Daily Archives: September 14, 2020

[For those who prefer to listen]

The Story So Far

Ten years ago, I went to the annual conference of the ASE in the UK. One of the workshops I attended was by a Swedish teacher, Hans Perrson. He did a demonstration in which the population of the room became a connected electric circuit, using a cute toy, a fluffy chicken that chirped when the circuit was completed. He was demonstrating an exercise he used to try and deepen children’s understanding of difficult concepts. [In physics, from primary school to degree level and beyond, current elctricity is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp.] Luckily for eveyone who attended, there was “one for everyone in the audience” and as we left we each got presented with our own little chick. Probably the best present I ever recieved for the teaching of physics. If you live in Sweden and you know him, say thank you from me.

This is a flavour of how Hans uses the chicken in a primary science [this and other ideas of his are at]

Over the years I have used this idea and evolved it slowly – many colleagues and students have added ideas to the mix. Now that we are physically distanced from each other and can’t actually do the circuit, perhaps the time has come to pause and jot it all down.

Hans’s orginial teaching sequence

  • demonstrate that the chicken has a battery inside, and cheeps if a conductor [eg human skin] joins the two electodes
  • invite people to form a circle in which they all join hands, except two people, and these two each place a finger on the electrodes
  • ask people what they think is happening. Take time to discuss and play.
  • place various materials (plastic, metal, wood, tap water) between the hands of two people in the circle (now called a circuit with older students) and agree that only some materials allow the chicken to cheep. Get to the agreement that materials may be conductors or non-conductors
  • Hans would then get the children to draw a picture of what they thought was happening
PieuPieu – join the electrodes with a conductor (human skin) to hear the cheeps

Ideas added over time

  • this is a great way to teach and remind of Scientific Method – always remind to check with a full human circuit before testing a new material
  • join pinkies in stead of hands (oh, for the days we could do this safely, may they return soon); some people do not like holding hands, pinkies seem less invasive. I credit the students of Lacken NS in Cavan and the young people of The Elementals Foróige Club in Lucan for this enhancement, which then led to a new name being bestowed on this learning game from the imaginitive students of Drogheda ETSS: “Pinky Linky“. The chicken itself was given the name Pieu Pieu by a group of teachers in Bordeaux.
  • take time over the graphite – draw some thick pencil lines on paper and see how thin a layer of carbon will conduct – I think the late great Bianca Ní Ghrógáin for that idea. [With older students, or science teachers this is a time to have a short side-bar about graphene]. this is also a chance to learn that it is NOT lead in a pencil, it is graphite, an form of carbon.
  • if you have some thermal paper, place it over the graphite as it conducts – some serious heat is released
  • My friend Diarmuid O’Leary gave me a present of a small beautiful shiny lump of silicon [pictured above, beside the scissors]. Being a close cousin of carbon, it is a conductor – this point can be a fork in the lesson to lead to computer science matters via talk of silicon chips, Silicon Valley …
  • My teaching colleague Michelle Rogan and her Transtion Year students in Loreto College Cavan gave me the greatest gift – the idea to place a diode between two people in the circuit. One way, it works; reverse the direction, no cheeps … the joy when seeing the first student’s realisation of what was happening and then hearing her explain it to the others! And even more delight when they thought to reverse the polarity of the little chicken. This leads to discussion of the way the diode works, the notion of a semi-conductor is introduced, and segues nicely into playing with LEDs
  • the first year students of Drogheda ETSS added the ‘alive or not’ outdoor test idea – gather some fresh leaves and some dead twigs – predict and see which were conducting; this gave a great link to the biology and chemistry of cells containing ionic fluids.
  • the same group also discovered that some paints can prevent some metals from conducting – modern material science to be expolored!
  • other toys can be used to do the same demonstration – the “energy stick” sold in toy stores, the “eyeball” sold in jokeshops at Hallowee’n. If the classroom has several of these toys, smaller groups can be challenged to do their own materials testing
Human circuit using Micro:bit
  • my CESI teamies John Hegarty and Richard Millwood have come up with some innovative ideas on how to use microprocessors eg Micro:bit in this space – ideal for small group in CS or physics class [more detail in .pdf]
  • a large human circuit was formed at the 2013 Scratch conference in Barcelona by Joek Von Montfort and oh, over one hundred friends, using Makey Makey and a laptop!
135 people in a human circuit

Moving closer to matters of electronics and computer science

Take a break from the human circuit, introduce the LED and some 3V button batteries – by trial and error, the diode effect can be found again in the making of some souvenier “glowies”. Try as many colours of LED as possible – it will be found they do not behave in the same way, as they semi-conducting materials vary. A fabulous group of teachers at the International School in Toulouse gave the workshop the name “Chicken ‘n Chips”; the term “feicin’ physics” may also have been born then.

LO & Behold – matters pedagogical

Although I have used this mostly in informal setting with very mixed aged groups, it can be adapted to almost any learning space. When using these ideas in formal science or CS lessons, here is a provocation from another late great educator, Tim Rylands. His brainwave was an idea about NOT sharing learning outcomes overtly at the start of a lesson. He called it LO & Behold, and it works well for this lesson. Write down some learning intentions on a piece of paper, ask a student to mind them for the lesson, and at the end of the lesson use them as a point of discussion – “so, did we …?” [ideas for some LO/s are in the attached .pdf]

Richard Millwood has gathered the main points of this learning cycle for both toy and for micro-processor in the ElectrChick document linked above – feel free to download, use adapt and enhance – tell us how you get on at #PieuPieu on Twitter! the very cheesy moral of this contunuing story is – many hands make Pieu Pieu work better and better.

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Pieu Pieu – The Conducting Circuit Chicken is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
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