Review by Debbie Gorrell, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2014

iCircuit

Extensive virtual tool lets kids safely experiment with electricity

Subjects & skills
Skills
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking

Subjects
  • Science
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
9-12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Tons of options for building circuits, from using basic parts like wires, batteries, and switches to employing more complex parts like transformers, diodes, and accelerometers.

Cons: Circuit components and features aren't organized by level of difficulty.

Bottom Line: This is a thorough virtual tool for building and simulating circuits, but it would benefit from some integrated instruction and help buttons.

If you are teaching a unit about circuits and electricity to upper level or advanced students, then iCircuit would be great to use as a virtual lab. You could spend at least one class period reviewing the User Manual with students as they follow along on their devices in small groups. Then have them work in their groups to build circuits and measure current and voltage. You can give students a specific list of components to use in their circuits, or challenge them to build a specific type of circuit and leave it up to them to choose the components. Have students print their circuits and get together with another group to compare diagrams.

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iCircuit is a virtual tool that lets kids build and test circuits. Kids can also explore 13 examples of circuits by tapping on different components to view details about voltage and current. To get started, kids tap the "New Circuit" button, which takes them to a main grid. Kids drag and drop the components they want to use onto the grid and use a touch and drag feature to draw wires. The more than 30 components include voltage sources, current sources, switches, buzzers, photoresistors, inductors, capacitators, and LEDs. After they build their circuits, kids can use a multimeter to probe the circuit and read currents and voltages.  A built-in oscilloscope lets kids observe changes in voltages over time. Kids can duplicate, share, and print diagrams of their circuits if desired.

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Kids can learn about circuits and the flow of electricity through experimentation. As they drag and drop components, draw wires, and connect the parts, kids can see their circuits in action because the program is a continuous simulation, as if the power were really on. This makes analysis of the circuits extremely user friendly. Another nice feature is that kids can set the properties of their components. For example, kids can set a resistance for resistors or they can set a current gain for transistors. Once their circuits are complete, kids can select a component and analyze it using the built-in multimeter. This allows kids to see voltage and current readings as the virtual electricity flows through the circuit. Kids can also use the built-in oscillator to monitor component properties over time.

Learning through experimentation is extremely important in science, and iCircuit certainly supports this type of learning. But it's important to note that most of the features are very complex, even for high school kids. Sure, you can instruct kids to only use the basic components and to build a simple circuit, but the true value of the app is that users can simulate highly complex circuits. The User Manual does a fantastic job of explaining all of the features, but kids can't access hints or instructions directly from the app. Therefore, kids with a background in electrical engineering would get the most bang for the buck.

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Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

With many interactive features and options to choose from, kids will stay engaged as they build, test, and rebuild circuits.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Kids learn through experimentation; they don't get instructions, hints, or feedback. Most of the circuit features are very complex, so kids need background knowledge and support in order to fully benefit from the learning experience.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

A link to the developer's website offers a detailed User Manual. The app doesn't have embedded hints or feedback, however, so kids can easily get lost or overwhelmed.


Teacher Reviews

(See all 1 reviews) (1 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Jeff A. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Comprehensive, interactive, virtual circuit building tool for high-level physics students

Pretty easy to use when you get the hang of it, but for newbies, there is a steep learning curve. Even so, the clean user interface gives this app a polished feel that doesn’t clutter you with unnecessary info or overwhelm you with options. Students learn the most through trial and error, and this is both a pro and a con for this app. I’ve also realized that iCircuit will work especially well as a planning tool for classrooms that have the resources necessary to construct physical circuits. There is very little pre-built curricula though, and the index given is extremely difficult for high-school students to comprehend. On top of that, students that struggle with literacy have had a more difficult time with iCircuit. Therefore, without a lot of set-up and planning, this app serves mainly as a great visual display tool. It does that very well though!
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iCircuit graphically displays AC and DC currents to provide mathematical and visual support, along with real-time current directional flow. Students can rewind through the graph and record different sections to highlight cause and effect relationships. Voltage color and current dots make identifying properties of circuits very easy. For example, above ground voltages are green and below ground voltages are red. Current dots show the direction and magnitude of the flow, opening up avenues for student discovery independent of teacher direction. For students extremely proficient in high-level math, functions and dependent sources are available for further application or enrichment.

iCircuit has a lot of promise, but it isn’t a great stand-alone tool for teaching students without substantial prior knowledge. Teachers can figure it out quickly, but guiding students through the process requires relatively labor-intensive frontloading. As it only covers basic circuit physics, I recommend this for teachers who are lacking in tangible resources, but operate in a blended learning setting.

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