No Lights Tonight

Online Lesson Plan
No Lights Tonight

lrKathyIn the early 1930s, only a small fraction of the farms in America had electrical power like we have today. Rural residents either made do with kerosene lamps for light and ice boxes for refrigeration, or they bought and rigged up elaborate battery systems. Neither solution put out much light. This lesson builds on these facts to explore batteries and electrical power.

Lesson Plan by Kathy Jacobitz, science education consultant, Pawnee City, Nebraska.


Suggested grade level – 5th-8th.

  • standards02The learner will design an experiment given a problem, collect data, graph results, and make a conclusion based on the data.
  • The learner will learn to use controls and a variable in an experiment.
  • The learner will recognize rural farms did not all have electricity and only a few batteries were available.
  • The learner will explore the history and impact of batteries in our lives today.
  • The learner will research how batteries are made, recharged, and safely disposed.
  • The learner will learn to perform a cost analysis on three types of batteries..


lrScience0701The coming of electrical power to the farm at the end of the 1930s brought vast changes across mid-America. The introduction of power began slowly. Nebraska farm families used Kerosene lamps for light.

Ask your students, “What problems would they encounter today if the power went off for a week?” Record responses in their journal, next ask, “What they think their family would do without power for a week?” “What problems would they need to solve living on a farm or in town?”

Discuss the issues in class and at home, record ideas in their journal. Ask the class to propose ideas on how they could solve these problems.



Links from within the Wessels Living History Farm site. [Note that clicking on these links will open a new browser window. Just close it and you’ll be back to this page.] Direct the students to these pages to learn about the FSA and to see video segments from some of the individuals in the FSA photographs.

  • Bringing Electricity
  • Impact of the REA
  • Building the Lines
  • Other sources include – your local rural electric company.
  • Local individuals who have lived through a power outage.
  • Nebraska Public Power Company.
  • Community individuals who would be in charge of solving problems.
  • Local farmers.
  • Battery manufacturers.

The Process

Perform a KWL – What We Know / What We Want to Know / What we Learned – in the journal and the class for batteries. The lab works well with groups of 3 or 4 students.

  1. Rubric for Scientific Research. A science research model sheet should be provided for all investigations. The model will follow the basic scientific inquiry process. I suggest having each student record their forms in the science journal, or perhaps they may cut and paste.
  2. Journal Assessment Rubric.
  3. Assessment Checklist for the Scientific Research.
  4. Venn Diagram.
  5. Rubric for the Research Paper.
  6. Rubric for Group Work.

There are many correct ways to set up an investigation (experiment). Encourage your students to think of as many ways as possible to conduct an investigation. Allow time for students to discuss their plans and conduct their investigations. Students need to record their ideas, plans, and research in their journal. Click here for journal activity and rubric. Remember a student’s explanation and the conclusion will provide a good opportunity for assessment. Students describe how they will set up the investigation and what they expect to learn from it. Identify the constants and the variable in the investigation. The controls of an experiment are what you keep the same (constant) in the experiment. A variable is what you change in the experiment. (Should limit variables to one if possible.)


Preparatory Set:

Batteries, candles, kerosene and ice are selling out in your community. People either didn’t have enough or are using them up during the power outage. I told my Dad about a battery experiment we did at school to discover which battery provided the most minutes of operation per penny. How did you prove which type of battery was the best? I can purchase a regular, heavy-duty, alkaline or rechargeable battery here at the local hardware store, however, without power we cannot recharge them so that’s out for now.


Which type of battery, regular, heavy duty or alkaline, will cost the least to operate per minute?
(The purpose of this investigation is to find the cost of operating different types of dry cell batteries.)


Example of a hypothesis:

The heavy-duty battery will cost the least per minute of operation.

Student reasoning:

They label them heavy duty in the store so they must be the strongest. (Journal responses are an excellent way for you to view the thought processes your students are using to reach their explanations.)




A description of the plan telling how the investigation will be carried out. List step-by-step the way the investigation will be performed, include all controls and the variables to be tested.

I would suggest you need three or four flashlight D batteries. (New flashlights would add an additional control.) Two D batteries for each flashlight used in the test. Three types of batteries, regular, heavy-duty, and alkaline, made by the same manufacturer. Make sure each flashlight has a new bulb.


1. The flashlights used in the test.
2. A new bulb for each flashlight.
3. The same size of battery.
4. The location of test.
5. Same brands or manufacturer.


The type of battery to be tested.
(Regular; heavy duty; and alkaline)

NOTE: Record the cost of each battery purchased for the test. If you purchase them from different places calculate an average cost in cents.




It is a good idea to make your signature a requirement before testing starts.

List step-by-step the way you plan to set up your experiment.

Possible experimental procedure:

    • Place two regular batteries into one of the flashlights, two heavy-duty batteries into the second flashlight, and two alkaline batteries into the third flashlight.
    • Place new bulbs into all three flashlights.
    • Record the time and turn on the flashlight.
    • Check the flashlights every five minutes. As soon as you notice the bulb beginning to dim check the flashlight more often for best results.
    • You could add some technology to the project by videotaping the flashlights. The tape would allow continual coverage of the battery investigation (experiment).


  • I performed the above experiment on one brand of battery. The following data was collected:
  • regular batteries ran for 10 hours
  • heavy-duty batteries ran for 14 hours
  • alkaline batteries ran for just over 30 hours.

If you turn the flashlights on and off just make sure you record all the times. Turning them on and off will impact the results but only slightly.

  • Record the time the bulb stops glowing and turn the flashlight off. CAUTION: Remove the batteries making sure they are disposed of safely. This is a great place to teach about proper disposal of materials.
  • Calculate how many minutes each set of batteries lasted using all starting and stopping times.
  • Repeat the experiment or if several groups tested the same batteries you are ready to calculate an average. Ask students “why” we need to retest the batteries or take a class average of the data collected. We hope to make sure the results were not just an accident so more data helps to support the conclusion.


Draw and/or write about your experiment telling your observations. Since the observations will be in your journal you should have enough space. Place data in a chart or table and then display it graphically.


Teach graphing skills before you ask the students to graph their results from this experiment.


Graph all data collected in the experiment and write your conclusion based on what you have discovered.


Type of Battery Tested Minutes of Operation Cost of Two Batteries

Make three graphs:

  1. Operation time on the y-axis in minutes, battery types on the x-axis, title would be average operation time in minutes.
  2. Cost in cents on the y-axis, battery types on the x-axis, title would be cost of two batteries in cents.
  3. Minutes of operation with time in cents on the y-axis, battery types on the x-axis, title would be minutes of operation penny. Formula: Minutes of operation per cent = Average operation time in minutes

Cost of two batteries in cents.



Students write a sentence or two telling what they have proved or not proved from their discoveries in the investigation (experiment).

Next, do a post KWL with students going to the pre KWL in their journal. Students should use a different colored marker so you can see the knowledge growth, for assessment, then do a class KWL . Provided you use a different colored marker on the class KWL the students will be able to see what they have learned as a class. Journal a response as to what they want to now know and point out an experiment in the world of a scientist usually leads to more questions.


Assessment Activity

Successful completion of the experiment will focus the student’s ability to apply knowledge they have learned through the process of scientific inquiry.

  1. KWL Chart pre and post.
  2. Journal Assessment Rubric.
  3. Rubric for Scientific Research.
  4. Assessment Checklist for the Scientific Research.
  5. Venn Diagram.
  6. Rubric for the Research Paper.
  7. Rubric for Group Work.

All assessments provided should be worked through with you and your students before using them for an evaluation process in your classroom.


General Notes

Additional questions and research ideas:

  1. What is the cost of operation of different size batteries made by the same manufacturer?
  2. What is the cost of operation with different manufacturers of the same size of battery tested?
  3. When were flashlights invented?
  4. How and why do batteries vary by size?
  5. How are batteries used in a hospital? School? Home? Police? Farm? Personally? Compare and contrast results between the 1930s and now.
  6. How have batteries changed since they were developed and why?
  7. Are rechargeable batteries a better investment when compared to the cost of recharging them is included in the study?
  8. Interview individuals about their experiences resulting from a power outage. Compare and contrast town and farm experience during the power outage.
  9. How do batteries work?
  10. Investigate and discover how you need to dispose properly of various types of batteries.
  11. How do car batteries work?
  12. Make a sketch and label it for various types of batteries.
  13. Ask students to research the impact of the REA on Nebraska farmers during the 1930s.
  14. (A.) Research the life of a scientist who developed the battery or in the batteries development and write a story about their life. (B.) Have students write a story or poem about getting electricity for the first time during the 1930s.
  15. Explore how electricity works using different types of circuits around the home. NOTE: More investigations will be provided dealing with electricity during the 1940s units.

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