I’ve admired littleBits as a company pretty much since I got started with the Maker Movement. So when they asked me last week if I’d like to try out a sample of their new STEAM Student set, I was more than happy to oblige. I played with it a bit myself over the weekend and then let some of my students try it out at school. Ayah Bedir announced the new set at SXSW Edu yesterday, so now that the cat’s out of the bag, I can talk about how awesome this set is.
19 Bits + Accessories!
This set includes a whopping 19 bits plus some awesome accessories including mounting boards, wheels and attachments for the servo bit. These make for a lot of different project possibilities and will complement other littleBits sets you might already have very well. This was my first time getting to play with a temperature sensor and I’m already thinking of possible projects to make with it.
The Student Guide
The Student Guide for this kit is absolutely stunning (and littleBits offers a PDF of it for FREE on their site). It’s probably one of my favorite features of the kit. Many times in the past, when I’ve introduced littleBits to my students, they’ve rushed ahead to the projects without really learning or understanding how they work. They’ll get too rough on the bits, or miss out on the fact that you can adjust some bits with the screwdriver. They won’t understand how a certain bit works and will pass it over without really trying it.
This 76 page guide takes care of all those problems and then some.
littleBits Basics & Bit Index
The littleBits basics and bit index sections explain in beautiful detail how littleBits work, including what each of the different colors means and how the order of the bits matters. The bit index is fantastic. It takes a look at each of the bits in the kit, explains how they work, shows an example mini-project that lets you see it in action, and even includes some real life examples of where you would see this bit.
littleBits Invention Cycle & Prototyping Tips
The littleBits Invention cycle is littleBits’ take on the design process. Students are encouraged to create something, play with it, remix it and share it with others. This is EXACTLY the kind of thing that I am encouraging my students to do everyday in our makerspace. How awesome is it that they’re getting to see this same philosophy from a brand like littleBits?
The Prototyping tips section also encourages a lot of the similar concepts that I try to encourage in my students: don’t worry about making your creation perfect, build a lot of versions, try new things, document your work. But of course, they do all this with awesome cute graphics 🙂
You might already know that I’m a fan of guided projects as a way for students to grasp new concepts and expand their skillsets, making more creativity possible. littleBits offers four different guided challenges in this book, and the set includes all the bits and accessories to create them. I let my students try these out and they built the self-driving vehicle and the art machine. I had a group of three students working on these projects – the kits recommends use by 1-4 students and this number seems about right. The projects were easy to complete and a lot of fun, and my students were already asking lots of “what if” questions and looking for ways to customize the project.
Considering that I’m currently co-writing a book on challenge-based learning in makerspaces, I obviously liked this section. littleBits provides four different open-ended challenges and guides teachers on how to work through them with your students. These challenges would be fantastic for after-school clubs, maker lunches and even class collaborations.
I love this kit overall, so it took me a bit to come up with any criticisms. While I don’t think that any of these are major issues or problems, here are a few things I noticed:
Mounting Board: Like many others, my students had trouble getting the bits to stick on the mounting board. I’ve heard that littleBits is coming out with a new, better one, and I’m excited to have my students try this.
Only supports four students at a time: For this kit to truly be effective in an open makerspace, you would need to either have multiple kits or other littleBits kits in addition to it. It supports four students well, but they’re so popular that way more than four will want to build with them at one time 🙂
Battery can be heavy: For several projects, the weight of the battery got in the way. littleBits used to offer rechargeable coin battery power bits, but they aren’t currently on the site. A smaller or lighter weight battery would really help to expand project potential.
Price: Yes, there are 19 bits, tons of accessories, and an amazing student guide. But $300 can be a lot to spend on something that can only support four students at a time, especially for budget strapped schools. However, this is definitely prime grant-writing material, as the Teacher’s Guide includes plenty of links to NGSS and the Common Core Standards.
Bonus: the Teacher Guide is available for free!
The littleBits STEAM Student set is available for pre-order now and ships starting on April 11. Will YOU be ordering one?
**Disclaimer: I did receive the littleBits STEAM Student Set complimentary of littleBits. I did not receive any financial compensation and all opinions are my own***