A Shocking Science Lesson

Enjoy this comic based off another teacher story sent to me at 180dayzcomics@gmail.com. A special thanks to Mrs. Lorenz for sharing her electrifying lesson (pun intended)!  You can read her full story below the comic. Want a chance to share your teaching experiences, see your teacher story turned into a 180Dayz comic and become part of our new book that will help novice teachers? Click here! https://180dayz.com/180dayz-new-teacher-book/


It was my first year teaching college prep physics. Our school has a Van de Graaff generator, and I decided to use it for a demonstration for my students about static electricity and the transfer of charge. The demonstration involved having the teacher stand on a platform (made of wood, and good insulator material) and then placing their hand on the generator. I put my hand on the generator, turned it on, and then describe what we I was feeling as the hairs on my head began to stand straight out. The students had quite a laugh with this, and several told me that they wanted to try. I was a bit hesitant about having the students using the apparatus, as one must ensure they ground themselves before they get off the platform or they could get a small shock (similar to when you touch a metal door knob after rubbing your feet on a carpet with your socks). I was told by another physics teacher that they have used the device with students multiple times without issue, and my class was really excited about the lesson, so I decided to have a volunteer from the class come up and try it out. After all, if they were this engaged in the science from just watching their teacher use the generator, imagine how much more they would get out of the lesson if they could actually feel the effects themselves! Surprisingly, one of girls in my class that was typically quite shy expressed adamantly that she wanted to give it a try. Before I knew it she got on the wooden board and was holding the generator. Suddenly, a little spark formed that surprised her so much that she actually jumped off of the insulated stand. Of course, doing this before having the chance to ground herself of any extra charge gave her quite a shock when she hit the ground. Most students normally would shake it off and laugh about the experience, but because of this particular students temperament, she actually became very upset and ran out of the room crying. Reflecting on that day, I believe that If I had understood the tendency for students to rush into things without carefully considering all the factors involved, I would have chosen one of the stronger students in the class to test this activity, or maybe even wouldn’t have allowed students to try it at all. My lesson learned: Think carefully about who your students are- their backgrounds, personalities and dispositions, physical and emotional states, etc., before trying a new activity with them. This will give you some insight as to how they may react, and save both you and your students some unnecessary trauma. (Example in point, I’m still so distraught about what happened in my class that day, I haven’t brought myself to allow a student to use the Van de Graaff since!)

-Jessica Lorenz


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