3. Light a Lighbulb

Melissa Beemsterboer
30-45 mintues
High School Honors Physics


In this inquiry lesson, students will be given 2 wires, a battery, and a light bulb and asked to figure out how to make the light bulb light. Some students will figure this out quickly, others will struggle for 15 - 20 minutes. There will be other challenges for students who figure out how to light the light bulb quickly.

There are two main goals at the heart of this lesson: (1) to give students an authentic inquiry experience and (2) even at the collegiate level, students of physics are often taught theory and mathematics behind the subject matter, but rarely asked to actually figure things out with physical materials. Students think they know how to get the light bulb to light, but after they try sticking one or both wires to the bottom of the light bulb (most common wrong configuration) and find themselves unsuccessful, they realize they do not. This is a powerful motivator to help them thinking about how circuits actually work, which is why this lesson comes so early in the circuitry unit! Once they realize what they thought they knew is wrong, it clears the way for correcting their misconceptions and showing them how things actually work!

A note: students often get the light bulb to light on "accident", thus promoting their misconceptions. If this happens, it's ok. They will quickly figure out in challenge 2 that this same method won't work.


For this lesson, you need 2 wires, a battery, a light bulb (regular) (small), and an LED bulb.

Underlying Pages


Next Generation Science Standards
  • Engineering, Technology, Applications of Science
  • Physical Science
  • NGSS Crosscutting Concept
    • Systems
    • Energy
  • NGSS Practice
    • Analyzing Data
    • Constructing Explanations, Designing Solutions
    • Using Models
    • Using Mathematics
    • Conducting Investigations
Computational Thinking in STEM
  • Data Practices
    • Analyzing Data
    • Collecting Data
    • Visualizing Data
  • Modeling and Simulation Practices
    • Assessing Computational Models
    • Constructing Computational Models
  • Computational Problem Solving Practices
    • Computer Programming
    • Troubleshooting and Debugging