As STEM learning becomes more mainstream from elementary to high school, more products that are STEM-specific are hitting the market. One such product started off on Kickstarter, and after being successfully funded offers a number of kits which teach kids about circuits. Our Circuit Scribe review takes a look at the Circuit Scribe Ultimate Kit and checks out just how easy it is to learn and draw your own circuits using a special pen and regular paper.
The Circuit Scribe Ultimate Kit has the following features and specifications:
- Learn electronics by simply drawing!
- Non-toxic silver ink formulation
- Resistance is 0.05-0.2ohms/sq/mil (.2-1ohms per cm of writing)
- Recommended for ages 8+
What’s in the box
- 9V Battery adapter with 9V battery
- 4x Bi-LED
- SPST Switch
- NPN Transistor
- 2-Pin Adapter with 5x resistors (100, 1k, 10k, 100k and 1M ohm), 2x capacitors (0.1uF, 1.0uF), and one photoresistor (10k ohms)
- Potentiometer – 10k ohms
- RGB LED
- Light Sensor
- 10x Connectors
- 2x DPDT Switch
- Additional Items
- Conductive Ink Pen
- Circuit Stencil
- Jumper Sticker Sheet
- Steel sheet
At its basic level, Circuit Scribe kits include a conductive ink pen, circuit stencil, workbook, steel sheet, and any number of magnetic modules. By using the pen and drawing lines on a piece of paper, kids can then place the paper onto the steel sheet and attach modules to the paper (sticking to the steel sheet behind via magnets in the modules) and experience circuits in action. For the rest of this review, we’ll be focusing specifically on the Ultimate Kit.
The pen itself looks like your basic ballpoint pen and comes with a cap. The pen should be stored tip down or sideways. The steel sheet has instructions on one side and a guide to symbols used in circuitry, as well as short explanations of what each one does. The Ultimate Kit also includes a plastic circuit stencil which makes it easy to draw your own circuits for the included magnetic modules.
As far as the magnetic modules are concerned, each one has between two and six magnetic feet that are attached to black circuit boards with various switches, LEDs, and other electrical components. Each module has a description on it, as well as circuit diagrams to show what each piece does. The battery module has a red and black wire connected to a 9-volt battery cap for use with a 9-volt battery (included). The motor module has a vertical motor with a blue foam circle on the end of it. The modules are fairly well constructed, but as they are circuit boards care should be taken when handling them. During use of one of the switches, the outer casing slipped off and the switch piece popped out. It was a quick fix and hasn’t popped out since so it’s possible that it wasn’t seated properly in the first place. Also included are a pack of resistors, a couple capacitors, a photoresistor, and a bag of connectors.
The instruction book contains 27 pages of instructions and step-by-step projects, as well as 23 blank pages to draw and experiment with your own circuits. After an introduction to circuits and electrical resistance, the book takes you step by step through drawing simple circuits, resistor use, and voltage before moving on to more complex lessons. Other lessons include:
- Single-pole, single-throw switch
- Paper push-button switch
- Switches in series
- Switches in parallel
- Double-pole, double-throw switch
- NPN transistor
- Touch sensors
- Photo sensor
- Bright light sensor
- Light controlled motor
- Flashing lights
Circuit Scribe is also Arduino compatible, and there is an insert with instructions and Arduino code to make a bar graph using Circuit Scribe and an Arduino UNO or other programmable board.
Ease of Use
Circuit Scribe really couldn’t be simpler to use. Start off by sliding the steel sheet behind the appropriate lesson page in the book, complete the circuit on the diagram with the Circuit Scribe conductive ink pen, and finally snap the magnetic components onto the round circles you’ve drawn at the end of your circuits.
The lessons are well written, and the accompanying diagrams are easy to complete and there’s no question about where which module goes and what way. Each module also has colour coded feet: red for input, grey for connection, yellow for output, and finally blue for power. The resistors fit nicely into the appropriate sockets, the battery is easy to connect, and the switches are straightforward as well. Once you’ve completed the lessons, you can start experimenting and doodling on the included blank pages and create your own circuits.
Needless to say, the conductive ink works as advertised, and the lessons we tried worked flawlessly and as expected. The ink also worked fine on normal printer paper and heavier construction paper as well, so wherever you have a scrap of paper that the pen will write on, the modules and circuits that you’ve drawn should work just fine. I was actually impressed that even a single line drawn with the pen was enough to complete a circuit.
There were a couple times that the pen would stop working, usually when it had been stored for a bit. A simple scribble on a piece of paper and a few shakes of the pen with the tip down was enough to get it going again. Circuit Scribe also has some decent pen maintenance tips on their website.
The Circuit Scribe Ultimate Kit is priced at $99.99USD and really does include quite a bit for the price. A number of other kits of various sizes and prices also exist, but going through the lessons in the Ultimate Kit and seeing what is included in the other kits, the Ultimate Kit is definitely the best value for your money. Once the pen runs out, you can pick up another for $19.99USD. I’m not sure of the cost to make one of these pens but it’d be nice to see replacement pens priced a little lower.
If you’ve always wanted to teach your kids about circuits, Circuit Scribe is easy to use, easy to understand, and works well for teaching circuitry. It is for these reasons that we’ve awarded it a Top Pick of 2017 award.