The Circuit Playground

The Circuit Playground is family of small microcontroller boards with LEDs, buttons, and sensors built in. Designed specifically for novice programmers, the Circuit Playground enables students to get up and running quickly with physical computing without worrying about many of the traditional barriers to entry. Developed by our friends at Adafruit, the Circuit Playground is the core tool used in CS Discoveries Unit 6, Physical Computing.

Programming with the Circuit Playground has developed a special set of commands for App Lab, our block-to-text app development environment, called the Maker Toolkit. Using App Lab and the Maker Toolkit, students can quickly build apps that communicate with external hardware using the same language and environment they've already become comfortable with.

Software Requirements

One of our primary goals in integrating the Circuit Playground into CS Discoveries is to reduce the barriers that teachers often encounter attempting to teach physical computing. To that end, we've developed a system that requires only minimal software installation and wide platform compatibility. If using Chromebooks, we've provided a browser extension to install. For all other platforms, we've created a standalone app that allows the programming tools on our website to communicate with the Circuit Playground over USB. Visit the Maker Toolkit setup page for more details on how to get your computers set up.

What’s the difference between App Lab, Circuit Playground, and Maker Toolkit?

App Lab is a web-based programming environment for building apps using Javascript with either blocks or text. App Lab features prominently in both CS Principles and CS Discoveries

The Circuit Playground is an series of circuit boards produced by Adafruit with a variety of sensors and ouputs built in. There are two variants of the Circuit Playground, both compatible with CS Discoveries:

  • The Circuit Playground Classic - the first version of this board which can be programmed with either Maker Toolkit or the Arduino IDE
  • The Circuit Playground Express - the newer version of this board which can be programmed with the Maker Toolkit, Microsoft Makecode, Scratch 3.0, Circuit Python, and more .

Wondering which version you have? Check out Adafruit's guide.

The Maker Toolkit is an additional set of commands in App Lab that allow you to communicate with and control a Circuit Playground plugged into USB. You can enable the Maker Toolkit in any App Lab project by clicking the settings gear above the toolbox and selecting "Enable Maker Toolkit."

The Maker App is a standalone app that allows the Circuit Playground to communicate with the App Lab and the Maker Toolkit.

Getting Circuit Playgrounds for your Classroom has partnered with Adafruit to create a classroom kit of Circuit Playground boards and accessories necessary for implementing CS Discoveries Unit 6, Physical Computing. The kit contains 15 Circuit Playground boards, 15 Micro USB cables to connect the board to a computer, and a few other accessories. The curriculum is designed for a 2:1 student to board ratio, so a single classroom kit supports a classroom of 30 students.

For teachers in's 2018-19 CS Discoveries Professional Learning Program

For teachers participating in the 2018-19 CS Discoveries Professional Learning Program and implementing the full-year version of the course, we're happy to announce that we will be subsidizing the cost of a single classroom kit for each teacher.

To receive a fully subsidized circuit playground, teachers must meet all of the following requirements:

  • Be a "qualified teacher" in the 2018-19 Professional Learning Program for CS Discoveries. Qualified teachers must have either: attended a 5-day summer workshop for CS Discoveries in 2018 as a participant, OR are participating in the 2018-19 Facilitator Development Program as a new CS Discoveries facilitator.
  • Completed the first semester of the CS Discoveries curriculum with students. Qualified teachers must have at least one section of CS Discoveries on with at least 10 students who have made measurable progress in Units 2 and 3. (Note: content learned in Unit 3 is a prerequisite for Unit 6)
  • Will teach Unit 6 by the end of the 2019-20 school year.

If you meet all of the eligibility requirements, you will qualify for a subsidy based on the free and reduced price meal rates at your school (based on data from the National Center for Education Statistics):

  • For teachers in schools with 40% or greater free/reduced price meals, the classroom kit will be 100% subsidized, resulting in no cost to the teacher/school, including shipping.
  • For teachers at schools with less than 40% free/reduced price meals, the classroom kit will not be subsidized. Teachers will be expected to pay for the full cost of the kit (approx. $350), though this price will be reduced by a 10% discount for educators to an approximate total of $315. To get the educator discount, teachers must apply the code ADAEDU at checkout.

If a teacher has a smaller class size and does not qualify for or need a full 15 board kit (which supports 30 students), they may purchase a Circuit Playground Individual Kit. The Individual Kit is designed for a single student or share-pair and costs $29.95.

By the end of January 2019, teachers will receive an email from us with more information about how to request a subsidy for the Adafruit Circuit Playground classroom kit on our website. In the meantime, qualified teachers should make sure they're on track in the 2018-19 school year to complete the first semester of CS Discoveries (Units 1-3) with their students.

For teachers independently using the CS Discoveries curriculum

While teachers not in the 2018-19 CS Discoveries Professional Learning Program are not eligible for the subsidized cost of the kit, the classroom kit can still be purchased directly on Adafruit's website.