Squishy Circuits

Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas/Ann Marie Thomas
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity , Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This resource provides recipes for conductive and insulating dough that students can use to build squishy circuits. Students learn that a closed circuit is needed in order for electricity to flow from the battery pack to light the bulb.

Once the concept of electrical circuits transferring energy has been understood students explore the transfer of energy to other forms through the addition of light bulbs, motors and buzzers to their circuits.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
  • Grade 4
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

4-PS3-2 Make observations to provide evidence that energy can be transferred from place to place by sound, light, heat, and electric currents.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include quantitative measurements of energy.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson includes multiple opportunities for students to explore energy transfer by electric currents. The lesson as written focuses more on electricity than energy in general, so it will be up to the teacher to emphasize that a current is just one way for energy to be transferred. Further explorations with sound, light, and heat will be needed to fully address this performance expectation.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The classroom guide for this investigation includes explanations of how energy is transferred in a circuit. Rather than giving the students the guide, the teacher should give students opportunities to develop their own explanations. Guiding questions may help. How do we know energy is being used? (The bulb lights.) Where does the energy come from? (The battery.) Where does it go? (The light produces heat and light that spread out in the room.) As they explore, students should be encouraged to record their observations in science notebooks. If students create diagrams of what works and what doesn’t work to light a bulb, they will be able to use those models to develop an explanation of an electrical circuit.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The main focus of this lesson is electric currents. Following the investigation, students should be able to follow the path of electricity from the battery through the clay into the light or other electrical device, and back to the battery. The lesson could be extended by asking students where the energy goes when it leaves the circuit. Light or sound (if using buzzers) spreads out in the room.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Although this lesson focuses on transfer of electricity, students should also discuss the transfer of energy from the light, buzzer, or motor into the surrounding room.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson provides opportunities for students to explore an engaging activity to construct an explanation of the phenomenon of energy transfer in a circuit. The activity provides a scenario that engages students in the practices of science and enables them to make sense of phenomena. While implicit, it also affords opportunities for students to clarify, justify, interpret and represent their ideas.

  • Instructional Supports: Using dough instead of wires may make building circuits more accessible to some students, although a visual guide, such as a place mat, might be helpful. Struggling students may need additional supports to explain the concept of an electric circuit. Many extensions to this activity are possible, such as creating series and parallel circuits, or testing other materials for conductivity. Additional information on squishy circuits can be found through this TED video (http://bit.ly/23TureI) and website created by Exploratorium (http://bit.ly/1MGhKHQ)

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The classroom guide includes yes/no questions, but does not require students to construct explanations. Students should be encouraged to record their findings through diagrams and descriptions that indicate when a bulb lights and when it does not. Through small group and class discussions students will be able to explain that energy is transferred in a circuit when there is a complete loop for electricity to flow through.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not include a technologically interactive component.