littleBits in the Library: Base Kit and Premium Kit Reviews
In case you haven’t been following my library makerspace adventures, I purchased a “Student Set” of littleBits™ this past fall to start a makerspace. (UPDATE 2017: The Student Set is now discontinued. Try the STEAM Student Set or Gizmos and Gadgets Kit, 2nd ed. instead). I had very few ideas about what an elementary school makerspace might look like, but I had done my research about all the available products on the market. LittleBits™ was the product that I could imagine integrating the most seamlessly into the “centers” structure of library classes that I was moving towards for grades 3-5.
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means if you purchase an item after clicking on a link, I will receive a small commission. Nevertheless, I am giving my honest opinion, and my recommendation is based on my own use of littleBits™. See Disclosures & Disclaimers for more information.
My hunch was that littleBits™ could give students the chance to create something they cared about. We know from educational research that when students are interested in a subject and feel that it is relevant, there are golden opportunities for engaged learning that public schools so often miss (or worse, crush). After several months of observation and class use, I’m convinced that my hunch was right.
Let’s start with the PROS of using littleBits™ in your library or school makerspace:
- Students can’t get enough of them! The littleBits™ makerspace center has continually been one of the most popular centers in the library, to the point that it’s difficult to get students to complete other information and media literacy centers.
- Despite using electricity, batteries, motors, and LED lights, there is NO way to electrocute or even shock yourself using littleBits™. The magnets keep you from creating a short circuit by accident. Of course, if a student is likely to put them in their mouth, they are not mature enough to use littleBits™. Swallowing them is the only danger and probably the reason they are recommended for ages 8 and up.
- There is no soldering, and no heat danger like there is when working with raw electronic materials like wires, breadboards, and LED lights.
- The littleBits™ website has LOTS of great project ideas, and if you create an account, your students can also publish their own project how-to’s online. What a great way to make their learning relevant and accountable!
- You don’t have to re-invent the wheel for instruction. I made a FREE set of 12 littleBits™ 101 task cards that introduces students to each Bit in the Classroom Set. Though completing all 12 cards isn’t strictly necessary to start creating, it does give a great introduction and allows students to discover the full capabilities of the littleBits™.
Now onto the CONS:
- Higher Cost – The littleBits™ kits and individual modules are pretty expensive. With a lot of research and electronics know-how you could potentially make your own for much cheaper, but my guess is most librarians would rather just write a grant if funding is an issue. Make sure to sign up for their Educator Discount too! I recommend starting with 1 Student Set, and a few extra coin battery Bits. I have 7 total Power Bits, because the number of Power Bits will control how many students can share the littleBits™ sets simultaneously. I’m hoping to buy about $500 of more littleBits™ kits and other modules through an education foundation grant so we can expand our collection. *fingers crossed*
- The buzzer – It will give you a headache, no doubt about it. I don’t want to stifle students’ creativity and discovery, so when it gets to be too much, I just remind them to, “Go easy on the buzzer!” I’ve taken it away only once for excessive use.
- Fragile Parts – Some Bits just break too easily. The roller switch was the first to break, though I now have it stuck together with hot glue. It limits the movement, but I don’t lose the little metal arm anymore. I’ve also replaced the fan, the pressure sensor, and the vibration motor too. I have to say, however, that if a book got used as much as these littleBits™ do, I think it would need to be repaired/replaced just as often. We’ve used them 2 to 3 times a day all year so consider your book repair budget before nixing a littleBits™ project for this reason.
When compared to other makerspace kits such as Snap Circuits® and Squishy Circuits (both of which I’ve tried), I think littleBits™ are the best fit for starting a library makerspace. So have you tried littleBits™ or another makerspace kit? What do you think about their educational viability?
Image credit: Student Set from http://littlebits.cc/bundles/classroom-set