Powering Cities

Powering Cities

Powering every city and town is a unique and complex electricity grid, complete with power sources, substations, transmission wires, and electrical outputs. In this lesson, students build and power their own city to understand electricity and the electronics that many of us use every day.

Based on a littleBits’ workshop on recreating the power outages caused by Hurricane Sandy, this lesson asks students to imagine how large storms or other natural disasters can affect the power grid in the city they build.

Learn more about the original littleBits workshop that inspired this lesson:



Students will be able to:

– Construct cities from accessible materials

– Use littleBits to power their city

– Compare and contrast the power grid in their model to an actual, real-life power grid

– Demonstrate how a natural disaster (i.e. tornado, ice storm, earthquake) could affect power in their city.


Use a Know Wonder Learn (KWL) chart to pre-assess what students know about power grids. Revisit the KWL chart periodically to document student learning and list further questions for inquiry.

At the conclusion of the activity, consider using the attached 3-2-1 chart to assess student understanding as well as remaining questions.


Next Generation Science Standards:

– PS3: Energy

– ESS3: Earth and human activity

– ETS1: Engineering design

– ETS2: Links among engineering, technology, science, and society

Duration: 3 days, 45 minute classes

Elementary (ages 8-10)


Makerspace Workshops

fan (1)
slide dimmer (1)
roller switch (1)
branch (1)
dc motor (1)
buzzer (1)
long led (1)
light sensor (1)
bargraph (1)
button (1)
dimmer (1)
power (1)
pulse (1)
vibration motor (1)
pressure sensor (1)
servo (1)
sound trigger (1)
bright led (1)
wireless transmitter (1 channel) (1)
battery + cable (1)

cardboard 1
posterboard 1
recycled food containers 1
shoeboxes 1
wood 1
misc. building materials 1
Pipe cleaners 1




STEP 1 : Learn about power grids

Powering Cities1

Start the activity by discussing how our cities and towns are powered. Consider showing a video like Energy 101: Electricity Generation to generate interest and curiosity in the topic.

Start a KWL chart to list what students know about power grids and what they want to learn. As students find answer to their questions, you can add what students have learned to the chart.

Continue learning about power grids with online resources like How Power Grids Work:


STEP 2 : Introduce the activity

Powering Cities2

Explain that students will be working in groups to build and power their city. Divide students into balanced equal-sized groups of 3-5 students. Distribute the building materials, and a variety of littleBits modules. Depending on your students’ familiarity with littleBits, you may need to provide an introduction to individual modules and their potential uses.

STEP 3 : Support Students

Support individual and groups of students as they construct their cities. Consider modeling helpful construction techniques or publicly drawing attention to groups with interesting models that other groups might want to replicate.

Also, during this time, consider taking photos to document each group’s progress. Alternatively, you can ask each group to document their own process with notes and photos.

STEP 4 : Simulate a natural disaster

Powering Cities3

Ask students about the types of natural disasters that might affect the power grid in the cities they have constructed. What would cause the power grid to fail? Possible answers could include electrical wires downed by trees or damage to a power source or substation.

Have each group come up with a realistic natural disaster scenario for power in their city. This could be based on a real life event such as Hurricane Sandy in New York City or on a potential event. Each scenario should cover how the power grid is disrupted as well as how power to the city is restored.

Consider asking students to present their scenario to the rest of the class. Groups may choose to “act out” their natural disaster with different students acting as news reporters, live reporting the event. Others can be in charge of switching power off and on to the different parts of the city.

STEP 5 : Document learning

Powering Cities4

A Con Edison rep participated in the Hurricane Sandy workshop.

To extend learning, consider connecting with an expert from your local power provider. Invite the visitor into class to answer general questions about electricity in your community as well as how the power company prepares for large storm events or natural disasters.

Document student learning in the activity by revisiting the KWL chart and then ask students to fill out the 3-2-1 chart to outlined what they have learned, what they found interesting, as well as any remaining questions they still have.