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The following information is a single lesson in a larger project. Find more great projects here.

Project Overview:

Circuits are everywhere, but electricity is still a mysterious idea to most people. In the "Let's Learn Circuits" course, we will uncover the things that make our lights, TVs, and cameras work - including current, resistance, and voltage - as well as the process of building circuits with a breadboard.

Step 1: Introduction

Electrical circuits are everywhere: they are in our phones, our computers, and even our kitchen toasters. But electricity is still a mysterious idea to most people. In the "Let's Learn Circuits" course, we will uncover the things that make our lights, TVs, and cameras work - including current, resistance, and voltage - as well as the process of building circuits with a breadboard.

Along the way you will design some of your own circuits including a final project: a secret code keypad using buttons and a light bulb.

Let’s get started!

  1. Continue to the next step.

Step 2: Learning the Circuit Editor (part 1)

The area to the right of these instructions is called the “Workplane.” This is like a desktop where you will build your circuits. We’ve already created a circuit there using a battery and light bulb.

The 123D Circuits program allows you to build a circuit on your screen and “simulate” it, or see what the circuit would do in real life.

The circuit simulator lets you do a lot of things that you couldn’t do in a classroom. For example, you have an unlimited number of electronic parts to work with. You could light up 5 bulbs at the same time! And the Workplane is really big. Try clicking on a blank area and dragging your mouse around – you can access a huge space.

The simulator also lets you edit your circuit if you make a mistake. It's impossible to break the virtual components!

  1. Click on the “Start Simulation” button above the Workplane. What happens? The bulb lights up!
  2. Click on the same button again to stop the simulation.
  3. Press the “next” button below to continue.

Step 3: Learning the Circuit Editor (part 2)

Next we will walk through some of the other functions of the program.

Drag your mouse over the icons in the top right corner of the screen (to the right of the “Lets Learn Circuits” title). Right now you are in the Breadboard View. This is where we will do all of the work in this course.

The next button is the Schematics View. This is where the program takes the circuit that you built and represents it using symbols. Two symbols representing the battery and light bulb are in the Workplane, linked together with lines. If you drag either symbol around with your cursor, the lines stay connected.

  1. Continue to the next step.

Step 4: Learning the Circuit Editor (part 3)

The third button is PCB View. PCB stands for printed circuit board. If you wanted to take your circuit and build a real product, you would create a PCB -- like the circuit boards you might have seen in some of your own electronics devices.

The fourth button is the Bill of Materials. This is a list of all of the parts that you have in the Workplane. If you click on it now, a bulb and battery should be listed. The symbol shaped like a gear is the Settings button. This is where you can change some information about your circuit -- like its name. You could type in a new name for this project - “Learning about Circuits.” Finally, if you want to view or change your account information, you can click on the last button: your personal profile.

  1. When you are done exploring the top row of buttons, return to the Breadboard View.
  2. Press the “next” button below to continue.

Step 5: Exploring the Component Library (part 1)

Electrical components are the parts of the circuit that use electricity, like batteries, LEDs, resistors and switches. These components light up or move, or they slow down or start and stop the flow of electricity. This is your circuit toolbox!

Let’s browse the electrical components that are available to us in the Component Library by clicking the Components + button in the second row next to “Start Simulation.”

  1. Click on the Components + button at the top of the screen to access the library. An array of components will appear below the Workplane.
  2. Notice the two tabs in the component library. Right now “123D Components” is highlighted.
  3. To bring a component into the Workplane, click on the component once, then move it around the Workplane, and click again to drop it in place. Try it with the 9V battery.
  4. When the Component Library pops up again, click on the “All Components” tab. This brings up a list view that contains a short description of every component.
  5. To add a component from this list view click “Add” and place it in the Workplane. Try it with the Light Bulb and the Pushbutton.
  6. Press the “next” button below to continue.

Step 6: Exploring the Component Library (part 2)

We will work with a few different types of components:

Input = components that you interact with like a switch or a dial

Output = components that create light, noise, or motion

Power = components that provide energy to the circuit, like a battery

Connector = components that control the flow of electricity - like a resistor, which slows it down

What category do each of the following components belong in? (see hint)

-LED

-RGB (red-green-blue) LED

-Light bulb -9V battery

-AA battery

-Coin cell 3V battery

-Slide switch

-resistor

-pushbutton

-motor

You may have noticed two components called “Arduino” boards. These boards can be programmed using the “code editor” window. We don’t use Arduino in this lesson, but it is a fun way to create electronic devices.

  1. Continue to the next step.

Step 7: Naming Components

When you click on a component in the simulator, you are “highlighting" it. Try it with the battery, and a black outline appears around the component.

Highlighting a component also gives you a chance to move it around the Workplane, or change some of its properties using the blue window that pops up.

You can change the name of your battery using the instructions below. Call it Battery1, or something more creative - we called ours “Mr. Volta.”

  1. Try moving a component around the Workplane by highlighting it, then clicking again and dragging it around.
  2. Release your mouse button to place the component.
  3. While one of the batteries is highlighted, change its name using the blue menu.
  4. Press the "next" button below to continue.

Step 8: Connecting Components (part 1)

When we talk about electricity, we are usually referring to movement of electrons, or charged particles that are part of conductive materials like metals. This flow is called “current."

Take a closer look at the light bulb circuit. Current flows from the positive terminal of the battery (red) through the bulb, to the negative terminal of the battery (black). In order to do this successfully, current needs a complete loop to flow through without any gaps.

We create this path using wires. Usually wires are a conductive material, or a metal thread, coated with colored plastic. In our virtual circuit, these wires are represented as colored lines.

  1. Continue to the next step.

Step 9: Connecting Components (part 2)

Now you can try connecting the battery, light bulb, and button that you brought into the Workplane.

We will also identify the electrical terminals of the battery and light bulb. Starting with the battery, hover your cursor over the red terminal on the battery. You’ll see a colored box over the terminal and a label.

These terminals will be the starting and ending points of wires.

If it is hard to see the labels - because they are too small - you can zoom in on the battery and LED by clicking the box icon “Zoom to Fit” in the top menu bar. If it is still too small, you can use whatever method you normally do to zoom on your computer - for example scrolling with two fingers on a Mac mouse or touchpad.

  1. Try hovering over the terminals on our components. You’ll see four red boxes appear on the red and black terminals of the battery and both terminals of the light bulb.
  2. To connect a wire, click on the left (positive, red) terminal of the battery and move your mouse around. A wire will move with it.
  3. Now click on the left terminal of the light bulb (terminal 1) to connect a wire. You’ve made your first connection!
  4. Connect the black terminal on the battery to the right terminal of the light bulb with a wire.
  5. Finally, you can change the color of the wires by highlighting a wire, then using the blue drop down menu to choose a new color. You can make the wires black and red to match the battery terminals.
  6. Simulate the Circuit by clicking the “Start Simulation” button
  7. Click the "next" button below to continue.

Step 10: Deleting Components and Wires

Now that you have your own battery and light bulb circuit working, you can delete the original circuit.

Tip: to highlight multiple components at the same time, hold down the shift key and highlight the several components with a box.

  1. Highlight the first battery by clicking on it.
  2. To delete the battery, click your delete key or press the garbage can button above the Workplane.
  3. To get the battery back, you can use the back arrow (Undo) button also located above the Workplane. This reverses the last step in case you made a mistake!
  4. Now try deleting both the battery and the light bulb. The wires should disappear as well!
  5. Press the "next" button below to continue.

Step 11: Step 10: Practice!

Congratulations, you just made your first circuit in the editor! In the rest of the course, you will learn more functions of the editor, such as copying and pasting components.

Like any new skill, practice makes perfect! Spend the rest of your lesson time practicing using the Components + menu and dragging and dropping components into the Workplane.

Can you figure out how to make two light bulbs glow using the same battery?

  1. Return to the main menu and continue on to the next lesson!

In the next lesson you will learn to read your circuit!

Next Lesson:A Map of Your Circuit

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