Here is some hardware and information you might find useful in beginning your experiments with Arduino. There are lots of people who are doing interesting and innovative things with Arduino. Some of what is shown off online seems to be wildly complex. It seemed important to explore the basics. It might even make sense to build a few simple and easy circuits with their associated programs daily while building up a strong base of knowledge and experience with the system.
One strategy that proved effective for these experiments was to leave the circuits installed on the breadboard. This allowed for maximum experimentation time by reducing the time to build, dismantle and rebuild the circuits. If a new idea surfaced after experimenting with a circuit, even if another had been built, it was easy to reload the code, and make some changes to test the idea. If the circuit had been taken apart, this would have been more difficult.
These circuits and programs were the result of several days of tinkering, unlike most of the projects in this series. The experimentation also occurred in a variety of locations, though most were done in the main studio. By keeping the Arduino and components in a small box, it was possible to leave the project built, and keep the supplies handy in the same place in the box.
The most useful information for this project turned out to be the example projects that are embedded in the Arduino software. These projects are listed on the Arduino site in the tutorials section. The book Getting Started with Arduino from the Maker Shed, and the workshop handout for the LilyPad Arduino Protosnap from Sparkfun also provided valuable information.
Once you have the computer playing nice with the Arduino, here are a few things to keep in mind.
What was most effective was to use the programs listed in the Examples section of the Arduino program. In the comments of each program is a brief explanation of the circuit, and a mostly line by line detail of what the code is designed to do. In each code, there was a link to the web address of the code.
Programming and adjusting the code to see the effects of changes is super important in learning this system. By using an iterative programming process of planning a change, making a simple adjustment, and seeing the results of the change, it is possible to gain a greater understanding of how the programming system works.
By saving the code you work on, and recording notes in the comments, it will be easier to open the files again and continue to experiment with your ideas.
The programs or sketches I worked with during this exploratory process were: Blink, Analog Read Serial, Fade, Tone, Button, Photo Resistor, and Analog Input. The information in the Sparkfun presentation for the ProtoSnap kit was extremely useful.
There are photos of this project.