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What You Haven’t Read about Lemon Batteries

Are you building a lemon battery?  Here is how you build the battery, but I am going to tell you a few tips I learned through the process that I didn’t easily find on the internet.

(I apologize for not having pristine step by step photos of this process, but I am thinking about teaching when I’m taking these photos, so they don’t usually look perfect and bloggish.  The potatoes are above also since we did potato batteries as well.)

1.  Get about 3-4 lemons.

2.  Roll the lemons on the table pressing a bit with the palm of your hand to get the lemon juicy.

3.  Insert one copper penny into each lemon.  The penny acts as the positive terminal. Push the pennies about halfway in.

*The penny should be made before 1982 (these were made with almost entirely copper).  If they were made in 1982 or after they are only coated with copper.  You may have to borrow a child’s piggy bank.  I offered to pay my neighbor 5 cents for every penny she could find made before 1982.  I decided to do this because when I got rolls of pennies from the bank, there were only about 2 or 3 made before 1982 in the whole roll.  I was quite disappointed.  I say don’t waste your time, and find someone with a piggy bank.

4.  Insert one zinc nail (or screw) into each lemon.  The nail acts as the negative terminal.  Push it in with about 2 cm left outside of the lemon.    Make sure the nail doesn’t touch the penny inside the lemon.

*The more contact the nail has with the lemon juice the better your lemon will work.

5. Buy some alligator clips to connect the penny in each lemon to the nail in the next lemon.  You will need at least 5 wires for each set of four lemons you attach.  Attach the wire on one penny and the the other end of wire on one nail successively.  The wires on the lemons on the end need to be left unattached.  These ends will attach to the lightbulb.  This is my favorite go to image of the lemon battery.  I leave this on the SMART board for the kids to see while putting together their batteries.

*You can order alligator clips from here and many other places.  If you are in a pinch, you can go to Wal-mart’s automotive section and find red and black alligator clip wires there.  (Lowes and Home Depot didn’t have the whole wire and clip put together).

6. Attach each end of the LED bulb to the lose alligator clips.  Reference image link above in step 5.  One end of an LED is positive and one end is negative, so students will have to switch sides of the bulb if their circuit isn’t working.

*To get LED bulbs cheaply, you can buy a $1 flashlight at War-Mart etc. and beat it with a hammer until you can break the bulbs out.  This is a bit frustrating and took me about 30 minutes.  You may also see if anyone you know including parents of your students have old LED Christmas lights they want to get rid of.  When I put out a request for Christmas light strands, I got about 5-6 strands!!!  Score!

*This is a great video if you are wanting students to understand how the electrons flow to make electricity work in batteries.  If you are just wanting students to see the part about the battery, watch 1:34-3:55. If you want them to see how the lemon battery is built, you can continue watching until the end of the video.

What I definitely learned from experience:

*Yes, you can use the lemons for multiple classes.  They will still work.  I used the same lemons 3 back to back classes one day and four back to back classes the next.   After a few days (I can’t remember exactly how many) the lemons will mold, and you won’t want to use them anyway.

*The nails will no longer work when they turn too black after a couple of classes.  This is most often the reason the lemon battery doesn’t work for students who have all the wiring, pennies, and nails connected the right way.  You will have to use new nails.  They are relatively cheap, so no problem.

*The LED can burn out if you leave it connected too long.  I tell the students to count to 20 seconds after they see it light up and  then disconnect it.  It will last longer than 20 seconds, but this is just what I tell them.

*You can use a 9-volt battery as a light bulb tester if you want to see if the LED works in case the kids insist that the light bulb is the problem.  Touch each wire end of the LED lightbulb to the positive and negative terminals of the 9-volt battery.  This will FOR SURE blow out the LED bulb if left for too long so just touch it barely to the 9-volt for half a second to see if it lights up.  See here.

  • Most often when the students’ lemon battery doesn’t work it is because:
    • they have an alligator clip connected to two pennies or two nails.  It is important that there is a penny, nail, penny, nail, penny, nail, penny, nail connection, or the electrons won’t flow from the negative to the positive.
    • they have the LED light bulb turned the wrong way
    • the zinc on their nails has corroded and the nails need to be replaced.  This doesn’t happen with the pennies because lemon juice actually cleans pennies.

A great question to pose after this is, do you think you could light up an LED with fewer lemons?

The answer…Yes, you can sometimes light up the bulb with 3 lemons, but it will be dimmer.  It is also possible to light it up with only one lemon if you can put enough pennies and nails into a single lemon.  Now, I was never successful at this but, there are You Tube videos in which this has been explained.

5 Things to Know if Teaching Wiring with Electricity

While wading through teaching electricity, I learned a few hints that I wish I had known before setting out on this venture.

The following applies if you are teaching children to wire bulbs from Christmas light strands.

1.  If you strip wire, strip it a little at a time (about 2-3 cm).  This will prevent the small strands of copper from falling out from the friction.

2.  After you strip the wire, twist the exposed copper ends a little at a time to prevent the small strands of copper wire from falling out.  Then the copper wire will be stronger and easier to use.

3. If you allow students to use Christmas lights from the strand, it works best to just pull the bulb out completely and connect each end of the bulb wire (see small arrows above) to a Christmas light.  At times, you can cut the wire with the bulbs still in the wire and they worked, but more often than not, it didn’t work to cut the wire with the bulbs still in them.

4.   If you cut Christmas light wire to do wiring with Christmas lights, the thin wire will only carry about 12 volts before it overheats. I learned this from an electrician.

5.  If you use LED bulbs, be aware that one end of the LED bulb will be a positive end and one end will be negative.  This makes it more difficult to wire these type of bulbs.  This is because you don’t know if the circuit has a bad connection or if the bulb is turned around the wrong way.

Here is one of the best classroom models the kids made below.   They did one of the best wiring jobs!

Don’t Throw Out Your Old Christmas Lights!

As I have transitioned into my role as a GT (gifted and talented) teacher this year, I have found myself saving recyclables and trash of all sorts.  Now, before recyclable day at home, I find myself making a separate pile for taking items to school.  The recyclable man for my house gets NOTH-ING…almost :).  Students have used their imagination to build furniture and other unusual items out of their recyclables.  They have amazed me with their creativity!

Look at the detail in the picture below…a ceiling fan hangs from the ceiling.  A piece of milk carton plastic has been cut for a “SMART board”.  Little egg carton pieces make chairs.

Most recently students built a model GT classroom.  One of the requirements was that the model have five pieces of furniture.  One of the other requirements was that the model have at least two working lights.  Some of the most impressive models had “light fixtures” built out of bottle caps and other random pieces of plastic.  The models were most impressive!

Below you can barely see the lighting glowing in the background.  Students have made little chairs out of bottle caps and round circle tables.  Their SMART table is seen on the right corner made out of painted styrofoam.

To economically allow students to build a lit model, I had to acquire lighting from somewhere.  I certainly didn’t have the funding to buy all of the students lighting–especially because it seemed that the lights were blowing out with too much voltage from the batteries.  So where did I get lighting?  You guessed it!  I was able to acquire lighting from a parent getting rid of old Christmas lights.  She got rid of at least five strands of Christmas lights.   Just because some of the strands didn’t work, doesn’t mean we weren’t able to use them.  We were able to pull each bulb out and use the bulbs individually.

Sometimes we were able to cut the green wire with the bulb included and have the bulbs work that way, but that didn’t work very often for us.  When we pulled the bulbs out of the strand, we had the single bulbs.  The single bulbs had two wires sticking out that looked like bug antennas.  We were able to attach one end to the positive and one end to the negative end of a battery for them to work.  Christmas light bulbs will work with 1.5 volts, so we learned not to put too many batteries with just one bulb or they blew out.  Students can cut the extra green wire left on the strand to wire to the ends of the light bulbs.  Then they attach them to batteries, and in our case we put light switches ($0.69 each) in the circuits.

Below one of the models is shown with the lighting glowing a bit.


Students really enjoyed this project.  This did  take several weeks to complete.  I hope this gives you some ideas for your own students and classes.

I Didn’t Think the Kids Could Make This Work, But…

I have been teaching my kids about circuits lately.  They have been using the little 1.5 volt incandescent bulbs, wires with alligator clips, and D cell batteries.  D cell batteries are also 1.5 volts.  I had brought in every lightbulb in my house that had burned out so the kids could see all of the filaments floating around in the bottom of the bulb.  I also brought in one working 40 watt incandescent bulb.  I thought it would be fun for them to see if they could get the bulb to light.  Because the bulb says 120 volts on the bottom, I didn’t think the students could get it to work.  We had a limited number of batteries to even try to light the bulb.

I put the large light bulb in a station for free experimentation.  I thought the kids had forgotten about trying to get the large bulb to light, so I put the bulb in my lamp.  When they asked about trying to get the bulb to light again, I took it out of the lamp and told them they could try up to seven batteries.  They tried the seven batteries and the bulb didn’t light.  When they were puzzled, I asked them whey they thought it didn’t light.  Showing the girls the print on the bottom of the bulb and inquiring about the voltage of the battery, they realized they needed more batteries.  I explained to them that we probably didn’t have enough batteries.  Their reply was, “PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, can we try more batteries?!”  Since they were so persistent, I let them.  I expected there to be no change in the bulb.

About five minutes later, I hear the girls squeal with delight!  You guessed it!  They lit up the bulb!  They had about 21 D batteries taped together end to end with masking tape down the length of them.  By this time in class, about five or six students had joined in and were holding a section of the batteries to make sure they were completely touching end to end.  One child was holding the wire from the positive to the negative end of the batteries.  When they got the bulb to light a little, they wanted to add more batteries to make it brighter.

What’s even better?  With a tiny bit of prompting, the kids were doing real world decimal addition/multiplication.  They were counting the amount of volts they had on each battery and figuring out how much voltage they were using to power the light bulb.  I am glad I gave into their pleading and never told them I didn’t think it would work :)!  They will probably remember this MORE than anything I had planned to officially teach them!

Cheap and Fun Electric Science!

The hardware store is a place brimming with possibilities for fun and cheap science experiments.  Did you know you can buy light switches for $0.69, and a foot of copper electrical wire for less than that?!  Not only that, but you can buy a couple of large D cell batteries for $1 at the Dollar Tree.  I will admit I already had some batteries and light bulbs in a science kit at school.  Lowes sells the wire for a few cents a foot.  If you tell them you are a school teacher, and look a bit pitiful, then they will cut it into foot segments for you :).  I actually bought the light switches because one of my students wondered how they worked.  I bought one to break apart with a hammer, so the kids could see the inner workings of the switch.  The others I bought for students to connect to the battery and the light bulb with the wires.  The kids were really excited to experiment with this.  We had already been building circuits, so I didn’t exactly tell students how to connect the light switch to make the bulb turn on and off.  I let them figure this out with the information they had already learned.

Here’s a little secret.  If you want really cheap light bulbs, you can get LED bulbs if you buy a small flashlight for a dollar at Wal-mart.  Then break the flashlight with a hammer to get the bulbs out.  You will get around seven bulbs if you do this.  However, the bulbs I used for this were in a science kit, and I didn’t have to buy them.  They were little incandescent bulbs.

The next thing you can do for really cheap fun  is this.  Get a regular light bulb that you would put in a lamp, place one out for kids to experiment with if they have already learned how to build circuits.  Challenge the kids to make the lightbulb light up.  I tell them they can use up to five batteries.  The kids won’t be able to light up the bulb.  I know this, but they don’t.  Several lessons previous to this, I had kids really examine the writing on the batteries, and some students noticed the 1.5 v.  I had also had them pass around some old blown out light bulbs to study the broken filaments and the writing on the bulbs.  If they make the connection, they will realize that the bulbs need 120 volts.  The batteries only provide 1.5 volts each.  It would take A LOT of batteries to power the light bulb.  More than they could stretch out on a table (but that’s my little secret, wink wink).  The fun in this activity is asking…well, why didn’t that work?

(Sidenote:  I only have a few of these items mentioned above for students to experiment with when they finish their work.  I don’t buy a whole class set.)

I hope you now have some great reasons to do  some cheap and easy science experiments!

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Magnetic Dirt?

Who knew?  There are magnetic materials in dirt.

I have been doing a unit with my third grade students about magnets.  We have been learning about the properties of magnets such as attraction, repulsion, and polarity.  In one of the extension activities, students are required to place magnetic filings over a magnet to see how the magnet has north and south poles. Immediately I thought of the little games with the bald man and magnetic pen in which you drag the filings over the man’s head to give him hair.  I thought, “Oh!  I could buy several of those and cut the plastic to get iron filings!”


Then, when looking for one of these “Wooly Willy” games on the internet, I happened across a You Tube video about finding iron in dirt.  I didn’t really think it would work, but…….

here is what a couple of kids found after school when I made sure this would work.  Now, we didn’t do it exactly like the video.  I gave the kids a stack of strong disc magnets which I purchased form Hobby Lobby for about $7.  They put the magnets inside a plastic bag.  When they rubbed the bag in the dirt, the magnets attracted no iron.  What did work was for the kids to put the dirt in a container which they collected from under some trees.  They brought the dirt inside and sprinkled it a spoonful at a time on the plastic bag with magnets inside. Then when they shook the bag off onto some construction paper, the magnetic particles stayed.  They emptied those pieces into a petri dish, which you see above.  Sidenotes:  In our case when the dirt was damp from some rain, this method worked best.  At first they collected dirt from underneath some gravel in a garden.  I thought it wouldn’t work because that dirt didn’t appear to have any magnetic properties.  It wasn’t until they collected the dirt underneath the trees that they found the iron particles.

Now instead of buying iron filings, I am going to let the students find their own before we do our polarity experiment.  I think they will very much enjoy the trip outdoors!  Even though it is January, it has been 70 degrees this week.

Here’s a great tutorial about magnetic polarity!

Try These Fun Christmas Stations!

I wanted my students to enjoy their last class with me before the Christmas break, so I planned several stations for them to work on.  The students really enjoyed the engagement of every station.

Station 1:  Students picked out a pine cone and were instructed to find seeds inside the pinecone.  I showed them a picture of what pine cone seeds looked like.  I gave them magnifying glasses so they could look closely and deeply into the pine cones.  I instructed them to draw a picture of their pine cone and to draw a picture of the seed.  In preparation for the next station, I instructed them to find two more pine cones that were really “pretty” and “tree shaped”.  I really wanted them to find two that were opened up really well so they could see the difference in station 2.


Station 2:  I had students place two nice flared out pinecones in water.  Students made predictions before they placed one pinecone in cold water and one pinecone in warm water.  I have no sink in my room, so I had a gallon jug set up for the cold water and a crock pot set up with warm water for them to dip from with a measuring cup.  Make sure to have paper towels on hand for any water that is spilled.  Now, students can watch the pinecones for a while, but it will take about 30-45 minutes before students will see any changes.  I make students look and notice what happened.  I don’t tell them.  Now the last group that does this station probably won’t notice what happens.  They won’t have enough time in an hour long class period to notice the pinecones change.

(So what does happen?  Pinecones close up when wet.  Why does this happen?  Pinecones don’t want to release their seeds when weather is wet because they want to allow their seeds to fly as far away as possible during drier weather so that they won’t compete with the parent tree.)

After students have noticed the pinecones closing up, make sure you leave time at the end of the stations to ask the students why they think the pine cones are closing up in the water.

In case you are wondering, yes the pinecones will open back up when dried out.


Station 3:  What happens when you place a peppermint under water?  After students have watched, then what happens when you place M & M’s under water?  This experiment wasn’t that impressive in my opinion, but the kids loved it!  The experiment works best in a white bowl.  The plates were way too messy when kids tried to throw out the water.  Water, of course, spilled everywhere.

Students predicted first what happened with the peppermint.  Most guessed it would turn white, but few guessed it would streak the way it did.  You must keep the dish still and not shake the desk to get the full effect of this.  


After students watch the peppermint for about five minutes, have them predict what would happen when they place out M & M’s around the bowl.  I bought the small ones so there would be more color.  If students place them around the edge of the bowl, it makes a dramatic rainbow like this.  Again keep the bowl as still as possible.


Station 4:  Light up a Christmas light with alligator wires and batteries.  This station by far had the biggest WOW factor for the kids.  I didn’t give kids many instructions with this station.  I wanted them to do experimentation to figure this out.  I made the kids predict which type of batteries would work to light up the battery.  They lit up a small LED bulb.  (this wasn’t actually a Christmas light bulb).  To get these bulbs  I bought a $1 LED flashlight at War-Mart and banged the flashlight with a hammer until I broke it enough to get the lightbulbs out.  It’s cheaper to buy bulbs that way :0.  To light up the bulb students need at least three batteries placed end to end with at least two alligator clip wires–one each touched to the positive and negative ends of the battery.  I used D batteries because I had a bunch in a science kit, but this will work with smaller batteries.  I hovered around this station because I knew students might struggle here.  I made it a point to talk about how scientists struggle until they figure things out.  We talk about how Edison didn’t give up the first time his improvements of the light bulb didn’t work and they shouldn’t either.  Now in reality, it would have been a lot cooler if I actually did have Christmas light bulbs, but I already had LED bulbs on hand so we used them.

I got alligator clips like these here.

ChristmasScience Here is an editable document I used when students visited science stations.  This is nothing fancy, but you are welcome to use it for your classroom and make it your own.

Cheap and Quick STEM Lesson Your Kids will Love #2

This STEM lesson was more fun than I had anticipated.  We picked up ice cubes with a piece of string.  There are few materials needed.  The materials are cheap and it doesn’t take long to carry out the lesson in the classroom.


You will need:

  • an ice chest or freezer
  • ice cubes (the kind you freeze in ice trays) make about 5 per student to make sure you have enough
  • string (like the kind you fly kites with)
  • styrofoam bowls
  • table salt (one container should be enough for a class of about 20)
  • small cups or containers to distribute the salt
  • paper towels
  • water

First, we watched a video about how salting roads helps salt trucks melt ice and snow on roadways here:

Then I explained to the students that we were going to make a string stick to an ice cube and that they would be able to pick it up.  I had the students predict how long they thought that it would take to attach the string to the ice.  I realized mid lesson that the kids thought I wanted them to literally tie a string around the ice cube.  I had to clarify that we were not lassoing the ice cube, but that the salt would make it stick if they were patient (insert lesson about perseverance and patience here, wink wink).

These are the student directions in order.

  • In your bowl of water put 1 ice cube (I passed these out when I was ready for them to begin).
  • Put a pinch of salt on top of the ice cube
  • Lay the string on top of the ice cube
  • One team mate needs to watch time (I had this on smart board). The other team mate needs to watch the ice cube and pull on the string when the predicted time is up.
  • If your string doesn’t stick, make a new prediction and try again. Switch partners.


I had a sheet in which the students predicted, and I also took some of their predictions and wrote them on the board.  Some students predicted up to 30 minutes.  Eventually, I reeled this in and said it wouldn’t take 30 minutes.  In honesty it takes somewhere between 30 seconds and a minute.  Also, I reminded students that they would only need a pinch or so of salt on the ice cube.  Some students think that the more salt they use the better the string will stick and end up using WAY TOO MUCH!  The important part of this experiment is the waiting.  I told students that if they added salt that they would need to add it a pinch at a time.


For those students who are successful, I challenge them to make more than one ice cube stick and predict how long it will take for more than once ice cube.  I walk around with a ziplock full of ice cubes during this time.  When students get more than one ice cube to stick it becomes a contest about who can get the most ice cubes to stick at one time.  The most I had students able to stick was 5 ice cubes.  Not many kids were able to do this.




After this experiment, it is fun to discuss more of the science behind why this activity works.  Because I did this during a 30 minute slot at a summer camp, we didn’t really have time to talk much.

I hope you can enjoy this experiment with your students, too!


Quick, Cheap, and Easy STEM Lesson Kids Love

I did this with a group of kids during my summer camp, but this could just as easily be done during a classroom engineering lesson.  We built soda straw rockets to land on Mars.

Mars Stem Rocket Lesson

What was Mars you ask?  Mars was a simple circle taped to the floor with masking tape.

You need is the printable which consists of rocket fins and body, and then you need straws, tape, and a sharpened pencil…and of course Mars!

Mars Stem Rocket Lesson

Here is a synopsis of the building directions.  Students take the rectangle and wrap it around their pencil lengthwise to make a tube. Then they tape the fins at the bottom.  Next they scrunch the top of the tube around the point of the sharp end of the pencil to make a cone.  STEMRocket-5
Next, they pull out the pencil and insert the straw.  Now they are ready to blow through the straw to make the rocket land somewhere.


STEMRocket-4I wanted to give them a target which is why I made Mars.   Students had to measure and record how far away from Mars they landed.

STEM Engineering Lesson RocketI could have made it more difficult by using rulers so there would be some conversation involved, but I just made it simple and let them use yardsticks.  Surprisingly, some students had the yardstick turned around and measurement still proved to be an issue.

If they didn’t reach Mars, they had to go back and redesign their rocket to make it fly closer.  Now, what if they did land on Mars the first time?  Well, I just made them see if they could make their rocket fly differently, for example, could they make the rocket spin while it flew.


The best part is this whole lesson and rocket parts printable are here free on the NASA website.


Rocket STEM Lesson


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