Tinkercad is a service that I started using last spring when our school went to 100% online instruction. I'm using it again this year to introduce my students to key Arduino design and programming concepts. Within Tinkercad there is an Arduino simulator. With that simulator students can use virtual Arduinos with virtual breadboards and dozens of other virtual components. The simulator also includes an IDE in which students can write programs.
I strive to avoid information dumps. As Sylvia Martinez and Gary Stager point out in their great book, Invent to Learn there's a tempation to explain "just one more thing" and before you know you've prattled on for twenty minutes and kids have lost interest in what could have been an exciting class. Therefore, last week I simply gave my students a quick demonstration of how to get into the simulator and then asked them to start experimenting with the code in the program for a simple blinking light. Once they figured out how to change the rate of blinking I let them pick any Arduino project they liked in Tinkercad's circuits gallery and let them make copies to dissect and discover the components and code in those projects.
The process of picking projects from Tinkercad's gallery and then dissecting those projects sparked a lot of questions from students. Some of my students had prior experience with Arduino so their questions skewed toward the programming while my students who didn't have prior experience with Arduino raised questions that skewed toward the physical components in the projects they selected. Those questions are going to be the basis for some of the conversations we have in class today (January 26th, yes, I'm writing this in the morning before class). Those questions are also influencing how I place students in breakout rooms for discussion today.
Organizing Physical Materials
My students are in my physical classroom once per week right now (some on Tuesday and some on Friday). In the past I had students work in pairs on Arduino projects. Unfortunately, due to scheduling and health protocols I can't have students work in pairs on the physical projects this year.
I'm fortunate to have a lot of cabinet space in my classroom. I'm giving each student their own shelf for their project materials and their own plastic storage boxes. I'm going to have students tape small, easily lost pieces like resistors that aren't currently in use to pieces of paper or to the plastic boxes in their assigned cabinets.