My history with littleBits began in 2013 when my school created a littleBits bar in our makerspace, and our experiences with littleBits have grown exponentially since. You can read about our experiences here, here and here.
Billy’s history with littleBits started in 2015 when he heard about littleBits at an ISTE conference and won a free kit later that Summer at an education conference. That fall, Billy applied for a Donor’s Choose grant and was able to start his small collection of littleBits which he used with his Gifted and Talented students. Billy slowly built his collection the following year with a donation from the Home and School Association. Students loved exploring and learning with the kits.
Billy and I were thrilled to as being selected as one of 20 participants in the littleBits Lead Educator program that took place back in May and June of this past school year. As a result, we were one of the very first educators in the world to get the new littleBits Code Kit and had the opportunity to test the kit with their students and create resources and activities to use in the classroom.
Full disclosure…the students in my makerspace do not like kits. My students are known to throw away directions, disassemble kits they have gotten, and void warranties. With that being said, in partnership with our school’s computer science teacher, Ms. Kirsten Lee, and her AP Computer Science students, they were excited to be able to beta test the new littleBits Code Kit. Rather than designing lessons myself surrounding the littleBits Code Kit, I tasked my students with designing experiences they felt other students would enjoy, embrace and benefit from. This approach is what I call participatory making.
The ultimate goal of this littleBits collaboration was for my students to create an activity for Billy’s 3rd and 4th grade students to complete and to share with the littleBits community, as well.
Prior to kicking off this unit, I asked my students a few questions to get them in the right mindset.
Students who visit our makerspace rarely like to use kits. They would rather use other materials in the makerspace. Why do you think this is so?
Their responses were very insightful.
To help to immerse students in this project, my high school students then read ‘Game Changer’ article in Make Magazine, written by Tyler Winegarner. Through this article, students gained a better understanding of how to craft immersive experiences. I wanted to move our students away from the word activity or project and to begin thinking about the difference between an activity or project and an experience. This article helped to get students thinking about creating experiences instead of projects for the littleBits Code Kit. After reading the article, students shared their thoughts on crafting engaging experiences:
I then asked students to put on their experience designer hats. In a previous class, my students and I played a collaborative game on their phones called Spaceteam. Although they enjoyed the game, I asked her students to reflect on playing the game and think about what could have been added playing the game to make the experience, even more, fun, even more enjoyable, and even more meaningful for people when they play it. Their thoughts below:
My students also watched the Building Blocks That Blink, Beep and Teach a TED talk given by the founder of littleBits, Ayah Bdeir. At the same time this was happening, Billy’s students were also diving in deep with the littleBits Code Kit, honing their skills in order to successfully test the experiences created by my students. His students played around with the lessons that came with the kit, some of his students decided to even change the colors of the tug-of-war since they found the colors to be to masculine.
My students then did research to answer the following guiding question:
What techniques can be used to better engage students with makerspace kits, such as the littleBits Code Kit?
Some of my students’ findings are below:
My students then took all they learned and applied it to crafting experiences surrounding the littleBits Code Kit.
Their work was enhanced by having access to the amazing littleBits Code Kits team, who was readily available and accessible and willing to answer any questions the students had. My students created three student-created experiences: Basketball Showdown, Get the Ball Rolling and Star of the Caribbean. Pieces of each can be seen below.
They sent those experiences to Billy’s students, who helped my students refine and debug their work, and ultimately improved the experiences the students created. After Billy’s students completed the experiences created for them by my students, he challenged his students to figure out other creative ways to use the projects. For example, one of the groups decided to select the Basketball game. The students then came up with a plan to create a basketball hoop out of the materials that Billy had available in his room. The students used duct tape, wooden dowels, cardboard, zip ties and a gutter cap to create their hoop. They want the ability to see the scoreboard as they were shooting. They used a foam ball for the ball but discovered that they had to add duct tape for extra weight. The students had a ball playing with the fun design. Another group started to create a replica Death Star out of cardboard.
As a result of the participatory making opportunities afforded to my students in this littleBits Code Kit unit, they recommend to other students who are doing the same the following:
Inviting students into the makerspace activity design process can be transformative for your space. Billy’s students were able to learn from older students and were able to become creative in their own way. Participatory making experiences, such as the ones mine and Billy’s students experienced, are sure to empower your students and help to guarantee your makerspace is the student-driven space we ultimately want those spaces to be.