Posted on Feb 6, 2014

While working on an Electricity/Electronics exhibit for the Museum of Science in Boston I discovered a number of serious problems in attempting to explain simple electricity. One problem was the obscure way that exhibit devices typically present electrical effects: by using meters. Sophisticated skills a

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re required to interpret meter readings and to imagine the invisible events they imply. Exhibit designers who are familiar with electronics sometimes fall into the trap believing that the general public also has their skills. And so designers include all sorts of digital and needle-meters as part of a display. But an electronics specialist sees a meter needle in quite a different way than does the unskilled public. Meter readings usually serve more to obscure and complex-ify the exhibit than to reveal and enlighten. Think about it: if an exhibit makes you feel stupid, will you end up LIKING science No. The opposite occurs. A second problem: nearly all of the electricity explanations I found in children`s science textbooks were wrong, so I couldn`t use textbooks as a guide for explaining electricity at a simple level. Go here for more about this. And third, as an electrical engineer I had a gut-level feel for the math behind electronics, yet my entire non-math picture of electricity was mostly based on the incorrect explanations found in K-6 textbooks. As a designer, I`d been living in a world of electronics math, never realizing that my verbal and visual explanations for electrical phenomena were totally incompatible with the mathematical description. My verbal and visual explanations were WRONG. But as long as I stuck with engineering, used design equations and CAD software, I was fine, but if I tried to use any non-math...

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