Understanding Circuit Boards - Circuit Playground

The Circuit Playground is a round circuit board developed by Adafruit Industries. It is designed specifically for education as an affordable circuit board stuffed to the brim with sensors and programmable bits. It includes things like Neopixel LEDs, a triple axis accelerometer, and IR send and receive sensor. There are two different versions of the board, the classic and the express. They are different and there are lots of reasons to have one over the other. Of course, that all sounds super complicated and technical, but I will break it down for you.

The Circuit Playground Classic (or CP), is the original board. It costs less than the newer version but it has limitations. The CP can only be used with Arduino to program it. Arduino is programming language based on C. It's pretty common among open source hardware, so if you start of with CP, you can "upgrade" or move on to different boards that only run Arduino. The Circuit Playground Express (or CPX) can also be programmed in Arduino but it can also be programmed in Python, and Microsoft Makecode. Python is another programming language, and it is meant to be really easy to pick up and learn as it is close to "normal" English. Makecode is drag and drop programming and perfect for beginners or coders of all skill levels.

First we have the Micro B USB connector. This is the same as what is inside most Android cell phones to connect to a charger or a computer. On the Circuit Playground, this port is used for power and programming the board. When looking at the board, the USB connector is considered the "top" of the board.

On the "bottom" is a little black plastic piece with some metal bits sticking to it. This is a JST connector. What does that mean? Well, JST connector is a special type of connector commonly used for batteries. On the CP and CPX, this is used as a battery input. If you are working with kids or are new, choose a battery pack with non-rechargeable batteries. If you are an advanced user, go ahead and try a rechargeable battery pack. Why does this matter? Rechargeable batteries are way more fragile than their single use counterparts. For safety, use only non-rechargeable batteries until you have more practice working with batteries safely.

Next, we have the 10 Neopixel LEDs. These are square little lights, or pixels, that are individually programmable. Each one can use combinations of red, green, and blue, known as RGB, to make any color you can think of, and you don't ave to use them all. You could choose to use just lights 1, 2, and 4, or you may only want to use light number 5. Anything is possible.

There are also two programmable buttons, labeled A and B in the middle, and a switch. You could use them to change modes on the CP or CPX. On one of my CPX boards, I use one of the buttons to turn on a rainbow pattern on the Neopixels and play a sound.

The boards also include a light/color sensor, a small microphone, a speaker, and touch sensors. A motion sensor is also included and you could use that to detect tapping the board, and tilting the board.

Both the CP and the CPX include all of the above mentioned sensors and programmable things. The CPX has a bigger and a better speaker than the CP. Additionally, the CPX also has a IR transmit and receive. IR is infrared light and can be used to communicate between different devices. You could use it to make a laser tag game, or turn off a TV. The CP does not have IR capability without additional parts. If you are trying to use capabilities that the CPX has and the CP does not, be careful to pick the right ones.

For fun videos on the basics of electronics, check out the Circuit Playground YouTube series by Adafruit. It has fun characters that are actually electronics components and teaches children of all ages about electronics. The first episode is A is for Ampere. There is also a corresponding coloring book that has a coloring page for each letter of the alphabet. A free download to the coloring book is available on the product page. Just look at the technical details section of the product page for the downloadable version.

If you would like more information on the Circuit Playground Express, check out these helpful links:
Circuit Playground Express Learn Guide
Circuit Playground Projects
Circuit Playground Express Product Page

If you would like more information about the Circuit Playground, check out these helpful links:
Circuit Playground Classic Learn Guide
Circuit Playground Projects
Circuit Playground Classic Product Page

This post does not contain affiliate links and was not sponsored in any part by Adafruit Industries. We just like their products.

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