that we do all this before introducing
*any* formulae; they come later.)

*Foutan: The person (a former grad student at Cornell?) who designed this ingenious circuit. Pronounced like the bed, futon.

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