SparkTruck's Simple Circuit Town!




Introduction: SparkTruck's Simple Circuit Town!

This workshop explores imagining a city, sketching the city, building the city using cardboard and tape and then illuminating the city with LED lights. In about 2 hours, this project covers topics ranging from geometry, simple circuits and urban design, all through a fun hands-on experience that incorporates both low-tech building and simple circuits. This activity can be aligned to multiple subject areas and grade levels: math, social studies, language arts and more!

This workshop requires several facilitators (recommended = 2). You will need at least one facilitator to help with troubleshooting the simple circuits, and at least one facilitator to help with building the city.

The ideal age group for this workshop is ~12 years old (6th grade), although it can be successfully done with students a few years older and younger. For us, with two facilitators we can comfortably accommodate up to 25 students.

Quick stats: Total time required: 2 hours

Number of facilitators: 2 minimum

Number of students: 25 maximum

Age of students: ~12 years old, +/- 2 (but grownups love it, too!)

Teacher Notes

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Step 1: Prep & Materials

Here's what you need to have handy:

Tools & Materials

Must Haves:

Nice to Haves:

  • Sharpies
  • Exacto Knives (for older students)
  • Tissue paper
  • Cardstock
  • Pipe cleaners
  • Popsicle sticks

Before the workshop, cut each student an 8 in x 12 in piece of cardboard for their base.

Step 2: Brainstorming

  1. Before students start building, spend 5-8 minutes having students brainstorm elements of their city. Encourage them to list as many structures, objects, plants and animals as they can. They should include the different roles people have in work and life in their city.
  2. Next, have the students select one structure, one living creature and one object they want to design. Have the students circle those items.

Step 3: Sketching

  1. Now, have the students sketch the three elements they chose on a blank piece of paper. Ask students to think about how these objects connect and interact. Have the students sketch the view from the ground and the view from the sky.** Hint: It is helpful to have students widely distribute their designs around the paper. This will help when the students go to create their circuits.
  2. Next, have the students decide which object they want to light up. In our example, each student gets two batteries and two LED lights. In that case, students will have to put the two batteries in opposite corners of the pages. Students should also diagram their circuit. How will the object that is getting lit up connect to the battery?

Step 4: Practicing With Circuits

  1. Now, on a scrap piece of paper, have students practice making a working circuit. Using copper tape, have students connect a battery with an LED to make a successful circuit.

This website provides great diagrams.

This video is a great tutorial.

It is important to have the students fail, tinker and succeed before trying to incorporate their circuit into their city.

A few tips:

  • The adhesive backing of the copper tape is not conductive. When making a turn with the tape, students need to fold away from where they are wanting to go and then fold back over the copper tape toward the direction they want to head. This ensures that the conductive side of the tape is always touching. (See photos)
  • It is helpful to draw the circles for the battery and label them positive and negative.
  • It is also helpful to test the LEDs for their positive and negative sides before taping down the LEDs.
  • One 3V battery will only power one LED.

Step 5: Transitioning to the Townscape

  1. Once your students have mastered simple circuitry, have them start building their circuits on their cardboard base. Encourage students to review their circuit sketch and iterate on the sketch based on what they learned from their practice.
  2. Have the students build one circuit at a time and help them test their circuit before taping everything down.
  3. Once the circuit is working reliably, students can attach everything with scotch tape.

Step 6: Prototype and Build Circuit Town!

  1. Now, have students experiment with building their objects with cardboard and packing tape. Students should think about opportunities for the light to shine through their objects. Cutting windows in buildings and using tissue paper is an excellent way to illuminate the buildings.
  2. Have the students test their buildings and objects with the LEDs illuminated before taping down their cardboard creations. Help students troubleshoot their buildings if they are not illuminated by the LED.
  3. Use binder clips to secure batteries in place.

Step 7: Storytelling!

  1. Now that they have built Circuit Town, students should create a story about their town. The questions you ask students to address will be shaped by the content area you are teaching.
  2. Some sample questions might include: "Who lives in your Circuit Town?" "What are the buildings/objects used for?" "Why is power important to Circuit Town?" "Where does the power come from and where does it go?" "Why is light important to Circuit Town?" "What would happen to the residents of Circuit Town if they no longer had any power?"
  3. In addition, we believe that the debrief is an important part of any learning experience. This step gives the students a chance to own their learnings by articulating them. Some questions that we like to ask at the end are: “What did you learn?” "What was your favorite part?" “Who got stuck? How did you get unstuck?”

Step 8: Questions

If you have additional questions about running this SparkTruck workshop, or if anything in this Instructable is unclear, don't hesitate to get in touch with us at!

Step 9: Enrichment

The project allows for lots of possibilities for enrichment and content integration.

  • If you are interested in enriching this activity, consider the following:
    • Have students act as "urban planners" and build two circuits and buildings on one board
    • Have students build with more complex tools and materials (laser cutter, 3D printer, wood, etc.)
    • Have students experiment with different circuit formats (i.e. designing the LED to be inside a cardboard/tissue paper tree)
  • If you are interested in integrating specific content into this activity, consider the following:
    • Language Arts: Have students build a light-up diorama of a scene from a book
    • Social Studies: Have students model international landmarks or cityscapes
    • Mathematics: Have students use geometry to design their townscape and allocate building materials
    • Science: Have students model a power grid (from a generator to a home)
    • Civics: Have students explore how urban planning affects humans, animals, green spaces, efficiency, sustainability, etc.

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    3 Discussions


    5 years ago on Introduction

    What a fun project to do with students. (Actually, I kind of want to make one.) Thanks for sharing, and especially for including all the info up top about the ideal target age and number of students and facilitators.

    I'd love to see photos of some student-made towns! If you have any, you should share them at the end of the 'ible.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Cute little town! Thanks for sharing and being what makes instructables great!