Virtual Circuits

Virtual Circuits

Now that I’m teaching 5th grade, I’m immersed in a whooooole new world of math and science instruction. And I should note, I’m LOVING it! This week we got to tackle electrical circuits, so my kiddos were studying how electric currents move and discovered what kinds of materials conduct electricity.

Something I’ve noticed this year is that the really good stuff in science either requires a lot of resources, a lot of prep, or a lot of both of those things. And unfortunately, I’m a public school teacher on a public school budget so I’m limited. (Note: We do have a great science department who does their best with the budget they have! But I’m one of those who always wants to do MORE…)

Creating a Virtual Circuit

This is where the PhET simulation comes in. (Learn more about PhET here) After a little experimenting with batteries and alligator clips, we took our circuit knowledge to the next level.

The simulator work space is drag-and-drop, so it’s easy for students to use

Using the FREE PhET Circuit Construction simulator, students were able to design their own circuits using a variety of materials that we don’t normally have in the classroom. (They can add a DOG to their electrical circuit to see if it’s a conductor! Seriously, so cool.)

Students were given about 20 minutes to explore the available materials and create a working circuit. Some created parallel circuits, others created series circuits, but all were successful in some way.

*Their favorite part….when you overload your circuit and the batteries catch on fire. ?

Accessing PhET Simulations

You might be thinking, “That looks really cool, but how am I going to get all 20 of my students on to that website without losing my mind?” I hear you! And I have a few options for you:

Option 1: Share the direct link to the simulator via a Google Doc, Seesaw post, email, or other digital format.

Option 2: (My choice!) Create a Nearpod Lesson with the PhET Simulation embedded so all they need to do is enter the lesson code.

PhET Simulations are one of Nearpod’s basic features which are included with all Nearpod accounts, even the free one! Add them to your own Nearpod lesson using the steps below OR purchase the pre-made one from the Nearpod store (link at the end of this post).

Sharing Their Masterpieces

Creating is good, but the greatest part of our digital age is being able to share your creations with others. In the classroom, having an audience is the single most motivating thing for my 10-year-old students.

For this activity, we combined the Snipping Tool and Seesaw Learning Journals to bring our creations out of Nearpod and into our sharing space.

Screenshots were then uploaded into students’ individual Seesaw journals. They added labels and captions to explain the different elements of their circuit and better show their thinking. Here’s a few of the finished products:

Thankfully, I’m not her ELA teacher… BUT how cute!

Have questions or want to share your own experiences? Drop a comment below!

Have fun, my fellow geeky teachers!




Other Great Resources for Electricity

Nearpod PhET Circuit Lesson

Nearpod PhET Static Electricity Lesson

PhET Static Electricity Simulator

PhET John Travoltage Simulator (I Giggle at the name every time. Also, only half my students know who John Travolta is…yikes.)



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