Coming to a classroom near you ... Inventing bit by bit

Kits ignite students' curiosity

As we become more and more reliant on electronic devices, it seems that the general public becomes less and less aware of how these omnipresent partners to our existence work. It doesn't help that most of the MP3 players, mobile phones and tablet computers we use are sealed tight from prying eyes.

But Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate Ayah Bdeir is attempting to counter the knowledge gap. Over the past few years she has developed and launched a kit that is increasingly becoming the toy of choice for children in the US.

Her product is littleBits: a series of individual circuit boards, or "bits", that snap together with magnets. There are power bits, connection bits, input bits and output bits. Inputs include triggers and sensors, and outputs include lights, motors, buzzers and fans. All the bits are colour- coded to allow easy assembly of everything from door alarms to robots.

"Two years of beta-testing has proven that within minutes of introducing littleBits, a child's curiosity is ignited and a fluid and organic process of active enquiry begins," Bdeir says.

"These questions, observations and creativity serve as a catalyst for discoveries about electronics and the gadgets that surround us in our everyday lives."

Founded in 2011, littleBits has since picked up 14 awards from the toy industry. It is in education that the product is set to make a mark, however, with Bdeir explaining that she wants to make learning about electronics more fun in order to spark the imaginations of the next generation of inventors.

Education establishments get discounts on individual bits or kits. There is also a free lesson guide to download that will talk you through how to introduce the product to the classroom, including incorporating it into lessons on, say, such as learning to count and how to use graphs.

Feedback, ideas and advice are readily available via an online community, which also invites you to share your creations. A "Dreambits" section gives students and teachers the opportunity to request features they would like to see introduced - ideas include a timer bit and a touchscreen bit.

"We have educators from all around the world using littleBits," Bdeir says. "We work with schools, museums, makerspaces, summer camps, home- school environments, libraries and other non-profits."

The only apparent downside is that a lot of the applications seem to revolve around buzzers and alarms, so teachers may have to get used to the noise.

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