45-60 min
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The Five Core Bricks

45-60 min


Ages 8+

What Will You Learn?​

The teaching and learning of invention literacy is often locked behind many pre-requisite skills and expensive STEM toys.

Scrappy Circuits is an innovative and scrappy way to learn about electrical circuits for less than $1 per person.

Scrappy Circuits breaks down these barriers to learning to invent through using a modular system of bricks built by the learner and sourced for commonly found objects.

The 5 Core Bricks are the foundation for all further Scrappy Circuit projects and endless possibilities.

We will learn how to make a set of 5 core Scrappy Circuits bricks:

  • one battery brick,
  • one LED brick,
  • three different switches.

These bricks can be connected to build your own circuits to better understand electricity and invention literacy.

LED Tealight Take Apart

Step 1

Open the battery compartment. You might need a small screwdriver to remove a screw. Remove the battery. Set it aside for later.

Step 2

Use a small screwdriver to pry apart the cylinder housing from the battery holder bottom. In most tea lights, you can insert the screwdriver into a hole in the battery compartment and use the screwdriver as a lever to pop the battery holder bottom away from the cylinder body. Try not to crack the plastic body of the tea light.

Step 3

Oftentimes the LED is loose inside the tea light, but sometimes you might need scissors or wire cutters to cut the legs free. Cut so that you save as much of the LED legs as you can.

Step 4

Carefully remove the LED, do not bend the legs more than necessary. To test your LED, take your LED and your 3V battery. Have the legs straddle the 3V battery. Remember: the longer LED leg needs to touch the positive (+) side of the battery. Set the LED aside for later use.

Build Your Brick

Step 5

Cut a cardboard rectangle with each side measuring about 2-3 inches.

Step 6

Clip a binder clip to each side of the cardboard brick toward the top. Flip one binder clip arm down.

Step 7

Place the battery on top of the binder clip arm. It works better with the positive (+) side down.

Step 8

Flip the other binder clip arm down on top of the battery.

Step 9

Use a third binder clip to hold the top arm firmly to the battery and brick.

Step 10

Label each binder clip as positive (+) or negative (–) based on which side of the battery the arm touches. This will make it easier to build a working Scrappy Circuit.

3-Clip Battery Brick
Battery Circuit Diagram

Add Your LED

Step 11

Carefully stretch the legs of the LED apart. Mark or remember which leg is longer.

Step 12

Cut a piece of cardboard that is slightly longer than the stretched out legs of the LED.

Step 13

Rip and crumple some aluminum foil around each LED leg.

Step 14

Clip a binder clip around the legs of the LED and cardboard, one on either side.


Step 15

Label with “LED Brick” and write a plus sign near the clip for the longer LED leg and a minus sign near the other clip.

Important Note:
LEDs have polarity, which means electricity can only flow in one direction. The longer leg is positive (+) and shorter leg is negative (-). If your LED isn’t lighting, reconnect each Scrappy Clip to the other binder clip.

LED Brick
LED Circuit Diagram

Build the Clip Switch

This one is pretty simple. The binder clip switch operates just like the light switches in our walls. These types of switches are called toggle switches. They stay on or off until the switch is flipped.

Step 16

Clip two binder clips to opposite sides of a cardboard brick.

Step 17

Flip one arm flat against the brick. If it touches the other binder clip’s base, cut a larger brick. Leave one arm down.

Step 18

When you flip the opposite arm down, it should touch the other binder clip’s arm and complete the circuit (turn on). When you lift the arm, it turns the circuit off.

Step 19

Label with “Binder Clip Switch.”

Binder Clip Switch Brick
Toggle Switch Circuit Diagram

Build the Push Switch

Another name for this switch is momentary switch. It only completes or turns on when the paper clip is pressed. When released, the circuit will open and turn off.

Step 20

Clip one binder clip to a cardboard brick. Lower one arm.

Step 21

Lay a paper clip perpendicular (at a right angle) over the binder clip arm. Use your second binder clip to hold the paper clip in place.

Step 22

To close the switch and turn the circuit on, push the paper clip down.

Step 23

Label with “Push Switch.”

Push Switch Brick
Push Switch Circuit Diagram

Build the Dial Switch

This switch is a creative use of the cylinder body to the LED tea light. It works because the aluminum foil on the cylinder can be spun so it connects each side or only touches one side. When it connects both sides, the switch is closed and the LED will emit light.

Step 24

Cut a strip of aluminum foil that is the width of your cardboard brick. Cut in half.

Step 25

Use a glue stick to attach the aluminum foil to each side of the cardboard. Be sure the two pieces do not touch in the center.

Step 26

Add binder clips to each aluminum-foil-covered-end.

Step 27

Add some glue from a glue stick to about 50 – 75% of the inside, outside, and lower edge of the white cylinder enclosure.

Step 28

Cut a piece of aluminum foil to cover the glued section. Make sure it wraps around the outside and tucks into the inside. The bottom edge of the cylinder enclosure needs to be 50 – 75% covered in aluminum foil.

Step 29

Poke a hole through the cardboard using a thumbtack or small screwdriver. Straighten enough of a paper clip so it is taller than the cylinder.

Step 30

Thread the paper clip through the cylinder enclosure. On the bottom of the brick, bend the paper clip and tape it down. Spin the cylinder to turn on or off.

Step 31

Label with “Dial Switch.”

The Dail Switch
Dail Switch Circuit Diagram

What's Next?

The 5 Core Bricks is just the start of Scrappy Circuits.  Connect these bricks together with some Scrappy Clips and make something light up.

Every Scrappy Circuit needs to include at least two things: A Battery Brick (or alternate Power Brick) and an Action Brick. The Battery Brick and LED Brick are part of the five Core Bricks because each circuit needs a power source and a load or Action Brick to perform a task.

Need ideas? See the Five Starter Projects with the Core Bricks in the Scrappy Circuits Zine.

And don’t forget! The Scrappy Circuits Book is available now as well. Raid your junk drawer for simple office supplies, add a little cardboard, pay a visit to a local dollar store, and you are on your way to countless fun projects for learning about electronics. No soldering or expensive equipment required.

Michael June 5, 2021
Scrappy Circuits breaks down the many barriers to teaching and learning invention literacy like pre-requisite skills, cost, and access. It is a modular system of bricks built by the learner and sourced from commonly found objects. Binder clips act as terminals for electricity to travel through each brick and can be connected using alligator clips or homemade Scrappy Clips. The first five Scrappy Circuits bricks, known as the Core Bricks, can be constructed for around a dollar out of some office supplies, an LED tea-light, and an imagination. Larger groups can build these for around twenty dollars and each learner will be able to keep their bricks and continue to explore and invent. The learning doesn't stop there! The Scrappy Circuits journey can continue with many more bricks and projects all made out of common and inexpensive items.