littleBits, a very groovy and innovative company based in New York, is constantly pumping out awesome new products. Their model is fairly simple. Provide low cost “bits” that allow people to build and prototype things using no programming and no soldering. These simple “bits” are circuits (called modules) snap together through magnets; each with very unique properties; whether it be an action (switch, knob, sensor) and a result (fan, noise, light).
I recently had a chance to experience the new “Space Kit”. Before I go on anymore; you must know two things about me.
- My favorite books growing up where either about doing science experiments (often with building circuits) or books about space.
- I also wanted to be an astronaut (as probably a lot of other children). I was a regular attendee at the community college’s space program and a regular visitor to the planetarium.
So of course, the childhood attitude of mine lit up. littleBits has successfully created a product that appeals to the science geek in me and the ability for me to do “spacey” things! I wish they were around 20 years ago. Who knows what possibilities that would have opened up for me.
I was beyond excited when I open this nicely decorated space box, and saw the neatly organized pieces. (Which are now just in a heap in my desk as I tinker and play.) An added feature – that I like – is that you can grab some basic craft supplies and do some really cool experiments (like wave testing). Also, in an extremely easy to understand way, littleBits explains energy, waves, and so forth so if you had no background in science; you can quickly get up to speed. Best part is, if you “read” the guide as an instruction booklet, it asks you to create hypothesis to your experiments. A live classroom experience bundled neatly in a little box.
As many of you know, I travel around to libraries and encourage them to reach out and adapt some of this new technology. Libraries should be encouraging people to prototype and experiment. We need to get our users interacting and learning so they can develop new concepts.
In one of the experiments, littleBits has the users adding milk to a glass and shine a light above it, while reading how much light is getting through using the light sensor and number reader placed at the bottom. Watching the children – work together – to follow the steps in the guide and get excited when they discover their hypothesis with measuring the atmosphere was correct; was a really awarding experience. One of the older users said “wow, I wish they had this when I was growing up. I’m sure we could have made it to Mars by now”. We need to get more technology like this into the hands of our youth so they can literally reach for the stars.
The bit modules included in the kit are awesome. One module, the remote trigger, can detect when any household remote is sending a signal; and turn your creation ON or OFF (light, motor, etc). How they came up with this awesome idea – I would love to know. An impressive feature on a lot of modules is the simple way to “reprogram” the devices; it’s easy to adjust sensitivity of objects, have motors turn a different way, or measure values differently – all by flipping a switch or turning a knob.
Now, if I was a hardcore craft person (which I’m not), the amount of things that you can build with the littleBits Space Kit….is jaw dropping. From the booklet they provide and what seems to be endless activities on their website; the sky is the limit. I’ve personally never been big into crafts, I can barely draw a stick figure J. But still, as soon as I can grab some extra cardboard, I’m building the Mars Rover and having it move forward when my cat walks in front of it. (She torments me relentlessly, she had this coming).
The age group on the Space Kit does say 14 to infinity. There are some experiments that had me pause and “wait, what?” But littleBits does do a really good job of explaining things, and on a lot of the pages in their booklet they refer back to what they already explained or what you already experimented with. On the other side of the coin, I had some kids as young as 10 building out the predefined experiments AND taking risks and building out their own creations – and seeing what it does. With that being said I think the Space Kit; as a whole, is a resource that is great for all ages. For the advance user who knows lots of “science stuff” and wants to be challenged, to the little tinkerer who wants to learn by play; it accommodates for all. Now, being a littleBits user who also has a few of the other kits; this kit pairs amazingly well with all of them.
Another thing with the Space Kit is that more than one user can be using the kit at the time. In some instances; as many as four or five children were hovering over and saying “ok, try doing it this way, let’s see what happens”. I’m a firm believer that we need to encourage our future leaders and scientists to experiment and also FAIL. Failure is a key success. I was recently at a conference, where a speaker said there is no such thing as failure. Only winning or learning. We need to make sure this attitude remains with our youth; as we need them to take risks, fail, and experiment in order to better themselves, our communities, the world. littleBits is a great tool and resource to further encourage this.
So, if you are looking to expand your makerspace or adding an enriching program/activity, the littleBits Space Kit is the tool. I secretly wish I became a NASA scientist after getting the chance to tinker like one. It’s a bit too late in my career to do that now, but give your children a chance to decide too!