Attraction With Static Electricity

Scientific American Science Buddies
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.



In this lesson, students will learn how static electricity is created and experience the effects of electrostatic force through engagement in a structured inquiry investigation. Static electricity is defined simply here as the build up of electrical charge.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 3
  • General Public
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
This lesson provides a procedure for determining the cause and effect relationships of electrical interactions between two objects in contact with each other. Students will systematically test a series of variables (causes) that create electrical force and affects the size of the force: how the balloon is rubbed (one direction vs. back and forth), the number of times the balloon is rubbed, and the effectiveness of different materials in producing an electrostatic charge. To more fully address this performance expectation, it is recommended that the teacher have the students identify the causes and their effects as they proceed through the investigation. Embedding opportunities for students to ask questions as they record their observations during and after each of the investigations is also suggested. Magnetic interactions need to be addressed in a separate lesson.

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
The focus of this lesson is on the explanation of a phenomenon by having students respond with their observations. They are also instructed to measure the length of time the balloon sticks to the wall. To enhance this practice, it is suggested that instructions to make observations be explicit, and that students record their observational and measurement data in their science notebooks. For third graders, a data table template, or instruction on how to create a data table is recommended to aid them in the recording of data. It is important to note that the "Observations and Results" section of this resource refers to wool as a conductor which is inaccurate. This misinformation is not important to the overall investigation as students should be focused on explaining the cause-effect relationships between the materials and behaviors, and not the mechanisms of static electricity such as the passing of electrons.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This lesson investigates how the size of the electrostatic force is dependent on the properties of the objects. Correlating the number of rubs with the length of time the balloon sticks to the wall provides data on the size of the force. Testing the effectiveness of different materials to produce a charge investigates how the size of the force is dependent on the properties of the objects. Students should also be asked what variables might affect the outcome as they may wonder for example, whether increased force as they rub the balloon might also be a variable that could be tested. To test the forces between a pair of objects that are not in contact with each other, it is recommended that a lesson such as “Static Cling” be implemented: Investigation of magnetic force between objects not in contact with each other needs to be conducted in a separate 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
Through this series of investigations, students will observe how the creation of an electrical charge (cause) can create a force that can attract objects (effect). This relationship should become more explicit during the discussion as students are asked to share their observations and explain why this phenomenon is occurring with each successive investigation. As students report their findings, they need to be encouraged to explicitly identify a cause and effect when describing the relationships they have discovered. It is assumed that the students are conducting their investigations in teams of 3-4. If so, students can record their observations on a group chart. The charts could then be compared and contrasted to identify patterns in the cause and effect relationships.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson provides opportunities to develop and use specific elements of the Practices, and Disciplinary Core Ideas to make sense of phenomena. The Crosscutting Concepts are implicit, but are easily established by reinforcing that the electrical charge is the “cause” that can create a force that attracts objects, which is its “effect.” To strengthen the expectation that students ask questions, students should be given multiple opportunities to share their wonderings (questions) based on the phenomena observed in each of the investigations.

  • Instructional Supports: This lesson engages students in a series of investigations that reflect the practice of science. It enables students to understand the phenomena of electrostatic force through first hand experience. The questions posed with each of the investigations provide opportunities to share observations and express ideas. The discussion of these observations and ideas, along with questions they have based on the phenomena observed is important to clarifying student understanding. It is also recommended that the phenomena be connected to their personal experiences to provide a real world context for learning. Teacher demonstration of the procedures may be needed for struggling students. Finally, teachers might consider the “More to Explore” section to provide extensions for students who have high interest or exceed expectations.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Assessment recommendations are not provided and again, this probably because this lesson is part of a collection to encourage parents to implement science at home with their children. Teacher observations as the students conduct the investigations, as they converse with each other, and as they participate in discussions with the teacher are recommended to provide formative assessment data. Having students record their observations, data and wonderings in their science notebook is also suggested to provide additional assessment information.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -