littleBits Electronic Blocks for STEAM Education

By ShaiCoggins | Printables

Dec 04
littleBits Introduction - Printable Cards Set

LittleBits (or littleBits, as the company refers to itself) is a modular electronic blocks system that may be purchased either as complete kits or as individual modules (or bits). They may be used to put together suggested creations or original inventions.

They have an available app to help you to create using the different kits (Android and iOS only).

The Tech-y Bits

The modules/bits are colour coded as follows:

  • Blue = Power bits
  • Pink = Input bits
  • Orange = Wire / Connector bits
  • Green = Output bits

The blue Power bits is usually attached to a 9v alkaline battery and a plug. Power bits provide the electricity required for the inventions to work. The pink input bits trigger the action or activity of the green output bits. Pink input bits include: switches, sound triggers, microphones, keyboards, and more. Green output bits include: LED lights, speakers, buzzers, and more. The orange bits enables a connection between the input and output bits extending the inventions using wires or connectors like Makey Makey, Cloudbit, and Bluetooth modules.

When introducing littleBits to students, I find that it’s useful to teach the importance of understanding the concepts behind each of these bits/modules to strengthen the students’ learning. You can download a set of cards for your use in your classroom or makerspace from our TpT Store (it’s free!).

littleBits Introduction

Download this for FREE as a printable card set from our Teachers Pay Teachers store. Download Now

Thoughts on littleBits

When I first came across littleBits, I wanted to see if it would work well in a primary STEAM Classroom. So, I ordered my first kit, which was the Cloudbit Starter Kit. And, while I thought it was great, it didn’t seem like the best kit to start with, especially for primary school students.

So, I ended up purchasing the littleBits Basic Kit (this kits seems to have been phased out).  This was a much better fit for what I had in mind for students.

My collection of littleBits kits have grown a lot since then. As of writing this, I have bought and used the following kits with my students: STEAM kit (1 set), Gadgets and Gizmos 2nd edition (1 set), Rule Your Room (2 sets), Droid Inventors kit (1 set), Synth Korg kit (1 set). I hope to share full reviews of these littleBits kits some time.  In the mean time, here are some thoughts and recommendations on littleBits.

littleBits at STEAM Club

Highlights:

  • They are easy to understand and use! Young kids can create and invent using littleBits. It’s a great way to teach electronics and robotics to primary students without having to do soldering, etc. Years 3 and up (ages 9+) will probably be able to use them independently after some basic/introductory lessons. Younger children can use them with close supervision from teachers/parents.
  • There are a lot of creation and invention possibilities with some of the basic modules. While you can create inventions based on suggested activities and lessons from the app and website, you can also come up with your own inventions. In fact, it’s highly encouraged once the students get the hang of the modules.
  • The kids love them! I have yet to meet a student who doesn’t love working with littleBits. The biggest problem is never having enough bits/modules for everyone to use!

Challenges:

  • They are pricey! Yes – this is probably going to be the biggest barrier for a lot of people. Each kit can set you back from US$99 upwards.  And, in Australia, you’d be lucky to find a kit that’s within AU$150 each. Usually, there are only a handful of bits in each kit. So, if you’re purchasing for a class or group, you might need a couple of thousand dollars to have enough kits for your students. And yes, purchasing modules individually sometimes can even be more costly!
  • The modules need to be handled with care. They’re not unreasonably fragile, but it’s worth making sure the students look after the bits properly (e.g., don’t drop them, don’t insert things in them that are not meant to be inserted, don’t put them in water, etc).
  • Students need ample education, encouragement, and exposure to working with the modules, so that they can be more inventive with them. They tend to want to follow instructions to start with, so they only just do what they’re told to do. That’s why educators need to teach them higher thinking skills and creativity to help them create inventions that are of their own design.

In summary: littleBits are great tools to have in any STEAM classroom or makerspace. They come highly recommended. Some favourite kits include Gadgets & Gizmos, Rule Your Room, and Droid Inventor.

Here’s an introductory video on littleBits that you might find useful and inspiring:

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About the Author

Shai Coggins is a Registered Teacher in South Australia, with a Masters' degree in Teaching and Applied Psychology. She is a practicing artist and a published author. She started Creative STEAM Studio to promote holistic and play-based learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics (STEAM) with a strong literacy focus for kids and families in Adelaide and around the world.

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