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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.

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter to all of my followers!  May you have a day filled with peace.

You Might Be a Teacher If… {Giveaway Time}

I hope you enjoy these few teacher antics.  Make sure to enter the giveaway!  You have until April 13th to enter to win.
Prize: $75 Teachers pay Teachers Gift Card

Giveaway organized by: Kelly Malloy (An Apple for the Teacher), 
Rules: Use the Rafflecopter form to enter.  Giveaway ends 4/13/17 and is open worldwide.
Are you a blogger who wants to participate in giveaways like these to grow your blog?  Click here to find out how you can join a totally awesome group of bloggers! 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Use This Free Resource if You are Teaching Fractions

Have you seen this great new website tool for teaching and assessing mathematics for elementary students?  On iknowit There are multiple lessons included about various math topics all from the makers of Super Teacher Worksheets!  One of my favorite lessons is the one about 3rd grade fractions.  What I like about the fraction lesson/assessment is that it focuses on equal parts.  This gives children the chance to really think about what equal parts look like.  Sometimes the idea that fractions are equal parts can become a misconception to students.


There are also different types of general fraction questions such as what fraction is shaded or what fraction was taken etc.

There are questions using the written words halves and quarters instead of only the numbers.  These are words that students struggle with seeing and using.

I also like that the program gives students automatic feedback to let them know if they were correct or incorrect.  If students are incorrect, the program gives students an explanation to tell them why they were incorrect. The little robot is animated and jumps around each time students get a question correct.  He has a different animation for each question.

You can even take a quick grade with this program because the program shows students their total score when they complete an assessment.  Teachers can easily use the score for their grade book.

The best part is that it is free!  FREE! Yes, absolutely FREE!  (At the time of the writing, the website is free, but eventually this website will charge for membership.)

Try it out and enjoy!

Dress Up Your Number Line

Folks, are you feeling the need to dress up your number line, well, look no further!  Originally, I made these word cards and expanded form cards in black with white lettering to match the classroom wall number line with base ten blocks.  But by popular request, you can now get them with a white background and black lettering.  What does this mean to you?  The beauty of using these cards is that you can #1 SAVE INK and #2 USE WHATEVER BACKGROUND COLOR YOU WANT.  You are only limited by your colored paper!  I hope you can find a use for these on your classroom wall number line.  Here are the new versions on these products pictured below.




Multiplication Stairs for the Kinesthetic Learner

I found these stairs in a school in which I had a professional development meeting.  You have probably seen a similar idea on Pinterest of a staircase with brightly colored multiplication cards that exactly fit the stairs.  I have checked into the prices to have custom cards made like those on Pinterest and the prices were well over $500.  Ouch!  The great thing about these stairs (pictured below) is that they look like they were made on a much cheaper budget.

You would need someone who has access to a Silhouette die cutter and a selection of the sticky vinyl to print the numbers on.   In addition, you would need a ruler to mark off the placement of each number and lots of time!  When I saw this, I thought the idea was fabulous, but I didn’t think that the colors were dark enough to stand out on the  concrete.

If your school has used the spaces on their stairs for math facts, leave a link and/or share your experience.

Need a Critical Thinking Time Filler on the Fly? {Giveaway Time}

(Keep scrolling for the giveaway.) I recently went to a conference, and I learned a new game from the author of  This game doesn’t take much planning and really deepens kids’ thinking.  I can’t wait to use this!  The game is Ultimate Tic-Tac-Toe!
Make a board like a regular tic-tac-toe board with little tic-tac-toe boards inside each square.  The first player makes a mark in any spot.
Then the place that was marked sends you to the square you need to mark in.  Like above, the middle square in the small grid was marked so that will send you to the middle square in the larger board.  You may mark anywhere in the center of the large grid like below.
Now this sends the x player to the middle right square of the large grid to mark anywhere in the smaller grid.
The x player just sent the o player to the middle.  This wasn’t the best move for the x player because they just helped the o player gain ground.
The o player now sends the x player to the bottom right square which is a safe move since no squares are marked there.
Another safe move was made by x who sent the o player to another empty grid in the middle left of the board.
Now, o sent x back to the middle of the board which was a risky move.  This helps x set up the board to win or block.  Two moves are shown below.
The middle x sends the o player to the top right large square.  This sends x to the top right corner.
The x player sends o to the bottom right square in a safe move.
To the luck of the x player, o made a play in the middle of the small grid on the bottom right.  Now guess where x gets to go?!
Now x wins the middle square and no one else can play in the middle square.
The goal of the game is to gain three large squares next to each other in any direction just like regular tic-tac-toe.
If the player does get sent to any large square that has already been won, he  can choose wherever he wants to go.  Have fun playing!
Prize: $75 Teachers pay Teachers Gift Card

Giveaway organized by: Kelly Malloy (An Apple for the Teacher), 
Rules: Use the Rafflecopter form to enter.  Giveaway ends 3/13/17 and is open worldwide.
Are you a blogger who wants to participate in giveaways like these to grow your blog?  Click here to find out how you can join a totally awesome group of bloggers!

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!



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