littleBits and the BitOlympics at Vancouver MakerLabs

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What a privilege it was for Margaret Westaway and I to be able to present about our makerspace journey at this year’s ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) conference. I have many blog posts brewing about ISTE 2015, but in this post I am going to focus on our unexpected encounter with the wonderful folks from littleBits and the Vancouver MakerLabs.

Our students love littleBits, so we had to discuss the role littleBits played in our makerspaces through our ISTE sessions. Problem… we wanted to bring our kits with us, but didn’t have the room to pack them in our limited luggage (we were, after all going to make a trip to New York afterwards for some shopping!). So, Margaret decided to take a chance and fire off an email to the “people” at littleBits to ask them if we could borrow a kit. We were shocked that we actually received a response back! The littleBits people gave us a kit and it was waiting for us at our hotel when we arrived. What a great company!

LittleBits had a booth at ISTE, so we decided to visit to show our gratitude. We had so much fun! The representatives were all gracious, helpful, inspiring and as excitable as Margaret and I are! We had great conversations with everyone. Through one of these conversations, we found out that the MakerLabs in Vancouver was hosting a littleBits Olympics event.

After returning from our trip to Philadelphia and New York, on the first day that I felt recovered from my conference/vacation whirlwind, I dragged the family to the BitOlympics not knowing what to expect. I am so glad that we went! MakerLabs is a beautiful 26,000 sf makerspace that I have wanted to visit for some time and this event was a perfect excuse to check it out.

When we arrived, a number of people were engrossed in using littleBits to make Olympic themed creations. I was a little nervous as there weren’t many children around, but that went away when my 7 yr. old son excitedly expressed that he wanted to build a mini soccer goal net that lit up and buzzed every time a goal was scored.

Now I have to admit that I have seen my children and many of my students use littleBits to create awesome inventions. I have also seen many cool creations posted by littleBits. But, I have never really made a project on my own, let alone with my son. So, I let go and let my son lead the project.

Attempt 1: Motion Trigger

motion triggerhttp://littlebits.cc/bits/motion-trigger

For our first attempt, we tried using a motion trigger. If the ball rolls into the net, the motion trigger would trigger the lights and buzzer. After listening to the buzzer go off about a hundred times, we realized the sensor was too sensitive, it was reacting to every little motion. This resulted in the buzzer continually buzzing deep into my brain. I could sense myself getting frustrated. I wanted to abandon the idea, get some coffee and try something else, “Hey Zain, how about we do a diving board instead?”, but soccer means a lot to Zain. He wanted to continue.

Attempt 2: Roller Switch

http://littlebits.cc/bits/roller-switch

http://littlebits.cc/bits/roller-switch

Next, Zain examined the choices of bits and decided to try the roller switch. The theory was, if the ball hits the roller switch, it would trigger the buzzer for the lights to go off. At this point I begged him to not use the buzzer anymore. Mama had a headache. After a lot of tape being used to keep the switch in place we realized that the ball had to hit the switch quite hard for it to activate, plus our accuracy wasn’t that great.

Okay, now by this point I really wanted to move on. I even went and collected materials for a diving board. “Zain, it would be so cool if we made a diving board, see we can even use the roller switch for it.”

I saw the disappointed look on Zain’s face. He then said, “Mama, you really want to do the diving board, so do it.” I’m going to do my own thing. My seven year old wanted nothing to do with his mama! Ack! No, this was not supposed to happen, I wanted to create something together! So, I pulled back again and watched as my determined son went back to the bits library and pondered what his next step would be.

Attempt 3: Sound Trigger?

soundtrigger

http://littlebits.cc/bits/sound-trigger

Zain brought back a sound trigger bit and said, “I think this is really going to work, mama come on we can do it!”. My inside voice said, “What the heck is a sound trigger going to do? A diving board would be so much easier!” I watched him as he skillfully attached all the pieces together. After decreasing its sensitivity, the sound trigger was just the thing our soccer net needed! The ball rolled into the net and the noise that was created through the ball hitting the bit triggered the lights to go off! Success! We cheered and high fived as though we scored a goal at the FIFA world cup!

Zain Soccer Game

Zain then surprised me and marched up to Nick Weinberg, who was the littleBits rep helping with the event, and asked him if he wanted to see how he finally got it to work. Nick had stopped by a number of times during our process earlier and Zain was excited to show him the successful version. Nick ended up documenting Zain’s project and put it up on the littleBits site (you can see it here). My heart swelled while I watched from a distance my confident my little boy explaining our project and the pieces that were used to make it.

This event proved to me once again how kids will persevere if they are given the freedom to explore their own passions, with few limitations, and when given support if needed. It also shows me how easily us adults give up. Just the slightest glimmer into failure I wanted to abandon his idea. Yet at 7 years old he was able to push through numerous setbacks and eventually succeed. Even more powerful to me was that he was able to stand up to me and not allow me to change the path. He pushed me to keep going. As a mama, isn’t that what I am supposed to do for him?

Thank you littleBits and MakerLabs for providing us with an opportunity to play. More importantly thank you for the message that tech like littleBits in schools and home isn’t essential because it wows and “engages” students. It’s value is not in the products that it enables users to create, it’s value is in the process. Our end product was pretty basic and looked very messy, but it was made amazing because of the journey that Zain and I went through to complete it. Our hacked together goal net, assembled with tape, cardboard and card stock that lights up every time a goal is scored will hold a precious place in our memories. Here is another video of Zain explaining the project, showing how it worked and what we used to make it.

Parents and Teachers, You Can Play Minecraft Too: Tips for Beginners

collaborate and listen

In my last blog post, I am a Minecrafter: ISTE 2014 Made Me Do It, I made a confession that I began playing Minecraft and I was loving it! Since I last wrote, I have discovered an emerald and diamond patch, a slime block and a spawner cage. I have learned how to make pumpkin pie, milk cows, tame wolves and make the wolves have wolf puppies. They are soooo cute!

dogs

I also went through an epic journey that tested my patience and perseverance where I built a fantastic home complete with a well stocked farm and a yoga studio, while looking for some more iron got lost for two days (in real time!), was killed by a creeper, respawned in a dark cave, dug myself out of the cave with no tools or torches, got spit out in the middle of an ocean, swam to shore, cut my losses and built another new fabulous home then discovered my old home during an epic trek!

Want into this world?!

As a result of my last post, I have had many discussions with teachers and parents who are going to begin looking into Minecraft for themselves. I thought I’d share some advice and good resources (not in any particular order) for those of you who are interested in giving it a go.

1) There are different versions of Minecraft depending on what platform you would like to play on.

  • The computer version, which can be downloaded straight from the Mojang website.
  • The app, which can be downloaded for your respective tablet device.
  • The game console version which is currently available for PlayStation and XBox, but further releases are planned.

While all three have their different strengths, the computer version is the most complete. However, I have been playing on my iPad and am loving it. The computer version does take up a lot of memory and speed, so just be wary of that before downloading it onto your home computer.

2) Find a kid who loves to play. Ha, this should be REALLY easy! My tutor was my six year old son. He was thrilled that I wanted to learn to play his favourite game and even more thrilled that I wanted him to be my teacher. Turn on the multiplayer setting and play TOGETHER, meaning both of you work through the same world!

If you are on an iPad. Just click on the tools button on the opening screen to the game. Then slide the button to the right for “Local Server Multiplayer” Make sure your wifi is on.

multiplayer

Oh my goodness, this is SO frustrating at times, but you will learn quickly as to what you can and can’t do and how to communicate with your fellow player(s).

3) To ease yourself into the game play involved, begin with “Creative Mode” rather than “Survival Mode”. This option will be given to you when you create a new world. Creative Mode has all the resources available to you and you cannot “die” (oops, my son wants me to let you know… unless you dig yourself to the bottom of the world). Creative mode would also be a better version if you are working with a club and/or a class project where you are presenting challenges. Survival Mode is more challenging, you begin with no tools, there is day and night and there are many creatures (that especially get scary at night) that can kill you.

4) Watch Paul Soares Jr.’s (PSJ) Minecraft tutorials on YouTube. He is one of the leading experts on Minecraft and was the first person to create video tutorials for the game back in 2008. He has several series of videos out, but the How to Survive and Thrive series is a great one to begin with.

All of PSJ’s videos are so enlightening and entertaining. He shows viewers how to play and highlights projects that other players have been working on and challenges he embarks on with other players, including his wife and kids. Currently my family is watching a riveting series of episodes where PSJ’s trusty mule has been kidnapped by another player who is demanding ransom for instructions on his whereabouts. Another bonus is he strives for clean language and family friendly content, which I can’t say for some of the other video tutorials out there.

4) Get your hands on these babies.

minecraft booksMinecraft Beginner’s Handbook, Minecraft Redstone Handbook, Minecraft Combat Handbook and Minecraft Construction Handbook

I don’t know what I am going to do come September when I have to have our students share these books at the library. Multiple copies are on order, but I don’t think these copies are going to satiate the demand!

My son has read these books from cover to cover multiple times, so I decided to take a peek at them and they are ah-mazing!! On a side note, take a look at
Liam O’Donnell’s  post, How Those Minecraft Books Got My Students Reading. These books, co-written by Paul Soares Jr., are very clearly laid out and easy to refer back to if you have specific questions about how to play the game.

5) Google, Google, Google if you have any questions. I have stopped playing many times, after my son has gone to bed, to punch in questions about the game. There are so many Minecraft related websites and forums out there. It can be overwhelming, so here are a few you may want to begin with.

Minecraft Wiki
THE wiki for any information about Minecraft

Minecraft Forum
THE forum for Minecraft questions and answers and the sharing of ideas

Minecraft Institute of Technololgy
I found out about this at Marianne Malmstrom’s (@knowclue) Minecraft session at ISTE 2014 and I was floored! As their website states:

Minecraft Institute of Technology (MIT), is a premium school for minecrafters. Here we teach all sorts of skills, like building, brewing, and horse riding. The faculty has been selected from the best of the world. We own cutting-edge facilities which are always being expanded. MIT is located on XP Galaxy, near the capitol city Pigston.

You go through worlds with your teacher as they guide you through specific skills. How awesome is that?! Note: You need the computer version to participate.

Minecraft Architecture
Get inspiration from this collection of screenshots of amazing homes that players have created.

Minecraft Challenges
A list of challenges you may want to set for yourself or your students.

I hope this post gives you all a great start with Minecraft. Have fun, and remember that you may need to take a Minecraft break, it is very addicting!