How to Run A littleBits Workshop

August 26, 2015

At littleBits, we’re on a mission to unleash creativity by empowering everyone to create inventions, large and small, with our platform of easy-to-use electronic building blocks.

 

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Running a littleBits workshop is an awesome way to get people of all ages inventing, learning by doing, and thinking in fresh ways about the world around them.  Most importantly, workshops should be FUN!  They are opportunities for people to be silly, try out wacky ideas, make lots of mistakes and let their imaginations run wild – if you lead them with this spirit, you can’t go wrong.

 

This guide provides some practical tips for how to run a workshop. For more tips and to share your workshop ideas and experiences, visit the littleBits Events page on our Community Forums.

 

 

SETTING UP

 

Teams: We recommend assembling workshop participants into teams. Participants can work alone, but we’ve seen so many wonderful things happen when groups start brainstorming and building together. Creating teams also lets participants share the resources (like Bits and building materials).

 

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Note: Your participants don’t need to have any special skills or expertise. However, if some people in the workshop have used littleBits before (or are experienced makers), it can be helpful to spread them out among the groups so each group has an experienced user on hand.

 

The Bits: It’s important to have enough Bits for the workshop. littleBits offers a Workshop Set, which contains 8 sets of 20 Bits (for a total of 160 Bits), and a broad collection of accessories. This collection is designed to serve up to 8 teams. If you are running a workshop with a different kit (or creating your own workshop collection), you will want to make sure that each team has at least 1 or 2 power Bits and a variety of inputs, outputs, and wires.

 

Note: Be sure to have plenty of extra 9V batteries on hand for the workshop. We recommend having at least 2 9V batteries per power Bit. Rechargeable batteries can help cut down on waste. Alternatively, littleBits offers a USB power Bit with a power adapter so teams can power their inventions from a standard wall outlet.

 

Useful Tools & Materials:

  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Glue Gun
  • Glue Sticks or Glue Dots
  • Ruler
  • Pens, Pencils, and Markers
  • Paper
  • Cardboard (shipping boxes are a good source of rigid corrugated cardboard–cereal boxes are the perfect source for thinner, more flexible stuff)
  • Empty Containers (paper cups, milk jugs, water bottles)
  • Construction Toys (LEGO, K’nex, Erector Sets, etc…)
  • Popsicle Sticks or Balsa Wood
  • String
  • Googly eyes

 

WORKSHOP-TOOLS

 

 

SAMPLE WORKSHOP OUTLINE (1 – 2 hours)

 

  • littleBits Intro Demo (5 min)
  • Free Play (5-15 min)
  • Design Challenge (30 – 60+ min) (if longer than 60 minutes, encourage people to move around and explore other teams’ work or schedule a mid-challenge share time)
  • Share & Document (15-20 min)
  • Clean Up (5-10 min)

 

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Demo: We usually start off our workshops with a quick demonstration of how your Bits work. Here are the five basic principles we like to cover:

  1. Anatomy of a Bit: Every Bit has a top (which has the name of the Bit written on it), a bottom (where the “feet” of the bit are), and two bitSnaps (an input and an output, except for power which only has an output).
  2. Bits Snap Together with Magnets: Inputs only snap to outputs, so if the Bits don’t snap together, try rotating one of them around.
  3. Bits Are Color-Coded: Blues are power. Pinks are inputs (like buttons and sensors). Greens are outputs (like motors, lights, and buzzers). Oranges are wires and logic.
  4. Order Is Important: Every circuit needs to start with a power. Inputs only affect the Bits that come after them.
  5. Some Bits Are Adjustable: Small switches or buttons allow you to change the behavior of the Bit (like changing the direction the dc motor spins).  Small dials let you make adjustments to things like the sensitivity of sensors, the rate of the pulse Bit, and color of the RGB LED.

 

 

Free Play: It’s important to let people explore the Bits a little before they start a design challenge. Some free play time lets them quickly apply the Bit Basics they just learned and helps give the design challenge a little context. Remember: there is no wrong way to play!

 

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Design Challenge: Design challenges are a great way to provide your workshop with a bit of structure while still giving participants plenty of room for independence, inventiveness, and self-expression. Usually teams spend the first five or ten minutes investigating the main idea of the challenge and brainstorming ways they could solve it. Encourage participants to use the Bits as well as paper and pencil when communicating ideas to the group. It will help bring their ideas to life and get the whole group thinking in Bits.

 

Below are a few sample challenges.

 

Solving a Problem: These design challenges ask teams to look at a particular problem or opportunity and think about ways they could make the experience better. For example:

  • How might the recycling bin of the future work?
  • What could we build to make commuting by bike safer?
  • How could we make mealtime more exciting for young picky eaters?

 

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Theme Challenge: Bits are also a great tool for communicating ideas and telling stories. In a theme challenge you present teams with a general idea and ask them to create objects that represent their experiences or beliefs. For example:

  • What is your journey to work/school like in the morning?
  • Create a project that represents your city, town, or school.
  • Use littleBits to explain how different parts of the nervous system work.

 

Hack an Existing Object: In this challenge, teams reimagine an everyday object, using littleBits to enhance it or create a completely new use for it. You can ask participants to bring objects from home or supply them yourself. Dollar stores and thrift shops can be a great source of inexpensive items that range from the mundane to the eccentric.

 

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Share & Document: At the end of the design challenge, ask each team to share their project with the whole group. There is as much to be learned from the process as from the final product, so encourage the teams to share how their ideas developed and what they learned while building. Remember to take pictures and/or video so all of those brilliant insights and inventions can be shared with the world!

 

Clean Up: Alas, we haven’t created a cleanup Bit (yet). The aftermath of a workshop can be a tornado of Bits, paper, tape, cardboard, and glue. We recommend getting all of the Bits back into the box or at least onto a separate table before cleaning up any of the other materials. This prevents Bits from accidentally being thrown away when the used building materials are put into the trash or recycling.

 

 

TIPS & TRICKS

 

The Tips and Tricks section of our website is loaded with ideas that will help you squeeze every last bit of fun out of your Bits. Here are a couple we think are particularly useful to check out before a workshop:

 

 

 

 

TROUBLESHOOTING

 

If a circuit isn’t working or is behaving erratically, check the following:

 

  1. Make sure your power Bit is switched on. You should see a red LED illuminated on the board.
  2. Try swapping in a new 9-volt battery. The battery may be too low to supply the circuit with enough power (note: motors and speakers require more power than many of the other modules). If you notice that the red LED on the power Bit is dimming or blinking as the circuit activates, then you will need a fresh battery.
  3. Make sure the power cable is securely fastened to both the battery, as well as to the power Bit.
  4. Check your connections. Make sure that all the Bits are securely snapped to each other. You can also try gently wiping down the ends of the bitSnaps (where the three metal contacts and the magnets are) with a soft cloth like your sleeve – sometimes dust gets in the way of a strong connection. While the circuit is still on, try unsnapping, cleaning the BitSnaps, and snapping it all back together again.
  5. Make sure your Bits are arranged in the proper order. Remember that you always need a power Bit with a power supply at the beginning of each circuit and an output Bit at the end. If the last Bit in your chain is an input, then it won’t do anything to affect your circuit.

 

Oh no…a Bit fell off the table and it was stepped on!

 

  1. Are the connectors working? Can the broken components be fixed with a small amount of glue? Try Sugru™, a self-setting clay-like substance that dries with a silicone-like texture. It is quite strong and recommended as a safe product for use with littleBits.
  2. Is the Bit beyond repair? You can replace missing or broken Bits on the littleBits website or contact our support team at [email protected]

 

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We can’t wait to see the crazy inventions and insightful design solutions that emerge from your littleBits workshop. Once your event is wrapped up, please share your creations on our Project Page, in our Community Forum, or on social media using #littleBits (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook). You can also just email us pictures–we love getting mail from our users!

 

 

 

Posted in: Education