Squishy Circuits – Electrical Play Dough


A wonderful idea from the Playful Learning Lab at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota.

Play dough is a semisolid which contains salt and is naturally electrically conductive. However, replace the salt with sugar and the play dough becomes an insulator! Both can be made easily and cheaply using flour, vegetable oil, water and salt or sugar. Students can then roll the dough into ‘wires’ or build more elaborate shapes into which they can then connect components. Great fun!

The recipes in metric units are available here.

The Squishy Circuits Classroom Guide contains the recipes as well as basic instructions and sample worksheets. There are also lots of fun ideas for using squishy circuits in electronics education on the Tinkering Studio website.


Awesome Lesson Starters

Start the lesson with a bang!

What students experience in the first couple of minutes of a lesson makes a crucial difference in how well they engage with the learning intentions and as such, starter activites should be exciting, enthusing and unpredictable.

Here are some ideas for creating that ‘hook’ and maintaining the curiosity of students from the get-go.

  • Start the lesson with a fun or even explosive demonstration which ties in to the main body of the lesson. Sick Science has lots of great ideas.
  • Pass around mystery objects inside sealed bags. Ask the students to guess what they are and what they do.
  • Display apparatus, interesting objects and photographs around the room.
  • Play a short video on a loop and hand out questions about its content. This is even better if it is a video that you or the students have made. For example, a time-lapse video to recap the previous lesson or the steps of a practical investigation presented in Adobe Voice.
  • Write a true / false question or a statement on the board. As pupils arrive ask them to choose whether they think it is ‘true’ or ‘false’ or whether they ‘agree’ or ‘disagree’ and to stand to one side or another of an imaginary line down the middle of the room.
  • Display a picture and a question. Alternatively, you can display a number of different pictures related to a theme and simply ask ‘What have I Googled?’
  • Play ‘Backs to the Board.’ Divide your students into two or three teams. One volunteer from each team sits in a chair with their backs to the board, facing their friends. Write a key word on the board, making sure that the players in the ‘hot seats’ can not see it. After you say ‘Go!’, the members of each team must try to elicit the word from the volunteer without saying the word or giving any clues as to its spelling. The players in the ‘hot seats’ then swap with another member of their respective teams.
  • Arrange for a guest speaker to be standing in the room as the students arrive.
  • Recap the last lesson by displaying true / false statements or multiple choice questions and asking students to answer on mini whiteboards.
  • Use Socrative or Kahoot to prepare a fun quiz or questionnaire.
  • Play a song relating to the lesson as the students arrive.
  • Display multiple choice questions around the room. Give the students a time limit (these classroom timers are fun) and get them to move around the room looking for and answering the questions.
  • Set up apparatus for the lesson and display one or more questions about what it might be for and how it works. Alternatively, hide the appartus under a cloth and, before revealing it, ask questions about what it might be.
  • When they arrive, hand each student or pair of students a mystery object and ask them to come up with ideas about what it might be used for.
  • Greet the students at the classroom door wearing full protective equipment including visor or goggles.
  • Hand each student a question or an answer to a question and ask them to find their pair.
  • Play the ‘Who Am I?’ game but instead of a famous person designate each student a key word relating to the current topic. Remember, participants can only use ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ questions to work out who or what they are.

No matter how you start the lesson try to involve the students whenever you can and make sure it does not go on for too long. Link the activity to the main body of the lesson and allow time for questions and answers. Have fun!

Project-Based Learning

Over the past eight weeks our Year 10 students have been involved in an extended project-based learning (PBL) task. Each group of 3-4 students was presented with a real-life problem which could not be solved by one ‘right’ or easy to find answer and asked to present their ideas to an audience of parents, teachers and peers.

The problems were purposely open-ended in order to emphasise active, student-directed learning across a plurality of disciplines. The students all effectively investigated the problem, carried out scientific research and then constructed their own solutions. New technology was used throughout to communicate, collaborate and present their work.

The students decided that the theme for presentation day should be ‘Jurassic World’. They produced invitations for guests and decorated the science corridor.

ticketjurrasic corridor

On arrival guests were shown an introductory video. The quality of this is exceptional.

Innovations included an ant deterrent made from kaffir limes, a hanging storage facility for utilising the space beneath a work desk, a wind-up torch and this device for removing the shells from hard boiled eggs.

Thinking Maps in Science

thinking maps

Thinking maps are a set of eight visual tools which each correspond to different higher-order thinking skills. First published by David Hyerle in 1989 they are now a common feature in classrooms around the world. The maps help learners to grasp new concepts by allowing them to construct visual representations of otherwise abstract ideas. They also promote cooperative learning and critical thinking through processes such as ordering, prioritising and sequencing.

Here are some examples of how I have used a few of the thinking maps recently in my science teaching.

(Incidentally there are same great apps available for constructing thinking maps but I find that large sheets of paper or laminated, wipe-clean outlines of the maps and coloured board pens are actually more conducive to collaboration when concept mapping.)

Circle map

Circle maps are used to put things into context. The ‘thing’ represented is written or drawn in the centre circle and contextual information is shown in the outer circle. The activity can be extended by drawing a rectangular frame around the outside of both circles to represent a frame of reference. The circle map highlights that how people represent or define something is very much influenced by context and by personal experience.


Most recently I have asked students to use circle maps to:

  • Consider the points of view of various interest groups towards a proposed factory development prior to a public-hearing role play activity
  • Highlight plant and animal adaptations to different habitats
  • Demonstrate prior knowledge of the Periodic Table.

Bridge map

Bridge maps are used to visualise analogies by quite literally bridging the gap between the familiar and the new. The line of the bridge shows the common relationship that exists between two or more pairs of things.

For example:

  • Comparing thermoregulation in the body with the negative feedback used by the classroom air conditioning system
  • Using a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant as an analogy for the cardiovascular system
  • Modelling an electric circuit with a water pump.


Bubble map and double-bubble map

The bubble map shares some similarities with the mind map but it is usually used simply to qualify or describe something using adjectives or phrases. For example, students could outline the properties of metallic elements or list the parts of an insect. However, the double-bubble map takes things one step further and allows students to compare and contrast the perceived qualities of two things in much the same way as a Venn diagram.

Double Bubble Map Example

For example, compare and contrast the following:

  • Nervous system and endocrine system
  • Metals and non-metals
  • Longitudinal waves and transverse waves
  • Plant cells and animal cells
  • Sexual reproduction and asexual reproduction
  • Nuclear fusion and nuclear fission.

Flow map


Flow maps are used for interpreting changes or sequences and is probably the map I use most often in the classroom. Remember that flow maps do not have to be linear (life cycles for example).


Lots of possibilities including:

  • The stages of mitosis or meiosis
  • The life cycle of a flowering plant, butterfly, frog etc.
  • The process of DNA replication
  • The steps involved in conducting an experiment.

DNA repl

Multi-flow map

Multi-flow maps are used to represent the causes and effects of a given situation, for example:

  • Global warming
  • Eutrophication
  • Health and safety scenarios
  • Infectious diseases.


Brace map

The brace map which is used to visualise the relationship between a whole object and its parts (e.g. the human body, body systems, organs, tissues, cells)

Tree map

The tree map is used to represent hierarchical information (e.g. classification or ecological keys).

More information

For more information about thinking maps and how they can be used effectively in your lessons visit the Thinking Maps Learning Community.

Modelling the Digestive System

This is a great activity for modelling the digestive system that the students will love.

You will need per group (2-3 students):

  • Potato masher or pestle
  • The leg of a pair of tights (open at both ends)
  • Ziploc bag
  • 3 plastic bowls
  • 2 sponges
  • Vegetable oil
  • Washing-up liquid in a bottle labeled ‘bile’
  • Cereal with milk, bread, biscuits (any leftover food will do)
  • Dilute hydrochloric acid in a beaker labeled ‘stomach acid’
  • Paper towels
  • Plastic gloves
  • Universal indicator solution
  • Five boiling tubes containing the following:
    • Water + blue food colouring (labeled ‘salivary amylase)
    • Water + red food colouring (labeled ‘pepsin’)
    • Water + yellow food colouring (labeled ‘trypsin’)
    • Water + green food colouring (labeled ‘pancreatic amylase’)
    • Water + pink food colouring (labeled ‘lipase’)

Health and safety: Always check for food allergies before you start. Students should wear plastic gloves and goggles when adding the stomach acid.


Even at Key Stage 3 most students have a good knowledge of the different parts of the digestive system so I usually begin with a simple labeling activity and ask one member of the class to record keywords on the board. I emphasise that the digestive system is essentially a long tube running from the mouth to the anus. I have a long piece of rubber tubing which is approximately the length of the alimentary canal (9 metres) which I show the students.

The mouth

I ask the students to put the food into one of the plastic bowls (the mouth). Large pieces of food need to be cut up into smaller bits (by the incisors) and then ground-up using the potato masher or pestle (the molars).


Highlight that this process of physically breaking down the food is mechanical digestion and that it greatly increases the surface area for chemical digestion by enzymes. Add salivary amylase (e.g. the water with blue food colouring) to begin starch digestion.

The esophagus

Tip the slop from the plastic bowl into the top of the tights and ask the students to squeeze the tights in order to push the bolus down the esophagus (this is modelling peristalsis) into the stomach (e.g. the Ziploc bag).


The stomach

Once in the stomach, add the stomach acid (students should test the pH first by adding universal indicator solution) and the pepsin. Seal the bag and churn it to mimic the mechanical digestion of the stomach. Keep going! The food can remain in the stomach for a long time.

Small intestine

Tip the contents of the stomach (the chyme) into the second basin (e.g the small intestine). Add a little vegetable oil to represent oils and fats in the food. Explain that the bile helps emulsify these lipids and neutralises the stomach acid to provide optimum conditions for the pancreatic enzymes. Add some washing-up liquid and give the basin a little shake – the oil should emulsify and settle on top of the liquid as tiny droplets. Add the trypsin, the pancreatic amylase, and the lipase.

Use the sponges to absorb some of the liquid. This models the absorption of nutrients into the blood stream.

Large intestine

Transfer the undigested food into the final basin (e.g. the large intestine) and start absorbing water using the paper towels. Finally, ask the students to model what is left into a stool which will then exit the digestive system via the anus (egestion).

Assessing learning

To follow up the activity and check the students’ understanding of the processes involved, I ask them to illustrate the ‘journey of a cheese sandwich’ as it passes through the alimentary canal. A fun way of doing this is to use large pieces of paper (3 or 4 sheets of A3 stuck together will do) onto which the students first draw their outline, then the parts of the digestive system.

drawing dig

Once complete, add some string so that the paper can be worn around the student’s neck to illustrate the passage of food in-situ. Disposable plastic aprons could also be used.

Google Forms for Flipped Learning

I am a big fan of Google Classroom and although I am not completely paperless quite yet, I am increasingly using Google Docs in class and when setting assignments for homework.

I think one of my greatest discoveries when completing the Google Certified Educator courses (available here and highly recommended) was the fact that you can embed YouTube videos directly into a Google Form then share it with your students as a flipped learning activity. There are a variety of different question types available including text and multiple choice as well as more advanced options such as scales for ordering or sequencing.


The students’ responses are automatically collated in a Google Sheet document allowing you to add comments, apply conditional formatting or review their learning before the lesson.

Conveyor Belt Sushi and the Circulatory System


My students love sushi and there are a proliferation of conveyor belt restaurants in Bangkok. Not only do they serve delicious food but they also make an excellent model of the human circulatory system. Let me explain.

I usually start the lesson by showing the students five minutes of this video ‘Japanology – conveyor belt sushi’. I ask the students if they have ever been to this type of restaurant before and what they like about it. We discuss some of the advantages and disadvantages of conveyor belt restaurants.

I then ask the students to imagine that they are running a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Bangkok. The restaurant is really busy and there are lots of hungry customers waiting to be fed. They need to get the food to the customers more quickly. How do they do it? Allow a few minutes for the students to Think, Pair, Share. (e.g. tell the chefs to get a move on and increase the speed of the belt motor).

I then tell the students that empty plates are piling up but there are no waiters to collect them. How could they solve this problem without employing more waiting staff? (e.g. the customers should put their empty plates back onto the belt so that they are returned to the kitchen).


At this point I tell the students that conveyor belt sushi restaurants are similar to the human circulatory system (this tends to be met with lots of ‘ohhs’ and ‘ahhhhs’ as they realise that I haven’t completely lost the plot by talking about sushi in Biology).

The students are asked to extend the analogy by comparing the parts of the restaurant with parts of the circulatory system using a comparison table or bridge maps (bridge maps are used to visualise analogies by quite literally bridging the gap between the familiar and the new. The line of the bridge shows the common relationship that exists between two or more pairs of things).


The students should consider what each of the following represents in the human body and most importantly why (the relating factor):

  • The sushi (e.g. oxygen or nutrients);
  • The empty plates (e.g. deoxygenated blood);
  • The conveyor belt (e.g. blood vessels);
  • The chefs who prepare the food and put it on the plates (e.g. the lungs);
  • The motor which makes the belt go round (e.g. the heart);
  • The hungry customers (e.g. body cells).

Refer back to your opening questions about how best to get sushi to the hungry customers quickly and what to do with the empty plates. How does this relate to the circulatory system?

The activity should be extended by asking the students to evaluate the model. Are there any ways in which the comparison doesn’t quite work? Can the students think of any other ways of modelling the circulatory system?

This is a good lesson to have just before lunchtime because everyone gets very hungry!

Not Quite Rocket Science

I’ve just been reading about a brilliant project being run between the UK Space Agency and the RHS in which participating schools can grow seeds that have been sent into space.


Sadly, it’s only available to UK schools. Here in Thailand, Year 7 students have been learning about the conditions necessary for germination and we now have lots of different seedlings growing in planters in the corridor outside my classroom.


Keeping it Simple

I often find that really simple visual aids are all that are needed to make otherwise quite complex concepts spring to life in the students’ minds. For example, a balloon inside a cardboard box to represent the protoplast inside the cell wall of a plant cell (particularly useful when teaching plasmolysis), pipe cleaners as polysaccharide chains or for demonstrating protein structure, and drawing pins stuck in ping-pong balls as viruses or cell-surface antigens.