Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Annotated Bib - Historical Contributions in Understanding Electricity

It is important for students to understand the historical background of important scientific concepts. This is true for a variety of reasons. First, it puts seemingly abstract concepts into a historical and more relatable context. Secondly, it gives students opportunities to relate science and social studies instruction in a way that is meaningful and hopefully interesting. Finally, the tandem use of science and history give students opportunities to learn about a diverse group of historical groups and figures.

The books and web resources to follow can be used in 4th grade classrooms for the study of electricity. Various activities are referenced in the web resources section and several different types of literature (i.e. historical fiction, nonfiction, etc.) can be found in the list of books given. These resources will allow students to delve deeper into the historical aspects of one of the most interesting scientific concepts - electricity.


A Wizard From the Start: The Incredible Boyhood and Amazing Inventions of Thomas Edison. By Don Brown. 2010. 32p. Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, (9780547194875). Gr. 2-4.

This picture book goes through the youth of Thomas Edison, from his early difficulties in school to his many inventions all the way up to his invention of the light-bulb. The book portrays Edison as a hard-working young man who persevered through inventions involving electricity that were seen by others as "flops". The books ends with his invention of the light bulb along with several other inventions involving electricity and emphasizes how a curious mind combined with a solid work-ethic can change the world.

Ben Franklin's Adventures with Electricity. By Beverly Birch. 1996. 48p. Barron's Educational Series. , (9780812097900). Ages 9-12.

This book is for the more advanced fourth-grader. There is a lot of information packed onto its pages, but Birch's writing adds drama to Franklin's story. The story touches on several electricity concepts and how they relate to Franklin, including static electricity and the various conductors of electricity.

Blackout! Cities in Darkness. By Therese De Angelis. 2003. 48p. Enslow Publishers, (9780766021105). Ages 9-12.

Although this book may not seem directly related ot electricity, it does give students a good look at what happens when some of our most taken-for-granted inventions fail. By detailing several historical blackouts, students are shown how important electricity is to our daily lives and all that can go wrong with it. This brings an abstract concept closer to reality, forcing students to think about how we use science every day.

How Ben Franklin Stole the Lightning. By Rosalyn Schanzer. 2002. 40p. HarperCollins, (9780688169930). Gr. 2-4.

Schanzer's picture book about Ben Franklin is told in the style of a folk-tale, portraying Franklin as larger-than-life in his many accomplishments. The book takes readers through the many inventions of Ben Franklin, using details about various inventions to hint at his most well-known invention, the lightning rod. The story describes Ben's accomplishment leading up to the inventions of the lightning rod as "stealing lightning out of the sky," which furthers adds to the folksy quality of the book.

Who Really Discovered Electricity? By Amie Jane Leavitt. 2011. 32p. Capstone Press, (9781429662482). Ages 9-12.

This book uses photographs and timelines to inform the reader about several scientists who were involved in early experiments with electricity. This is a good book in that it is not specifically about Ben Franklin or Thomas Edison, but brings other lesser-known scientists into the debate about who really discovered electricity.

Web Resources

This webpage gives basic biographies of important figures in the history of electricity, going beyond the typical information on Ben Franklin and Thomas Edison. This page is a good supplement to information on the more well-known inventors.

This webpage offers in-depth information about Ben Franklin's life and various inventions. There are activities, quizzes and experiments centered around Franklin's contributions to science.

Electric Energy Activity
In this activity, students use a website to compare uses of electricity and energy in the 1740's to the present day. The webpage gives other websites to visit as resources.

Electricity Timeline
This interactive website takes students through the history of electricity, from 600 BC to the present. Students may scroll over pictures for more information and may click on facts that interest them to delve deeper.

This website contains background information on the history of electricity and the many inventions involving electricity throughout the centuries. This is a good page on which students can do their own research on the hisotry of electricity.

For Teachers
VA Standards of Learning
4.3 The student will investigate and understand the characteristics of electricity. Key concepts include:
f) historical contributions in understanding electricity

Background Information from Curriculum Framework
  • Electrical energy moves through materials that are conductors (metals). Insulators (rubber, plastic, wood) do not conduct electricity well.
  • Rubbing certain materials together creates static electricity.
  • Lightning is the discharge of static electricity in the atmosphere.
  • Electrical energy can be transformed into light or motion, and can produce thermal energy
  • Benjamin Franklin, Michael Faraday, and Thomas Edison made important discoveries about electricity.

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