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.