Electric current is like a lot of running chickens.
December 3, 2018 12:38 PM   Subscribe

My teenage niece needs to learn the basics of electricity in a hopefully entertaining format. Do you have any resources you can point me to?

My niece is a smart, curious teen. She loves reading and tinkering with stuff including building simple machines. I'd always thought she was going to like physics at school and she kind of does but she is learning about electricity now and she cannot make real sense of it. She grasps the idea but when she's solving the problems it is clear she has not really internalized and thought through the concepts. The way the topic is being taught at her school, I cannot blame her - her physics book does not really explain it very well and there is very little connection to real life (also, it's mostly "X is Y divided by Z" as opposed to "X is how we measure how much of an A thing B has and we can express it as how much Y is produced in Z time, see these real life examples").

She does not have the time to read and study a different textbook but has enjoyed "science cartoons" in the past. I know about the Larry Gonick books (we have the Algebra one and I have already ordered the Physics Cartoons) but I would love more suggestions, especially something that easily digestible, more "bedtime reading" or even, um, "bathroom reading".

I'm interested in finding short, entertaining... stuff. Books, blogs, cartoons or YouTube videos as well as possibly stuff to tinker/experiment with (other than Snap Circuits which we have but probably haven't extracted the full benefit from). The Way Things Work (a.k.a. Mammoth Stuff) is lovely but it's a bit much all at once.

It doesn't have to be at all systematic! Science jokes could work as well, as long as they can be understood by a 9th grader. Anything that can make the topic less abstract to her.
posted by M. to Science & Nature (8 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I've heard electricity described by parallel to fluids -- current as water flow, voltage as a water balloon.

Heres a decent page for that idea, and another one.

This video looks pretty good to me.
posted by Dashy at 1:20 PM on December 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Oh, wait, I know this one! My son -- who is admittedly a huge nerd like his dad -- learned a ton from the Manga Guide to Electricity.
posted by The Bellman at 2:24 PM on December 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hi, former high school electronics teacher here. If she is the type that prefers learning by doing, Chris Platt's book is very good, throwing the theoretical knowledge in there with the project-based-learning activities in a way that makes sense. I put the link to the book on Amazon, because it helps Metafilter to do that, but if you go to Make Magazine's site, I believe they sell kits with all the parts you need for the experiments pre-assembled. Then again, you or your daughter may be the kind of person who takes pleasure in sourcing the materials yourself (I am), which will definitely save some money.

Another similar book is Forrest Mims electronics primers. All of his books are hand-lettered on graph paper, which I personally find charming, but give it a look to make sure it won't drive you crazy.

Neither of these books are short, but they do break things down into digestible chunks.

But, since you said she "doesn't have time for another book" (that is super sad, btw), here is a shorter technique, and also a warning, more in line with your original question:

I noticed among many students once they had a basic understanding of Ohm's Law, everything else became clearer. Pair that with a reinforcement of the definitions and differences between volts, amps, resistance, etc and she will probably have an easier time of it. Have her actually draw the triangle multiple times until she can do it from memory, then she will be able to use it to generate her own solutions.

Finally, if she is going that far, try to stealthily scope out her teacher to make sure that person isn't teaching the old "rapey" version of the mnemonic phrase for learning resistor colors. You'd think it being 2018 this wouldn't even be an issue. But there are some old dinosaur instructors out there who claim to not know that it is horribly offensive and something no ninth grade girl should be exposed to. *sigh*
posted by seasparrow at 2:27 PM on December 3, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Navy Electricity and Electronics Training Series (along with Mims' stuff) is what I used.
posted by mrbill at 2:38 PM on December 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thank you for all the responses so far! Lots in there to explore already.
The Manga Guide to Electricity sounds like the kind of thing she might enjoy!

I think some of these would be a bit difficult for her, though helpful for me as a refresher (so I can explain it to her later). She does understand Ohm's law but struggles with things like power vs wattage and parallel vs series circuits - she kind of understands but then cannot really apply it when solving problems. I think it would help to see it explained in another way to really "get it" so it becomes more intuitive.

Ideally, I would like to find some really simple, bite-sized stuff - like one minute videos or short cartoons or very simple books that can be read for fun... so she absorbs some of it without consciously studying.
posted by M. at 3:16 PM on December 3, 2018

For electricity-related entertainment, I really like ElectroBoom.
posted by leahwrenn at 8:21 PM on December 3, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, just watching Clive (bigclivedotcom) tear down and reverse engineer electronics will teach a lot of stuff if you're familiar with the basic concepts but lack some understanding.

Since nearly everything he talks about related to electronics is associated with a specific device or project, you get a good sense of practical electronics work.

EEVBlog has a bunch of explainers about different sorts of basic circuits and components as well. There are many others, but I can't recall anything else specific at the moment.
posted by wierdo at 12:21 AM on December 4, 2018 [1 favorite]

Coming back to this thread to say that I have been putting the resources to good use :)

Among other things, I have subscribed to ElectroBOOM and I bought my niece The Manga Guide to Electricity for Christmas.

Thanks again everyone :)
posted by M. at 12:50 PM on January 3

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