Submitted by: Elyse Zimmer, KIPP Houston Public Schools

Grade Levels: 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

In this lesson plan, adaptable for grades 6-12, students use an interactive simulation called Circuit Construction Kit: DC to construct series and parallel circuits and qualitatively explore their characteristics.

Lesson Plan Common Core State Standards Alignments

Lesson Plan Next Generation Science Standards Alignments

Students will:

  1. Construct series and parallel circuits using an online simulation.
  2. Explore the characteristics of series and parallel circuits.


  • Computers or other devices with internet access


light bulb, parallel, resistance, series


This lesson plan features an interactive simulation titled Circuit Construction Kit: DC, developed by our award-winning partner PhET through the University of Colorado Boulder. The simulation invites students to build circuits with batteries, light bulbs, resistors, and switches and explore the relationship between voltage, current, and resistance. Students will also experiment with conductors and insulators, and take measurements with laboratory equipment.  

Review the Circuit Construction Kit: DC Simulation Overview to learn about the sim controls, model simplifications, and insights into student thinking.

Preview and play with the Circuit Construction Kit: DC sim to plan how you will adapt it to your students’ needs.

Build background knowledge or reinforce topics with these BrainPOP movies: Electric Circuits, Electricity, Current Electricity, and Batteries.

Lesson Procedure:

  1. Play the BrainPOP movie Electric Circuits on a whiteboard or other display. Tell students that today they will use a simulation to build and explore series and parallel circuits.
  2. Have students draw a diagram of a series and parallel circuit using a a table like this one:
  3. Instruct students to open the Circuit Construction Kit: DC sim and familiarize themselves with the controls and features.
  4. Now have students construct a simple circuit with a batteries, light bulb, and voltage sources. Have them draw their circuits in their notebooks.
  5. Ask students what flows through the wires when there is a closed circuit. Have them identify what on the screen represents this?
  6. Distribute the Series Circuit Table to students. Using the sim, have students construct simple series circuits, each with the number of light bulbs identified in the table. Remind them that in a series circuit, there is only one path for electricity to flow.  Tell them to keep the battery source the same. Then have them draw the diagrams in their table and rank the relative brightness.
  7. After students complete their tables, ask what conclusions they can draw about the brightness of the bulbs as more are added in the series. Ask why they think this happens.
  8. Now distribute the Parallel Circuit Table to students and invite them to construct two parallel circuits --one with two light bulbs and another with three light bulbs. Remind them that in a parallel circuit, there are multiple pathways for electricity to flow. Again, they should keep the battery source the same. Have them draw the diagrams in their table and rank the relative brightness.
  9. Ask students what they can conclude about the brightness of the bulbs as they add more bulbs in a parallel circuit. Why do they think this happens?
  10. Conclude the lesson by asking the following questions:
    • How does the parallel circuit compare to the series circuit?
    • What happens when you break a parallel circuit (try it out in the sim if you need to)?  Note: If you have access to the SnapThought tool, have students take a snapshot of the moment and describe it. How would this property be useful when designing circuits?
    • What are the advantages and disadvantages of series and parallel circuits?