5-6, 7-8, 9-12, Computer Science I, Robotics

Paper Circuits Saved My Arduino Unit

Every year, I dreaded the physical computing unit using Arduinos in my Computer Science I class. I felt so frustrated by connection errors that I don’t think it was fun for anyone! My students were unable to think through why their circuits weren’t working. A few years ago, I took a huge step back and devoted the first few lessons entirely to circuit basics. It has made the material so much clearer for my students!

In these first few lessons, we make paper circuits demonstrating simple circuits, parallel circuits, and switches. We use these samples to solidify our understanding of the vocabulary and identify potential reasons a circuit might not work. After we make each type of circuit, we model it using TinkerCAD. First, with wires and a battery, and then with the Arduino simulator.

There are tons of templates for paper circuits available for free online. I like Chibitronics Circuit Sketchbook, but you can buy copper tape, coin cell batteries, and LEDs at affordable prices on Amazon. Students of all ages love these activities. For many, it was their first experience with circuits! And, of course, we make fun greeting cards!

Pointing out the flow of electrons in each paper or simulated circuit reinforces this concept so when we build with Arduinos we all have the same reference point. Now, my students are able to troubleshoot their circuits based on their understanding rather than simply following a picture.