“Technology is just a tool. In terms of getting the kids working together and motivating them, the teacher is most important.” – Bill Gates

CEP 811: Dollar Bin + Apartment Thrifting + Math = Fun

on July 8, 2014

Part 1: Thrifting Adventure

This week in CEP 811 definitely required some craftiness and innovation. I was asked to use my Maker Kit (Squishy Circuits), along with some repurposed items, to create something that I could use to teach curriculum in my 5th grade math classroom.

My school piloted a new math program last year, and the one component that is severely lacking in the new program is that of math games. For this reason, I knew that I wanted to create a math game that could be used in my classroom during our fractions and decimals unit, specifically something that would aid my teaching of equivalent fractions and decimals.

My first stop was the spare bedroom of my apartment. I was looking for a game board, a poster board, or anything else flat and sturdy. I found an old cardboard box, and I quickly decided that I could cut it up and use one (or more) of the sides as my working surface. I also grabbed markers, scissors, and some plain white printer paper.

I next opened up my Maker Kit, and I discovered that I had to make conductive and insulting clay for the circuits. I didn’t have Cream of Tartar, vegetable oil, food coloring, or AA batteries, so I knew that a trip to Target was in order. While there, I scavenged the dollar bins for anything else that might be useful for my project. I found a pack of mini-pens that I thought would be easy to disassemble – I knew that I would need some type of “tubing” to make a pointer/wand for my game, and the clear plastic tube of the pens seemed ideal.

Part 2: How to Make a Circuit

Following the directions on the Squishy Circuits box, I first made the conductive dough. The dough had to be made on the stove over medium heat, and at first it seemed that my pot of liquid goop would never form a dough ball; however, with patience and A LOT of stirring, my conductive dough was finally formed! This dough is extremely salty, which is what helps to conduct the electricity.


After taking the dough off the heat, I kneaded it for a few minutes more to fully incorporate the flour. I then made the sugary insulating dough, which did not require any heat, but was much harder to get to a play-dough-like consistency (it was very sticky!).

Now that I had two different types of dough with which to work, I spent some time building with circuits to see what I could make. This was my first (very simple) creation: two balls of conductive dough and one LED light:


I then tried out my insulting dough to make sure that it didn’t conduct electricity:


And I also tried sticking the insulting dough between the two mounds of conductive dough:


Sticking the insulting dough in between was actually very helpful; if the two wads of conductive dough touch one another, it prevents the light from lighting, since the current will flow through the dough instead of through the LED light (path of least resistance).

Part 3: Assembling my Game Board

1). Take a pair of scissors and poke holes into the piece of cardboard (I actually ended up making my game board smaller; I used only 12 out of the 25 holes that I poked through). The holes will be used to place the LED lights along the game board.




2). Flip the cardboard over. Roll the conductive dough into long strips, and cover the columns of holes. Make sure each column is connected to one another by another “strip” of conductive dough along the top. (NOTE: I used a second piece of cardboard to “sandwich” the dough once I flipped the game board over).


3). Disassemble mini-pen, discarding all parts but the plastic tubing. Fill tubing with conductive dough. This will serve as the “wand” or “pointer” for the game.


4). Stick the positive (red) end of the battery into the conductive dough on the back of the game board. Stick the negative (black) end into on end of the “wand”.



5). Using markers, label the game board with fractions and decimals.

6). Stick the LED lights into the holes. The longer end of the LED light is the positive end – this end should be placed through the hole and into the conductive dough. The shorter end is the negative end; this end should be bent upward. Current only flows in one direction: from positive to negative. We are assuring that the negative leg of the LED touches the negative dough (which is inside the wand), and the positive leg (poking through the game board hole) is in the positive dough (underneath the game board).

I did all of the equivalent fractions/decimals is groups to ensure that I had the appropriate colors (e.g., all fractions/decimals equivalent to 1/2 were red, all fractions/decimals equivalent to 1/4 were green, etc.).




7). Turn on battery pack. Try to find decimals/fractions that are equivalent to one another. The colors will reveal if you are correct! Video demonstration:

A link to the lesson that accompanies the game can be found here

Part 4: How this Game Follows the 5th Grade Common Core Math Curriculum 

The 5th Grade Common Core Math Curriculum is heavily focused on fractions and decimals (in fact, 5 out of 8 of my units are on these two topics). At the very foundation of the curriculum is understanding not only what a fraction represents, but also how fractions and decimals relate to one another. This game (and the accompanying lesson posted above) allows students to practice their skills by finding equivalencies in a fun, non-threatening environment. The use of mixed-level groups, working together, and shifting roles gives students the opportunity to solve problems without really knowing that they are doing math. This lesson and game also encourages “math talk”, and gives the teacher the opportunity to listen in on math conversations taking place in the classroom.

NOTE: The photos and video in this post are meant to serve as visuals to illustrate each step in the process of creating this game. If anything is not clear from the photos, please comment and let me know! I will get back to you with clarification.



3 responses to “CEP 811: Dollar Bin + Apartment Thrifting + Math = Fun

  1. Stephanie- You created a great activity with Squishy Circuits! When reading through your lesson plan, I really liked how you added the real-world applications and questions that require critical thinking. Great job!

  2. Stefanie says:

    Stephanie, I really like how you incorporated squishy circuits into the fifth grade math curriculum. I taught fifth grade last year and had trouble finding games for decimals and fractions. You created a great tool for students to check their facts and see if they are right. Your blog post was very engaging and led me through the exact steps you took to create it. Now that I teach second grade I will have to come up with a new use for it, but I like having yours as an example. We played with squishy circuits in our MAET class overseas but I definitely had not come up with a use for them at the time. Thanks for the awesome ideas!

  3. Stephanie,

    This is a great game for students to play and practice their equivalent fractions. I would love to create this game for my RTI students to play as an intervention. Fractions can be an extremely difficult concept for students most of my 6th graders still struggle with fractions. I like that you incorporated decimals into the game as well it helps the students to see that fractions and decimals are similar.

    Jamie (Healey) Morningstar

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