Charge It! All About Electrical Attraction and Repulsion

TeachEngineering: authors Xochitl Zamora Thompson, Sabre Duren; Joe Friedrichsen, Daria Kotys-Schwartz, Malinda Schaefer Zarske, Denise W. Carlson
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Experiment/Lab Activity
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.



In this lesson, students will perform a series of experiments to further their understanding of static electricity and specifically, the cause and effect relationships of electrostatic interactions between objects not in contact with each other. It is suggested that this lesson should follow Static Cling to provide students with sufficient experiences that will enable them to make sense of phenomena.

It should be noted that while this lesson is targeted for Grades 3-5, students are not expected to understand electrical charges at the atomic level.  Instead, teachers should use all information presented on the movement of electrons to reinforce their own knowledge, and to understand what students will be expected to know going forward.


Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

3-PS2-3 Ask questions to determine cause and effect relationships of electric or magnetic interactions between two objects not in contact with each other.

Clarification Statement: Examples of an electric force could include the force on hair from an electrically charged balloon and the electrical forces between a charged rod and pieces of paper; examples of a magnetic force could include the force between two permanent magnets, the force between an electromagnet and steel paperclips, and the force exerted by one magnet versus the force exerted by two magnets. Examples of cause and effect relationships could include how the distance between objects affects strength of the force and how the orientation of magnets affects the direction of the magnetic force.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment is limited to forces produced by objects that can be manipulated by students, and electrical interactions are limited to static electricity.

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
It is suggested that this lesson begin with a review of what they have learned from “Static Cling”. Students should then be asked the wonderings (questions) they have following the review. As the performance expectation is for students to ask questions, the teacher may want to begin this lesson with the phenomenon of the charged balloon sticking to the wall and having students ask questions about what is happening. It is also recommended that the teacher embed opportunities for students to ask questions upon recording their observations after each of the investigative activities. As a reminder, the focus in third grade should be on the push or pull that results from the electrical force, as well as the strength of the force, rather than what is happening at the atomic level.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students are explicitly instructed to record their observations after each of the experiments. In testing how long the balloon will stick to different surfaces, students are instructed to time how long the balloon will stay up. As part of the activity extensions, students can also measure the angle of the water flow being deflected. While angle measurement is not an expectation for third grade, students can still collect qualitative data by taking pictures using a mobile device as they conduct their trials and then comparing the angles of deflection. Finally, students can the correlate the number of tissue pieces with the amount of time or number of rubs made to charge the balloon.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The investigative activities in this lesson provide students with a variety of experiences that further develop their understanding of static electricity as a force that can attract or repel objects at a distance. To more fully address this core idea, it is suggested that the students be asked how a balloon sticking to the wall demonstrates that objects don’t need to touch to interact with a force. The investigations should then be extended to provide evidence for their explanations. Students can also extend their investigations and to test whether the number of times the balloon is rubbed or the type of material used to rub the balloon will affect the size of electrostatic force. Suggestions to further investigate the effects of material properties on the size of force exerted are provided in the Activity Extensions section of this lesson.

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
This series of experiments will provide students with a strong experiential foundation by which they can understand how the creation of an electrical charge can create a force (cause) that can attract or repel objects not in contact with each other (effect). However, the relationship needs to be made explicit by the teacher as they discuss their observations and the results of their investigations. Similarly, students should be encouraged to make this relationship explicit as they explain the interaction between the various objects being tested.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson addresses all dimensions of the NGSS. To strengthen the expectation that students ask questions, students should then be asked what wonderings (questions) they now have following pre- and post reviews of their learning, as well as during the investigations as they make their observations. The causal relationship between the creation of an electrical charge and the resultant force that is then able to attract or repel objects needs to be made explicit by the teacher.

  • Instructional Supports: The instructional support is considered to be superior and includes the following: targeted standards, background information, learning objectives, key vocabulary with definitions, a list of materials and estimated cost per group, procedures, assessments and activity scaling to differentiate instruction. It also provides related curriculum, troubleshooting tips, ideas for activity extensions, and references. Finally, this resource provides information on how the concepts under study are applied to real world engineering.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This lesson provides for pre-activity, activity embedded and post-activity assessments. The first two questions in the activity embedded assessment are appropriate to students of this age level. The remaining questions assess students understanding of what is occurring at the atomic level and should not be implemented. The math worksheet is also too advanced for third graders and should not be used. Teacher observations as the students conduct the activities, as they converse with each other, and as they participate in discussions with the teacher are recommended to provide additional information. Finally, one of the post activity assessments asks the students to draw a model of what is occurring as the objects In the investigations interact with each other. This would provide excellent summative assessment information.

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