How I Use It
The range of this tool extends from students with solid comprehension of mathematics and basic circuit physics to college-level engineering majors. Though, as circuits have a large number of components, many are not included in the version I was able to purchase. Hopefully iCircuit continues to update its component library by adding new packages and elements.
This app makes it relatively easy to design inquiry lessons with iCircuit as the main visual and interactive component. For my high school class, I have students go through a cookbook-like lab where they build a circuit with specific elements that we identify and define. They then work in small groups to determine the mathematical relationships between components come up with rules for how they interact. Students design an experiment, collect data, and present arguments to other small groups using their data as evidence. This is the process I used to have students discover (1) the rules for resistors/capacitors in series and in parallel; (2) the mathematical equation representing the relationship between voltage, resistance, and current; and (3) Kirchhoff’s Circuit Laws.
To make this work, it’s first important to design the circuit students will be looking at and make sure that iCircuit is visually displaying the clues and indicators students will need to come to the appropriate conclusions. I can use the text labeling option to create questions and design exemplar models with appropriate commentary to guide student thinking. The ability to easily label wire segments and different components gives me the power to ask targeted questions about specific elements and have students calculate values. Students try the problems, build circuits, and test their answers against experimental data using the integrated multimeter. The draw function for creation makes this process much more seamless and cuts down on build time. The ability to select and delete multiple components is very useful as well.
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!
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.