Operation Valentine: a Game, a Gift, a Lesson in Electric Circuits




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Who said learning couldn’t be fun?  With “Operation Valentine,” a class can apply what they have learned about electric circuits and connections and end up creating a project that is sure to be a hit at home.  This project not only is a great classroom project for the student building it, but the finished game/toy can also be used to help younger students practice beginning reading skills and fine motor skills.  This is also a great gift to valentines of all ages.  Everyone, young and old, loves those little conversational hearts, and playing this game is quite addicting!

Instructional Objective:  By making the “Operation Valentine” project, students will apply their knowledge of simple electric circuits to create a game that can be used to help younger students practice beginning reading skills and fine motor skills.

Recommended ages:
To build
“Operation Valentine”:  grades 3 and up
To play “Operation Valentine”:  ages 4 and up

Where the idea came from
I often volunteer in my son’s classroom leading math games and crafts that I have designed.  I got the idea for making this game after chaperoning my son’s class in an Electric Circuit class at our local science museum.  The next day, he did not have school, so he wanted to make something with circuits.  I searched online trying to find ideas for making games with circuits.  The game, “Operation,” kept coming up, but all the suggestions related to these game required supplies that either I did not have or that were very expensive to make.  I also wanted to make a project that can be made in an hour or less with inexpensive items that most people would have in their home or classroom.

Format of the “Operation Valentine”  Instructable
Since I am designing this project to not only be used to teach children as young as 8 years old about circuits but also for children and adults to enjoy this as a gift or a toy, the format of my “Operation Valentine”  Instructable will be as follows:

Part I:  Prep work (done by an adult)
Part II:  Teacher’s instructions and project building done by students
Part III:  How to play “Operation Valentine”
Part IV:  Variations

Teacher Notes

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Step 1: Part I, Step 1: Prep Work (done by an Adult): Gathering Supplies

The supplies that will be needed for each project for the prep work and for building by students are:

1 - small (1 ounce) box of conversational heart candies
1 - 9 volt battery
4 - small paper fasteners
1 – large paper fastener
1 – large paperclip
1 – piece of paper
String of lights that no longer work when plugged in
Permanent marker
Electrical tape
Clear tape
Liquid glue
Wire stripper/cutter
Markers or crayons

Cost:  Less than $1 each

Note:  I was able to purchase the boxes of heart candies for 4 for $1, and the 9 volt batteries for 2 for $1.  I use 9 volt batteries instead of smaller AA batteries because the 9 volts allow the light bulb to shine much brighter.

Step 2: Part I, Step 2: Preparing the Wire and Light Bulb

Untangle the 3 wires that make up the string of lights.  Use the wire cutters to cut off one 12” length of insulated wire and 1 light bulb with 4” of insulated wire still attached to each side.

Strip 1” of insulation off of each of the 4 ends of the wires. Twist the stripped ends between your thumb and forefinger to help with inserting these wires through holes in the box in later steps.

Note:  The light bulb will have two wires attached to it. 

Testing and Troubleshooting: Test the light to make sure that the bulb works by touching the uninsulated end of one of the wires (attached to the bulb) to the positive terminal and the uninsulated end of the other wire (attached to the bulb) to the negative terminal of the 9 volt battery.  If it does not light up, you need to either test your battery or cut another light bulb off of the string of lights.

Step 3: Part I, Step 3: Preparing the Paperclip Heart

Spread the paperclip apart sideways.  About 1 1/2" from the middle, wrap each side around the outside of a permanent marker shaping the paperclip into a heart.

Use the wire cutters to cut off the extra paperclip wire in the middle of the heart.

Note:  The heart you made should be large enough so that one of the candy hearts can pass through it.

Step 4: Part I, Step 4: Preparing the Heart Opening in the Box

Remove the heart candies and store in the zip lock bag or later.  GENTLEY open all sides of the box and lay flat.  Place the paperclip heart (from Step 2) in the approximate center of the box leaving enough room for the 9 volt battery to be placed at the bottom of the box.

Using the permanent marker, draw around the outside of the paperclip heart.  Remove the paperclip heart. At the four points indicated in the picture, draw a semicircle on the inside of the heart.  Reinforce the notches with electrical tape.  Using scissors, cut out the heart opening in the box making sure to leave the semicircle notches in place.

Step 5: Part I, Step 5: Preparing the Holes in the Box

Holes for paper fasteners, light bulb, tweezer’s wire & holder

To make the holes for the paper fasteners, use the nail to poke a hole in the middle of the 4 notches.

Centered ½” from the top, use a nail to poke a hole and wiggle it around so that the hole is just large enough to securely hold the light bulb.

On the center of the fold line for the front and right side of the box, use the nail to poke a hold just large enough for the wire from the tweezers to fit through.

On the right side of the box, cut 2 slits large enough to hold the tweezers (that will be made from the large paper fastener).

Step 6: Part II: Teacher’s Instructions and Project Building Done by Students: Step 1: Explaining Circuits

Part II:  Teacher’s instructions and project building done by students
Step 1:  Explaining circuits

Teacher’s instructions:
  The teacher should review with the class the basics of electric circuits. I draw the circuits on a white board,  label them, and then talk about the following basic concepts of electric circuits.

Electricity: energy obtained from a power source (e.g., a storage device such as a battery)

Circuit: Path through which electricity passes.

Components:  light bulbs, buzzer, motor

Simple circuit:  A circle/path through which electricity passes to connect a power source to one component.  

Series circuit:  One large circle/path through which electricity passes to more than one component.  The current flows on one circle path through all of the components.   Thus, if one of the components (e.g., bulbs) is removed from the socket, the electricity stops flowing, and all of the bulbs in the series circuit stop lighting up.

Parallel circuit:  2 or more connecting circles/paths where each component is directly connected in its own circuit/circle to a power source.  If one bulb is removed from the socket, the electricity still flows to the other bulbs.

Step 7: Part II, Step 2: Drawing the Simple Circuit Used in €œOperation Valentine”

Teacher's instructions:  We are going to use a simple circuit to make a game called “Operation Valentine.”

First, we need to do some planning. I want each of you to work with me and make a drawing of what this circuit will look like.  (I then have each child get out a piece of paper and together we draw what this simple circuit is going to look like, labeling all parts of the drawing.)

Step 8: Part II, Step 3: Gathering Supplies for Each Child

Have each child gather the following supplies (or you may want to have the supplies already on paper plates or trays for each child)

1 - Unfolded box (prepared in Part I)
1 - 9 volt battery
4 - small paper fasteners
1 - large paper fastener
1 -  paperclip heart (prepared in Part I, Step 3)
1 - lightbulb with 2 wires hanging from it (prepared in Part I, Step 2)
12" of insulated wire (prepared in Part I, Step 2)
1 - scrap of paper
Electrical tape
Markers or crayons
Liquid glue
Zip lock bag of heart candies (However, I always wait until the last step to hand out the candy!)

Step 9: Part II, Step 4: Attaching the Paperclip Heart to the Box

On the front of the box, place the paperclip heart over the cutout section making sure that paperclip heart is on the edge or hanging slightly inside the opening.  Cut a little more of the box if necessary.

Gently insert the 4 small paper fasteners into the holes in the notches.  On the inside of the box, spread out the ends of the fasteners. 

Note: If the ends of the paper fasteners are too long (as some were for me), have the teacher use the wire cutter to shorten them.

Step 10: Part II, Step 5a: the Tweezers: Making Them

Insert the end of the 12” wire between the tongs of the large paper fastener.  Wrap the uninsulated end of the wire around the underside of the top of the paper fastener.  Secure the connection by wrapping with a 3” piece of electrical tape.  Open tongs wide enough so that they will be able to pick up a heart candy.

Step 11: Part II, Step 5a: Attaching Tweezers and Bulb

Cut a strip of paper approximately ¾” x 2 ½” and decorated it with a smiley face (without a nose) and some remarks such as “OUCH!” or “GENTLE!”  (or “DON’T RIP MY HEART OUT!”)  Use liquid glue to secure it to the box just above the heart opening.

Make a nose on the smiley face by Poking  a hole through the paper lining it up with the hole already in the box.

From the front side, insert the bulb (with wires first) through the “nose” hole.

Attach tweezer wire to box:  Insert the wire from the tweezers through the hole you made on the right side fold.

Step 12: Part II, Step 7: Attaching Wires to the Battery

Attach one wire from the light bulb to one of the battery terminals by looping it around the sides and over the top of the terminal. Use 2” of electrical tape to secure the wire to the battery terminal.

Attach the wire from the tweezers to the other battery terminals by looping it around the sides and over the top of the terminal.  Use another 2” of electrical tape to secure the wire to the battery terminal.

Step 13: Part II, Step 7b: Connecting the Light Wire to the Paper Clip Heart

Wrap the uninsulated end of the remaining light bulb wire around the bottom point of the paperclip heart and then around the prongs of the paper fastener at the bottom of the heart.

Note: Test the connections by touching the tweezers to the paperclip heart and paper fasteners on the front of the box.  The bulb should light up.  If it does not, check the wire connections to the battery, heart, and light bulb.

Step 14: Part II, Step 8: Securing With Electrical Tape

Use a generous amount of electrical tape strips to fasten down the battery, wires, light bulb, and paper fasteners.

Fold the box back together.  I used clear tape to tape the sides closed. 

Add any additional decorations you would like to the box.  (I added feet and a sign that says "Valentine, Please be gentile with my heart!"

 Fill the box with heart candies.  It is easiest to fill it through the heart opening. 

Note:  I put this game in a zip lock bag for carrying around to keep the candy fresh and safely contained in the box.

Step 15: Part III: How to Play €œOperation Valentine”

This game can be played with one or more players.
To play, take turns trying to use the tweezers to extract a heart candy from the heart opening in the box.
If the light bulb lights up, it is the next player’s turn.
If you successfully pull out a heart candy, you are rewarded by getting to eat it!

Beginning readers can use this game to learn to read the words on the hearts.

Step 16: Part IV: Variations

Mini cereal boxes or raisin boxes can also be used. 

It would be cool to cut out a shape of a brain out of a mini cereal box and pull out Cheerios!

Also, the valentine candy box can be filled with more healthy snacks such as gummy fruit treats, dry cereal, small crackers, or raisins.

Valentine's Day Challenge

First Prize in the
Valentine's Day Challenge

The Teacher Contest

Runner Up in the
The Teacher Contest

Toy Challenge 2

Participated in the
Toy Challenge 2

3 People Made This Project!


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27 Discussions


7 years ago on Introduction

Thank you for sharing this simple yet highly engaging and creative project. Using old xmas lights is genius! I'm interested in trying something like this in my own class. How could the prep time for this project be reduced, especially cutting out the boxes? Is there any step that you find students tend to need extra help? Thanks again!

3 replies

Reply 2 years ago

It's getting the exposed wire taped to the battery terminals. Once you tape the wire it tends to separate under the tape and is tricky to successfully tape the wire strands against the terminals. Also, don't use a curve like a heart, instead do a triangle or square because the rounded areas are to difficult to tape.


Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

I also find that putting kids in pairs to help attach and tape the wires to the battery helps. Sometimes 4 hands are better than 2! Also, for troubleshooting, two brains are better than one. This also makes the students more responsible for their projects rather than asking the teacher for help. Another suggestion is to ask a couple of parents to volunteer to operate a "help desk" or a roving "geek squad" where the students check their connections and get help with troubleshooting.


Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

For a class of 12 students, it takes me a total of one hour to do all of the prep steps for all 12 projects. All wire cutting and stripping is done together, all wire hearts are bent at once, etc. This all-at-one-time prep approach is most time conserving for cutting the heart opening in the boxes. The most difficult and important step is making sure the holes in the notches around the heat opening are positioned correctly so that the paper fasteners and the paperclip heart fit properly.


Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

And most people have a strand of lights that won't work when plugged in! It is such an inexpensive way to play with circuits! There is also so much usable insulated wire on each strand of lights.


1 year ago

I'm currently working on this project with my fourth grade STEM class. The 9 volt battery starts to get really hot when we attach the wires. I've tried to different brands and both get extremely hot. Has anyone else had this problem?

3 replies

Reply 1 year ago

I never had this problem with 9V batteries. Are you using LED lights? 9V batteries will blow LED lights...flat batteries work better. I also don’t understand how the batteries would overheat when the circuit is rarely connected...only when a “mistake” is made, and the wire heart rim is touched with the tweezers. Are you using thus as a “light” with the light bulb on a lot?


Reply 1 year ago

I am using Christmas tree lights (nothing special ordinary lights). We lined the hearts with copper tape. The battery is overheating as soon as we're connecting the wires. I'm wondering if it's because my batteries are alkaline 9volt batteries. I just got the cheapest ones from Amazon. We love love the project...not giving up yet! I'll grab some batteries from the Dollar Tree. I just want to make sure the kids are safe when connecting everything. Thanks


Reply 1 year ago

I am purplexed. I wonder if it is the copper tape? Away from the candy box, please try this: If you take a battery and simply attach one wire to the positive and one to the negative, thus completing the circuit and lighting up the bulb, does the battery overheat? If so it must be the battery. If not, then it may be how the copper tape or other wiring is done inside the candy box.


Tip 1 year ago on Introduction

I received a comment that I cannot reply to that somebody is having trouble with 9V batteries overheating. I have never had that problem. Are you using non-LED Christmas lights? I know that LED lights will blow with a 9V battery, and a flat battery will work better with LED lights.


Answer 1 year ago

I buy 2 for a dollar at Dollar Tree.


5 years ago

I started this project with my instructables club yesterday. we made a few changes though. we used tin foil instead of a paper clip and talked about conductors and insulators. We also used coin batteries instead because the 9volt was frying my lights. It is a very popular project to participate in.


5 years ago on Introduction

This is awesome!!! I think my Instructables club needs to try this one


7 years ago on Introduction

Great project! And not just for kids either :)
Have a question: Are the paper fasteners just there to hold the heart in place?