littleBits takesover 826NYC!

It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a Bit!

March 3, 2016

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On Wednesday, February 24 two strangers infiltrated a storefront covered in capes and lined with books. They passed through a secret door and entered a back room filled with…readers! This is just an ordinary day at 826NYC, better known to some as the Brooklyn Superhero Supply store.

Part of a national network founded by author Dave Eggers, the Superhero Supply Store supports 826NYC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting students ages 6-18 with their creative and expository writing skills, and to helping teachers inspire their students to write.

littleBits partnered with 826NYC to host a workshop for 15 middle school students focused on technical reading and writing skills. We were ecstatic about the opportunity to work with them and to test our first workshop structured around this skill set. The theme – monsters, of course.

We asked participants to build a monster for Goo York City. First we introduced the Bits, then brainstormed possible monsters. Once they had their ideas, it was time to start making. And here are some of the electronic creatures they came up with:

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Things we learned.

We love learning. We love iterating on what we do and make. This workshop especially resonated with us in terms of aligning the structure with the learning goals, so we wanted to share some of the takeaways. Some of these we already knew and this reinforced it, while some were new for us:

  • Always curate your Bits. As a learning platform, littleBits is exceptional in its high ceiling, wide walled approach, but this can be completely overwhelming for middle school students.
  • Beware of a Bit takeover. For most young people (and old people for that matter), once you introduce the Bits into their universe, all else fades away. Play and tinkering take over. This is amazing to witness, BUT it is not always the best strategy if you want them to accomplish something else first.
  • Design the workshop appropriately to hit the learning goal. This was not an exploratory workshop, hence we feel that having a structured project for them to create from written or visual instructions would have better hit the targeted learning goal. Here are some structure ideas that we’ve been tinkering with for one time workshops:
    • If there is no writing: Introduce the challenge and have participants brainstorm BEFORE introducing the bits.
    • If your focus is narrative writing: Introduce the prompt and have participants write first. The story should inspire their invention not vice versa.
    • If your focus is technical writing: Chose 1-2 projects that every student will build. Provide visual instructions on how to build it for participants to follow. After building, have them remix it by swapping Bits or adding decoration. Finally have them add additional instructions to their sheet based on their remix.

Here are a few of the resources we used:

Google Slide Deck (this is what we used, but doesn’t reflect the feedback discussed above):