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Future Lab: Circuits for Physical Science

Simulations Plus

Ages 9-18

Rating Scale
5 = great,    1 = poor
Educational Value
Kid Appeal
Ease of Use

Future Labs: Circuits Screen Shot System Requirements

PC / Mac Price Survey

Product Support

Circuits for Physical Science shows children how to build and understand electrical circuits on a computer before they work with actual electrical parts. The program offers students the opportunity to study various types of circuits and gives them instructions so they can explore the effects of manipulating portions of these circuits. Students can also explore circuits of their own design by choosing and organizing circuit components from a toolbar.

The program is fairly simple to navigate. Students choose from a well-labeled menu of possible experiments. Once children have chosen an experiment, each component of the circuit in that experiment appears on the screen as a picture and is appropriately connected with wires to other components. Helpful hints appear each time the cursor passes over one of these components, explaining how the parts can be removed, replaced and altered.

Each experiment includes a written procedure and follow-up questions. Unfortunately, the procedure screen and simulation cannot be viewed at the same time, so it makes sense to print the instructions and follow-up questions before attempting the simulation. Also, there is no solution set to the follow-up questions, so a student needs access to a knowledgeable adult to check his or her answers. However, a glossary describing important concepts is part of the software package.

Educational Value
The program introduces middle- and high-school students to concepts such as current, resistance, voltage, parallel and series and teaches them about equipment such as ammeters, voltmeters, batteries and diodes. For example, in Experiment One, users explore how changing the voltage of the power source and the amount of resistance affect the current flowing through a circuit as recorded on an ammeter. Students also learn, in this experiment, what it means to open and close a circuit with a switch.

Young users may benefit most from this program if they work with an adult who understands circuits. This adult can guide children through the main ideas of the experiments and create memorable analogies for concepts such as voltage and current. Otherwise, children may be caught-up in the details of connecting components and misinterpret concepts such as current, resistance and voltage and their relationships.

Ideally, a student would build "real" electrical circuits while or after learning with simulated circuits on the computer. This software program combined with hands-on experience will ensure that a student learns the logic of circuits enough to predict how changing one part will affect another part of a circuit.

Kid Appeal
Without guidance, students may find this program overwhelming or boring. They may play around with the equipment in an unstructured manner by impulsively changing portions of the simulated circuits. If so, they will not discover the many relationships that this software reveals. Students will then feel that they are not learning because they will not be able to make predictions based on their experiences.

Children may be more successful with this program if an adult works one-on-one with the child at home or a teacher leads students through these experiments by providing instructions, opportunity for discussion, and solutions to follow-up questions.

Ease of Use / Install
The manual for the program includes instructions for installation and getting started. These instructions are easy to follow and accurate. Kids who are unfamiliar with installing programs on a PC may need some help from an adult. The Circuits program must run in 256 color mode and with a screen resolution of 640x480. The program may not run in other color modes and resolutions. To change these parameters on an IBM Thinkpad, one must right-click on the desktop, choose Properties and then Settings. Once the screen resolution is 640x480 and the program is open, a user must left-click on the icon next to the Start Menu to return to the desktop.

Best for... / Bottom-Line
This program is ideal for students who know a small amount about circuits, are self-motivated to explore circuits, or have access to guidance during this process. Teachers may also find this software useful for educating students about the main features of electrical circuits. This software will best contribute to learning if combined with hands-on experience.

See SuperKids' comparisons with other science software titles, and the Buyers Guide for current market prices of the PC and Mac versions.

System Requirements
PC: Windows 3.1 or later, 486/66 or faster, 10 MB hard drive space, 16 MB RAM, VGA 640x480 color display, 2X or faster CD-ROM, sound card .

Mac: System 7.1 or higher, 68040/15 or faster cpu, 10 MB hard drive space, 16 MB RAM, color display, 2X or faster CD-ROM .

Reviewed on:

  • IBM Thinkpad with 256 MB
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