Rethinking Squishy Circuits


by Susan Klimczak -

At Learn 2 Teach, Teach 2 Learn, one of the activities youth teachers take out to Boston community organizations each year is Squishy Circuits.  This cool activity was originally developed by AnnMarie Thomas at University of St. Thomas School of Engineering in St. Paul, Minnesota (  

Like many maker educators, we wanted to get better at what we were teaching and bring some fresh new ideas to an old tried and true activity.  So, I thought it would be useful to document our process.  For inspiration, we turned to our maker friends on twitter for inspiration and also looked at a little component that has been capturing the curiousity of our teenaged youth teachers recently. 

Teaching Series and Parallel Circuits

We noticed that our youth teachers were struggling with the concept of series vs. parallel circuits and we wanted to be more thoughtful about teaching the difference between series and parallel circuits.  On Twitter, I follow Josh Burker (@joshburker) who is the Lower School Coordinator of Academic Technology at Green Farms Academy in Westport, Connecticut.  He tweeted a photo of a poster he made for the Westport Mini Maker Faire:

This gave us some ideas!  College mentor Alex Hartley came up with the idea of setting up two challenges.  First, ask the youth to make a squishy circuit using three pieces of conductive dough and two LEDs, then ask the youth to make a squishy circuit using two pieces of conductive dough and two LEDs.  This proved to be a great strategy.  The youth came up with great questions and observations as they worked on these challenges.  At the end Alex was able to explain that they had just created series and parallel circuits and show how the circuits worked.  Here's the "cheat sheet" that we created to help youth teachers when they teach children this summer:

Kinesthetic activites are very helpful to our youth in understanding concerpts, so Alex developed one to reinforce the idea by using an energy stick to demonstrate the completed circuits and reinforce their understanding of parallel vs. series circuits. Youth representing the LEDs disconnected from the circuit to demonstrate how removing one LED from a parallel circuit does not prevent the second LED from staying lit.

 Rescue Me! Game

We also decided to use Josh Burker's idea of making a Squishy Circuit Operation Game, changing it up a bit to make it called "Rescue Me!"  The goal of the game is to rescue toy animals, skateboards and balls (bought for 30-50 cents each at the local party store) that fell into a "hole" and to create a parallel circuit with both an LED and a buzzer.  First we came up with a prototype:

Because youth teachers carry the materials for all our activities as they travel by public transportation to community organizations all over Boston, we had to think about how to "package" the games to make carrying them easier.  We came up with a strategy that used two tupperware containers, one to store the animals and the other that contained the Rescue Me! game piece made out of tin foil, copper tape and a washer for connecting to the circuit:


Then, we created a handout that would help youth learn how to use a circuit diagram to construct the circuits:


Using RGB LEDs with Squishy Circuits

Sometimes innovations in activities come from observing what youth seem very interested in at the moment.  We noticed that our youth were very curious about how RGB LEDs worked, but we could not find anyone else on the internet who had done this!  So college mentor Beckett Dunning and I had a "play date" and created a little squishy circuit activity that uses RGB LEDs.  The idea that one LED can have different colors fascinated youth and they are learning how to work with the four legs of the RGB LEDs.  Here is the diagram we created to help youth teachers lead this activity for children during the summer:



Sylvia Martinez's picture

This is cool stuff! It's great how you are constantly adapting materials for your kids.

Mark Schreiber's picture

I love squishy circuits.  I actually had my Spring class design a laser-cut lamp template and base for younger students to explore squishy circuits on.  It still needs a bit of work but it turned out pretty good.