On most cameras there are essentaly four modes that you can set the camera.
P: Program mode, the camera chooses all the settings (there are sometimes a couple of diffrent P modes) A good start but you want to expirement. To quote Phil G of Photo.net, "A good roll for me has 35 not so good photos, to show that I am expirmenting, and one well exposed photo, to show that I am not totally incompetent"
A: Appature Priority mode, in this mode you select the F Stop, and the camera will set the shutter speed. This mode is good when you want to control the depth of field that the photo will have. (this is the mode that I shoot in the most)
S: Shutter priority, In this mode you select the shutter speed and the camera will select the F stop. This mode for me is good when I need a certian shutter speed to get the photo that I want, wether that is to stop the action (fast shutter) or want to show motion (slow shutter).
M: Manual mode, in this mode you have complete control, you select both the shutter and the F Stop, often all the camera will do is tell you wether the settings that you have selected will produce a properly exposed photo or not.
M mode is another mode that I will use alot, because I like to have more control over my photos, in particular I like to have control of the depth of field.
Depth of field: is the zone of the sence that will be in acceptable sharpness, the higher the shutter, the larger the zone will be for that particule lens. F/16 on a 28mm is a larger zone than F/16 on a 600mm.
The best way to learn all this is to expirment. If you want to pick up a book that will cover all the basics, than one that I would suggest for you would be the National Geographic Photography Field Guide. I found that this book covers just about all the basics to a resonable amount of depth and presents alot of good tips in plain english.
At worst, you screw up and die.