30-45 min
Session 1 of 0
In Progress

Paper Clip Circuits

30-45 min


Ages 8-13

What Will You Learn?

Let’s learn more about how circuits work! First, we’ll build a simple series circuit that lights up. Then you’ll make a conductivity tester and compare the electrical properties of different materials. Finally we’ll learn about switches and how to add them to your circuit project.

This project is a sample from our Circuit Scouts Kit, available in the Maker Shed with all the materials you need, a guidebook and educator’s curriculum.

Build a Circuit

Step 1

  1. Gently pop the Battery Pack out of the Shake It Board. Place a battery into your battery pack with the smooth positive side facing up. Turn the switch to “on.”

  2. Link 2-3 paper clips together into a chain. Make three chains total.

  3. Hook one paper clip chain to the battery pack on the positive (red) side, taking care to touch the metal tinned area. If desired, use a bit of Maker Tape to strengthen the connection. Connect the other side of the paper clip chain to the positive (red) side of the LED. 

  4. Repeat with another chain of paper clips, connecting the negative (white) side of the battery to the negative (white) side of the LED. (Figure 2a)

  5. Turn on the switch. Your LED should light up. Note: You may need to wiggle or pull on the paper clip chains a bit to get a good connection. You have just created a simple series circuit, a loop where the whole current flows through each component. (Figure 2a)

Figure 2a

Step 2

Let’s test the properties of different materials. 

  1. Turn off the battery pack. Unhook the chain from the red (positive) side of the battery pack. Attach the third paper clip chain to the battery pack. Turn on the battery pack. 

  2. To test items for conductivity, touch the unhooked chains to the item. If the LED lights up it conducts electricity. (Figure 2b) Test some aluminum foil, a pencil, a paper clip, an eraser, cardboard, a cup of water, yourself, etc.

  3. Make a list of things that conduct electricity and things that don’t. What do they have in common, if anything?

Figure 2b

Step 3

Let’s add a tilt switch. 

  1. Turn off the battery pack. Place the tilt switch between the two unlinked paper clip chains, connecting to the white, tinned (shiny) openings. Turn on the battery pack. (Figure 2c)

  2. Move the tilt switch to turn the LED on and off. In what ways could a tilt switch be used in your inventions? What other things could you use as a switch?

Figure 2c

What Next?

  • Work with friends to create the biggest or longest circuit you can.
  • Based on your experiments with conductivity, what else could you use to replace the paper clips? Test a circuit that uses different conductors.
  • Design and test your own switch. Try using paper clips, brass brads, binder clips, aluminum foil, or other materials in your design.
Maker Camp June 14, 2021
Maker Camp is a do-it-yourself online resource to help leaders like you organize a summer camp that engages children in making. Our goal is to provide you and your campers with the inspiration and the helpful resources, along with many possible projects to fit a wide range of interests and abilities. The idea is to focus on making as a playful, social activity. Maker Camp provides enough support for anyone to get started. Making provides experiences that help children become self-directed learners and good problem-solvers.