Human switches and musical bananas – secrets of conductivity

Creative conductivity ideas for Key stage 2


Makey-Makey kit. Image: Maplin (All Rights Reserved)

Electricity can seem a bit like magic, especially to younger children. You can’t really see it, there are just these holes in the wall where it comes out and does lots of useful stuff. So, how can we find ways to excite and engage students with something that is too small to see, and sometimes too dangerous to play with?

Over the last two weeks the SMS team have been playing with a kit that helps demonstrate some basic electricity learning in a really creative way. It’s called a ‘Makey Makey’ and you can buy one here in the UK from our favourite store; Maplin (we’re not on commission, honest!). You can use these hooked up to any computer to get unusual objects to complete a circuit and make a sound, or play a game!



For example you could turn some bananas into a piano


or a drawing into a piece of music.

At Key stage 2 students need to know about circuits and which materials can conduct electricity. Most students learn quickly that metals are conductors (usually) and plastic is an insulator (usually), but some things don’t do what you expect. Is an apple a conductor for example? How about play-dough?

Getting them to think up creative experiments with the Makey Makey or Squishy Circuits can make the whole process loads of fun.

Once they have experimented with which things can conduct electricity and complete a circuit it’s worth spending a few minutes to think about why.

All stuff around us is made of atoms and inside these atoms are the amazing bits of stuff that can carry electricity. They are called electrons. In some materials, like plastic, these electrons are tied closely to the atom and don’t want to move. Objects made of this kind of atom can’t conduct electricity. In most metals though, the atoms have looser electrons that can move more easily and this means they can carry electricity.

Many of the projects made with the Makey Makey (including our bananamaphone) use the fact that humans can conduct electricity to become a human switch. When you touch the piano, electricity can flow through the liquid in your body and complete the circuit. In the case of our banana invention, this connects the circuit to a machine that makes a sound so that you can play the bananas!!

And if this has got you just a teeny bit excited about electronics, then how about having our MadLab workshop come to your school and get your whole class making their own mini-circuit boards. We have funding still available for schools near to Cardiff, or contact us for a quote if you’re further afield.

Curriculum links

Key Stage 2 –

Year 4: Electricity – recognise some common conductors and insulators, and associate metals with being good conductors.

Year 5: Properties and changes of materials – compare and group together everyday materials on the basis of their properties, including their hardness, solubility, transparency, conductivity (electrical and thermal), and response to magnets

Year 6 : Electricity – compare and give reasons for variations in how components function, including the brightness of bulbs, the loudness of buzzers and the on/off position of switches


We have a wide variety of engineering shows for primary, secondary and family audiences.

We also work in partnership with Tomorrow’s Engineers to inspire the next generation of engineers!


sms group shot with props smallWe are science made simple, a social enterprise who perform science, maths and engineering shows to school, festival and public audiences.
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Posted in Engineering, Physics, Primary
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