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The Electric Carnival: Fusing Electronics and Art to Ignite Your Creativity Set Review by Jennifer Ladewig and Brittney Rutherford

(Book and Complete Kit)
Doug Biedenweg
Black Widow Books
301-371-5101
Torrance, California
http://www.theelectricalcarnival.com

The Electric Carnival: Fusing Electronics and Art to Ignite Your Creativity is a 412 page, hardcover book that comes with a boxed electrical kit filled the parts and pieces needed to explore the fundamentals of electricity. This book will guide your child in building ten fun projects along with two challenge projects. A Bonus Section at the end of the book contains five extra fun building projects. All of the major electronic parts and pieces needed to make each project are included in the kit provided. Supplemental materials will be needed to complete some of the projects, but they are very inexpensive. Some of the extra materials needed are: cardboard, hot glue, bamboo skewers, straws, aluminum foil, electrical tape, and clothes pins. Some of the projects also require tools such as electrical wire cutter/stripper, toe nail clipper, geometry compass, Phillips head screw driver, hot glue gun, Xacto knife, and scissors. There are also some helpful tools listed but they are not necessary. Many of the tools listed can be borrowed from friends and family. The price of The Electric Carnival book is $35.00. The Electric Carnival Kit can be purchased for $120.00, or you can purchase the Book & Kit together for $155.00.

I think The Electrical Carnival is perfect for the homeschool setting. The book notes this is geared for ages 13 and up, and I would personally say that this would best fit the 6th – 9th grade range. It is a great introduction to electronics. I would highly suggest that parents be available to supervise their children.

Here is the content breakdown (Chapter 5 begins the projects):

  1. Fundaments of Electricity
  2. Avoid Frustration – Use a Meter
  3. Multiple Items in Circuits
  4. Creating Simple Cool Projects that Work
  5. Psychedelic Paint Spinner
  6. Ready, Set, Operate
  7. Barbie’s Bad Date Doormat
  8. Rave Light Wheel
  9. Electronic Rubber Band Shooter
  10. Galloping Ghost
  11. Little Car
  12. Mini-Golf
  13. Hockey Game
  14. Shooting Gallery


Bonus Section

  • Bonus A: Making a Paint Spinner Box from Cardboard
  • Bonus B: The Double Pole Double Throw (DPDT) Switch and how it works
  • Bonus C: Cutting and Placing LEDs in Holders
  • Bonus D: Hockey Leg Stencil
  • Bonus E: Setting off a Party Popper with a car door actuator and a mousetrap


Part Sources

In Chapter 1, Fundamentals of Electricity, your student will learn about energy and how it is powered. They will learn about voltage and currents, batteries - the energy source needed to make electrons flow, circuits, resistance, how meters work, voltage, measuring voltages and currents, and so much more. Throughout the chapter your student will be entertained by animated cartoon-like pictures with hilarious captions. For example, there are two batteries, the smaller battery says, “If we’re so alike why are you so much bigger than me?” to this the larger battery says, “Stop complaining. You at least got the slim figure.”Throughout the book important tip will be found in grey boxes. In chapter one the grey box Project Tip has to do with Batteries. Mr. Biedenwig says that one of the most common reasons that projects fail to work is due to run down batteries! Your meter should be your best friend and measuring your battery voltage to make sure that they are in good working condition is vital. There are three more tips regarding batteries that are important to insure projects work as they should.

In Chapter 2, students learn about, The Meter. My daughters had so much fun experimenting with the meter and learning how it worked. My daughters ran around the house looking for everything that contained batteries to measure the voltage left in the batteries. They had fun building simple circuits. My daughters cracked up at the animations and captions. My 15-year-old daughter loved the caption of two meters, a guy and a girl, the guy meter says, “You and I have a connection, I can feel it.”To this the girl meter says, “Is that the best pick-up line you’ve got?”Students learn about resistance measurements with wires connected at points.

Chapter 3, Series & Parallel Circuits, looks at constructing more complicated circuits and building projects as well as designing your own circuits for games that you may make.

CHAPTER 4 BEGINS THE PROJECT BUILDING FUN!

The chapter talks about the supplies, tools, safety precautions, and everything that you will need to know to ensure success in making your projects a success.

Psychedelic Paint Spinner

For this project students will use a potentiometer to control the speed of a spinning disk sitting on the shaft of a motor. Some of the materials needed for this project are:

  • Pizza boxes
  • Potentiometer
  • Light switch
  • Motor
  • Alligator clips
  • Tacks
  • Paint
  • Battery holder
  • Batteries
  • Poster paper

Of course, a list of tools is provided that will be needed to construct this fun spinner. My daughters had so much fun building this project and way too much fun making the paint pictures. We were able to go to a local pizza place and ask for pizza boxes.

Electric Rubber Band Shooter

Did you know that you can build a rubber band shooter using a switch, a car door actuator, and a 9V batter in series? There are a few other supplies that are needed to build this shooter, but the above are the main materials needed. Let me just tell you that this is not your ordinary rubber band shooter. It has some major kick to it, LOL.

Galloping Ghost

This project is quite hilarious, especially if you have a pet in your house. The base is cardboard and the legs can be springs, turkey skewers, bamboo sticks, popsicle sticks, etc. The battery and motor sit atop the base. LED lights are used for the eyes of the ghost. Of course, white material is used to cover the whole set-up after it is built. This little galloping ghost is so cute! My daughters had so much fun building it. The dog had fun barking at it.

In the Bonus Section, you can build an Electronic Party Popper. One item that you will be shocked to hear used is a mousetrap! This circuit party popper consists of a switch, a car door actuator, and a battery in series. The mousetrap hammer provides the rapid pull that makes the party popper fire. Building this was not all that difficult. It does require more than one person to make it easier to build.

All of the projects in the book are fun and take about one hour to build. I am sure building time will vary depending on skill level and age. Parental involvement is necessary, but again, depending on age it will vary.

I was really excited about getting my daughters going with this book. I feel that too often girls, especially those that are homeschooled, are not exposed to stuff like what is found in The Electrical Carnival. In January, my 14-year-old daughter was in the hospital and Child Life brought in a Stem Project that one of the local high schools donated. She absolutely loved it! It was very similar to projects found in this book. It was then that I realized that I had never exposed her or her older or younger sisters to this side of science. We read about these things but never did the hands-on projects. I wrongly assumed that my daughters would not be interested in building and working with these things. Wow, was I wrong. I really like The Electrical Carnival Book and Kit Combo Set. The projects are fairly simple. Instructions are easy to follow. The subject matter is written in a way that upper elementary and above are able to adequately understand. I would recommend The Electrical Carnival to others.


-Product review by Jennifer Ladewig, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May, 2018


Another Reviewer Perspective:

The Electric Carnival: Fusing Electronics and Art to Ignite Your Creativity Set
(Book and Complete Kit)

Doug Biedenweg

The Electric Carnival

http://theelectriccarnival.com

The Electric Carnival is a beginner’s electronics course written by Doug Biedenweg. The full course consists of The Electric Carnival textbook and the complete kit. The book is a hardback book with over 400 pages of text and illustrations. The text has large print, and everything is black and white, so it’s easy to read. The complete kit includes the different electronic parts in the necessary quantity (wires, LED lights, etc.) and non-electrical parts (tweezers, paper clips, etc.) to complete the activities. A few tools and household items will need to be acquired, but nothing unusual. To facilitate the review, we also received a syllabus, tests, activity write-up sheets and answer keys. I put these into a three-ring binder for easy access while we worked on the course.

The syllabus is a day-by-day guide for completing the course over sixty days.  The first few weeks of material have very detailed instructions each day, such as the name of the project, the pages to read from the text, and the questions to answer. As the course progresses, presumably because the students are more familiar with the course and expectations, and as the readings are finished, the daily assignment just lists the project name, which are in the second section of the book.

The book and syllabus describe the projects as being used with ninth graders, and the projects were developed from over 25 years of classroom experience. It claims that even beginners can be successful, and the book has ages 13+ listed.  I decided to use this course with an eager 11-year-old who is very STEM oriented. He has always preferred electronics and technology-based projects over art or nature study, and even though I encourage him to develop skills in all areas, I want to encourage his passion. Although he is slightly younger than the intended age range, I know he is capable, and of course as homeschoolers, we can go at our own pace.

We started by following the directions in the syllabus to read the introduction and then start on a car.  Specific items needed for projects are laid out clearly in the book, and things like a hot glue gun, batteries and scissors are gathered from the home to work on projects. As you spend a few days with each project, trial-and-error becomes a big part of the learning process. I like how we were encouraged to set a timer. The purpose was to make sure we truly spent enough time on the project without giving up, but I also felt like the timer would ensure we stopped before frustration set in. We like to keep lessons short and varied, so I worked this course into his school work in the same way. Assigned readings were completed during his scheduled school readings in a science slot, but working on the project was saved for the end of the day as motivation to finish his work quickly. After the car, projects include a doormat alarm and a paint spinner, and by the end of the course you are making a variety of games, like mini golf and hockey. The projects are scheduled over the course of five to seven days on average, but I have found that we often take longer. We don’t have to fit the course into a specific time frame, so I have found that working in the order of the syllabus but breaking the project time down into smaller sessions when necessary, works for us. We found the text really is written at a level for beginners, and doesn’t feel overly technical or difficult, but I believe in slow, spread out readings, to really give time for the concepts to stick, so slowing the course down just works naturally for us to get the most out of the lessons. Older students could certainly work at the prescribed pace, or faster, if they complete the challenges quickly. 

Another major component in this course are the questions, tests and project write-ups. Since this course was not being used for an actual credit in our homeschool, and testing is not a focus for us right now, I didn’t find the questions and tests necessary. However, they are still valuable, because they allow me to gauge progress and understanding without direct testing. I can look over the questions and turn them into open-ended narrations. Instead of asking several specific questions about flowing water, I can just ask him to tell me everything he remembers about flowing water and energy. Then I can look over the answer key to see how much detail he is giving by comparison. In this way, I can still focus on narration, but also determine if he is understanding the material. I also think the project write-up sheets are another interesting assessment. They allow the student to describe the goal of the project and how it actually works, as well as what they learned, along with a drawing of the project. I think this is an excellent form of written narration, which fully allows the student to show their knowledge. Students wishing to use this course towards high school credit will likely need these additional written assessments, but students on the younger end of the target age range can get away with doing the work orally more often.

This course teaches not just electricity, but also creativity and exploration. The student is not just reading about how electricity works, but they make real, interesting projects to see they concepts in action. They are encouraged to take apart old batteries to see how they are made and they are taught how to measure currents, but more importantly to change things as they go if a project can be improved, or to start over if a project fails. The author knows that students need hands-on exploration and to keep working through difficult tasks to become problem solvers. This course delivers.

-Product review by Brittney Rutherford, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, May, 2018

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