circuit puzzle

Circuit Puzzle – FUNctional STEAM

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FUNctional STEAM:  25 Real World Activities for Problem-Solving Kids! 

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Functional STEAM header

Have you ever been shocked while taking apart a toy, or plugging in a toaster? Electricity is everywhere and plays an important part in things you do everyday like go to school, cook your dinner, or snap a selfie holding a rhinoceros. Most careers either use electricity or develop technology with it to improve the world.


Build you own circuit to explore the basic principles of electricity.

Time: 10 min prep, 20 min activity

What you need

Special Materials

□ Old Christmas lights
LED lights (any color)
□ Small DC motor with
leads (wires)


□ 2 or more AA batteries
□ 2 or more D batteries
□ Cardboard (we use wood tiles in the video, but cardboard will work as well)
□ Aluminum foil
□ Clear tape
□ Glue stick


□ Scissors

Finding Materials

LED lights are easy to order online. You can also order a DC motor or repurpose one from an old toy or electronics.

Before you start

❶ Cut cardboard pieces. Letters correspond with the photo.
A) 1 piece for each light – 2 in x 1.25 in (5 cm x 3 cm)
B) 1 piece for motor – 1.75 in x 1.75 in (7.5 cm x 7.5 cm)
C) 1 piece for every AA battery – 2.75 in x 1.25 in (7 cm x 3 cm)
D) 1 piece for every D battery – 3 in x 1.75 in (7.5 cm x 4.5 cm)
E) 1 piece for smaller switch – 4 in x 1.5 in (10 cm x 3.8 cm)
F) 1 piece for bigger switch – 6 in x 2 in (15.3 cm x 5 cm)

circuit pieces

❷ Cover 0.5 inch (1.3 cm) of 2 opposite sides of each piece of cardboard (except the square piece used for the motor) with aluminum foil. For the motor square, only cover two adjacent corners. Glue the foil to the cardboard using a glue stick.

For the motor square, there should be a space between the foil on each corner. They have to be separate little foil islands.

circuit board
small circuit motor

❸ Get an old strand of Christmas lights and cut off three or four lights making sure that each light has at least an inch (2.5 cm) of wire on both sides.

❹ Using a pair of scissors, remove the rubber coating off about 0.25 in (0.64 cm) on both wires. Take the wires on one side and twist the stripped portion together until they form a single (ish) strand of wire. Repeat this process for the other wire and then for every Christmas light you cut out. Test each one to make sure they are working properly.

Project Tip #1
To test each Christmas light, touch one of its wires to the end of a battery. Touch the other wire to the opposite end of the battery. If it lights up, the light is working!

❺ Using tape, (See Project Tip #2) secure each light to a light piece of cardboard (A). Make sure each wire connects to the tinfoil that was glued to the ends of the cardboard. Repeat this process for each light.

Project Tip #2
You can use tape to secure tinfoil to the batteries or other pieces. But make sure metal is always touching metal. Never put tape between tinfoil pieces or wires.

❻ Tape the motor to the center of the motor piece of cardboard (B). Make sure the wires are on the same side as the tinfoil corners. Use tinfoil to connect one wire to each tinfoil corner.

❼ Tape each battery to the battery cardboard (C or D). Then use tinfoil to connect the battery ends (terminals) to the tinfoil at the edge of the cardboard. Repeat this process for each battery.

❽ Create a few strips of tinfoil to help you connect your pieces, like (G) and (H) in the photo. Yours will be a little different since you are creating your own.

Science Zone
Electricity is the flow of electrons along a path. These electrons carry a small charge which gives energy to things like toasters, lights, and cellphones. We are building that path with tinfoil, wires, and batteries.
circuit pieces
circuit building
small circuit motor


Complete a circuit to power a light or small motor.

❶ Start with a light or motor tile, and a battery tile. In order for the battery to power the light or motor, you need to create a pathway that starts at one end of the battery (terminal), flows into one wire of a motor or light, out the other wire, and into the opposite end of the battery. A circuit.

Science Zone
When powering a light, motor or other electrical components, the electrons need to flow in a continuous circle. When the path is broken, the electrons will cease to flow.

❷ Once you are able to power a light or motor, try using a switch, which is a break in the circle. It is just like a light switch. It can be closed to complete the circuit which will turn on the light or motor, or opened to break the circuit which will turn off the light or motor.

Start by putting a switch piece (E or F) with tinfoil on each end into your circuit. The middle is just cardboard and needs something to close the circuit. Now try closing that circuit with an extra tinfoil piece (like G or H). You will know that you have successfully closed the switch when the light or motor comes on.

Experiment with different materials to make a working switch. Be creative! Remember, you need a conductor to complete the circuit. This part of the challenge is pictured above.

circuit testing

❸ Finally, experiment with different battery arrangements. Try stringing several together to see which way creates the brightest light or fastest spinning motor.

Science Zone
The materials used for a circuit are called conductors and include mostly metals. A conductor has 1 to 3 electrons in its outer shell. The fewer the electrons in the outer shell, the easier it is for electrons to move across the material.

An insulator is a material that has 5 to 8 electrons in the outer shell. These materials do not pass electrons down the line so electricity cannot flow through them.

Think about it

Which arrangement of batteries and lights or motors produced the best effect?

Mission Possible?

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to design and build a circuit board that can power both a motor and a light at the same time.

electrical engineer
STEAM careers – Electrical Engineer

Electrical Engineers design, test and develop electrical equipment such as smart phones, video game consoles, car electrical systems, and anything that uses electricity.

On a normal day, an electrical engineer spends time designing circuit boards with computer programs, building boards to test, programming circuits, and troubleshooting problems with circuits that are not working properly.

Wondering what makes this is STEAM? Click the tabs below.

Science – learn and explore circuits and electricity
Tech – create your own circuit tech pieces
Engineering – building circuit puzzle making sure you have all the wires and batteries correct to function

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