Review: littleBits Gadgets and Gizmos electronics kits for STEM kids

GGK_Box_Everything_600x400_v-2I love posting about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and some of the great resources, products, and software that we can use to better prepare the next generation of little techies.

Here’s some previous posts I’ve done on the topics of STEM, kids, programming, and learning with young people:

The 8 year old (recently 7, now barely 8) has been playing with littleBits lately and having a blast. He loved SnapCircuits so littleBits seemed like a reasonable, if slightly higher-level, option.

SnapCircuits boldly has kids as young as three or four creating circuitry from a simple light and switch all the way up to a solar-powered radio or a burglar/door alarm. It doesn’t hide the complexities of volts and amps and includes low-level components like resistors. Frankly, I wish my first EE (Electrical Engineering) class in college was taught with SnapCircuits.

LittleBits (usually a lowercase L) jumps up a layer of abstraction and includes motors, motion detectors, LED arrays, and lots more. There are also specific kits for specific interests like a littleBits Musical Electronics Synth Kit and a littleBits Smart Home Kit that include specific littleBits that extend the base kit.

littleBits1

The key to littleBits is their magic magnet that makes it basically impossible to do something wrong or hurt yourself. The genius here is that the magnet only goes one way (because: magnets) and the connector underlying transmits both power and data.

You start with a power bit, then add an “if” statement like a switch, then move to do a “do” statement like a motor or light or whatever. In just about 20 minutes my 8 year old was able to take a LEGO custom Star Wars Blaster and add totally new functionality like lights and sounds..

The 8 year old wanted to show his Star Wars Blaster/Fan combo made with @littlebits #video

A video posted by Scott Hanselman (@shanselman) on Dec 15, 2015 at 8:13pm PST

One of the aspects of littleBits that I think is powerful but that wasn’t immediately obvious to me is that you shouldn’t be afraid to use glue or more permanent attachments with your projects. I initially tried to attach littleBits with rubber bands and strings but realized that they’d smartly included “glue dots” and Velcro as well as 3M adhesive pads. Once we stopped being “afraid” to use these stickers and adhesives, suddenly little projects became semi-permanent technical art installations.

We got the “Gizmos & Gadgets” kit which is a little spendy, but it includes 15 bits that enables you to do basically anything. The instructions are great and we a had remote-controlled robot that could drive around the room running within an hour. It’s a great setup, a fun kit, and something that kids 8-14 will use all the time.

*Amazon links are referral links on my blog. Click them and share them to support the blog and the work I do, writing this blog on my own time. Thanks!


Sponsor: Big thanks to Wiwet for sponsoring the feed this week. Build responsive ASP.NET web apps quickly and easily using C# or VB for any device in 1 minute. Wiwet ASP.Net templates are integrated into Visual Studio for ease of use. Get them now at Wiwet.com.


© 2015 Scott Hanselman. All rights reserved.
     

GGK_Box_Everything_600x400_v-2I love posting about STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and some of the great resources, products, and software that we can use to better prepare the next generation of little techies.

Here's some previous posts I've done on the topics of STEM, kids, programming, and learning with young people:

The 8 year old (recently 7, now barely 8) has been playing with littleBits lately and having a blast. He loved SnapCircuits so littleBits seemed like a reasonable, if slightly higher-level, option.

SnapCircuits boldly has kids as young as three or four creating circuitry from a simple light and switch all the way up to a solar-powered radio or a burglar/door alarm. It doesn't hide the complexities of volts and amps and includes low-level components like resistors. Frankly, I wish my first EE (Electrical Engineering) class in college was taught with SnapCircuits.

LittleBits (usually a lowercase L) jumps up a layer of abstraction and includes motors, motion detectors, LED arrays, and lots more. There are also specific kits for specific interests like a littleBits Musical Electronics Synth Kit and a littleBits Smart Home Kit that include specific littleBits that extend the base kit.

littleBits1

The key to littleBits is their magic magnet that makes it basically impossible to do something wrong or hurt yourself. The genius here is that the magnet only goes one way (because: magnets) and the connector underlying transmits both power and data.

You start with a power bit, then add an "if" statement like a switch, then move to do a "do" statement like a motor or light or whatever. In just about 20 minutes my 8 year old was able to take a LEGO custom Star Wars Blaster and add totally new functionality like lights and sounds..

The 8 year old wanted to show his Star Wars Blaster/Fan combo made with @littlebits #video

A video posted by Scott Hanselman (@shanselman) on


One of the aspects of littleBits that I think is powerful but that wasn't immediately obvious to me is that you shouldn't be afraid to use glue or more permanent attachments with your projects. I initially tried to attach littleBits with rubber bands and strings but realized that they'd smartly included "glue dots" and Velcro as well as 3M adhesive pads. Once we stopped being "afraid" to use these stickers and adhesives, suddenly little projects became semi-permanent technical art installations.

We got the "Gizmos & Gadgets" kit which is a little spendy, but it includes 15 bits that enables you to do basically anything. The instructions are great and we a had remote-controlled robot that could drive around the room running within an hour. It's a great setup, a fun kit, and something that kids 8-14 will use all the time.

*Amazon links are referral links on my blog. Click them and share them to support the blog and the work I do, writing this blog on my own time. Thanks!


Sponsor: Big thanks to Wiwet for sponsoring the feed this week. Build responsive ASP.NET web apps quickly and easily using C# or VB for any device in 1 minute. Wiwet ASP.Net templates are integrated into Visual Studio for ease of use. Get them now at Wiwet.com.



© 2015 Scott Hanselman. All rights reserved.
     

Getting Started with Robots for kids and children in STEM this holiday season

Now’s the perfect time to buy your kids/nieces/cousins some robots. Robots are a great way to get children excited about computers. Robots get them stoked in a way that a simple Hello World console app just can’t.

If you’re not careful you can spent hundreds on robots. However, I’m notoriously frugal and I believe that you can build some amazing stuff with children with a reasonable budget.

Here’s some of the robot and electronics kits I recommend and have built with my kids.

4M Tin Can Robot

This is just a teaser but it’s less than a trip to the movies. This silly little kit takes 2 AAA batteries and will take an aluminum can and animate it. It gets kids thinking about using found objects in their robots, as opposed to them thinking custom equipment is always required.

tincan

Quadru-Bot 14-in-1 Solar Robot

One of the challenges is “what age should I start?” and “how complex of a robot can my __ year old handle?” Kits like this are nice because they are starting with batteries and gears and include two levels of building, basic and experienced. It’s also a nice kit because it includes solar power as an option and also can work in water (the bath).

713-IOSBdAL._SL1500_

OWI Robotic Arm Edge

This isn’t a kit but it’s a reasonably priced robotic arm to get kids thinking in terms of command and control and multiple dimensions. OWI also has a cool 3in1 robot RC kit if you prefer driving robots around and more “rebuildability.”

51LAkVypvAL

Mirobot

This Christmas my 7 year old and I built a Mirobot. You can get pre-soldered and solder-yourself kits. We got the main Mirobot Kit PLUS the Addons Kit which includes clever additional modules for Line Following, Sound, and Collision Detection.

The whole Mirobot execution is brilliant. The hardware and software are all open source, so if you want to acquire the parts and make it yourself you can. You can get kits in various levels of preassembly.

It’s built on an Arduino but is preloaded with some very clever software that takes advantage of its onboard Wifi. You can program it in C with Arduino tools, of course, but for kids, they can use JavaScript and an in-browser editor, much like Logo. It will create its own ad-hoc wifi network by default, or you can join it to your home network.

image

The creator is also building an Apps Platform so you can control the Mirobot from other apps within your browser and websocket your way over to the robot.

It took us about a weekend to build and you can see in the pic below that my 7 year old was able to install a pen and get the bot to draw a stickman. He was THRILLED.

10838706_883990588298288_1242836197_n

Edison

This isn’t the Intel Edison, although you can make some great robots with it as well. No, this is Edison, a little LEGO compatible robot from the makers of Microbric, a great robot platform from a few years ago. I actually made a Microbric robot in 2007 and blogged about it.

Edison is fantastic and just $50. If you’re a teacher and can get a multiples pack, you can get them as cheap as $35 each. You program Edison with a clean drag and drop icon system then download the program to your robot with a cable from your computer’s headphone jack.

Out of the box you can have it follow a flashlight/torch, follow lines on paper, fight each other in a sumo ring, avoid walls, and lots more. In this picture there’s two Edison’s stacked on each other. The top one has the wheels removed and replaced with Lego elements to make robot arms.

image

LEGO Mindstorms

OK, yes, LEGO Mindstorms are $350, so that’s not exactly frugal. BUT, I’ve seen parents buy $500 iPads without a thought, why not consider a more tactile and engineering-focused gift for a girl or boy?

This is THE flagship. It’s got Wifi, Bluetooth, color sensors, iPad apps, collision detection, motors galore and unlimited replayability. There’s also a huge online community dedicated to taking Mindstorms to the next level. If you can swing it, it’s worth the money and appropriate for anyone from 6 to 60.

81Hn0H3SyAL._SL1500_

Snap Circuits

I couldn’t love Snap Circuits more. I started with the Jr. Snap Circuits and we eventually graduated to Snap Circuits Pro. They are my #1 go-to gift idea for kids of friends and relatives.

While this isn’t a robotics kit, per se, it really builds the basic understanding of batteries, electronics, and motors that kids will need to move to the next level.

91lfaA93v0L._SL1500_

What robot kids do YOU recommend?


© 2014 Scott Hanselman. All rights reserved.
     

Now's the perfect time to buy your kids/nieces/cousins some robots. Robots are a great way to get children excited about computers. Robots get them stoked in a way that a simple Hello World console app just can't.

If you're not careful you can spent hundreds on robots. However, I'm notoriously frugal and I believe that you can build some amazing stuff with children with a reasonable budget.

Here's some of the robot and electronics kits I recommend and have built with my kids.

4M Tin Can Robot

This is just a teaser but it's less than a trip to the movies. This silly little kit takes 2 AAA batteries and will take an aluminum can and animate it. It gets kids thinking about using found objects in their robots, as opposed to them thinking custom equipment is always required.

tincan

Quadru-Bot 14-in-1 Solar Robot

One of the challenges is "what age should I start?" and "how complex of a robot can my __ year old handle?" Kits like this are nice because they are starting with batteries and gears and include two levels of building, basic and experienced. It's also a nice kit because it includes solar power as an option and also can work in water (the bath).

713-IOSBdAL._SL1500_

OWI Robotic Arm Edge

This isn't a kit but it's a reasonably priced robotic arm to get kids thinking in terms of command and control and multiple dimensions. OWI also has a cool 3in1 robot RC kit if you prefer driving robots around and more "rebuildability."

51LAkVypvAL

Mirobot

This Christmas my 7 year old and I built a Mirobot. You can get pre-soldered and solder-yourself kits. We got the main Mirobot Kit PLUS the Addons Kit which includes clever additional modules for Line Following, Sound, and Collision Detection.

The whole Mirobot execution is brilliant. The hardware and software are all open source, so if you want to acquire the parts and make it yourself you can. You can get kits in various levels of preassembly.

It's built on an Arduino but is preloaded with some very clever software that takes advantage of its onboard Wifi. You can program it in C with Arduino tools, of course, but for kids, they can use JavaScript and an in-browser editor, much like Logo. It will create its own ad-hoc wifi network by default, or you can join it to your home network.

image

The creator is also building an Apps Platform so you can control the Mirobot from other apps within your browser and websocket your way over to the robot.

It took us about a weekend to build and you can see in the pic below that my 7 year old was able to install a pen and get the bot to draw a stickman. He was THRILLED.

10838706_883990588298288_1242836197_n

Edison

This isn't the Intel Edison, although you can make some great robots with it as well. No, this is Edison, a little LEGO compatible robot from the makers of Microbric, a great robot platform from a few years ago. I actually made a Microbric robot in 2007 and blogged about it.

Edison is fantastic and just $50. If you're a teacher and can get a multiples pack, you can get them as cheap as $35 each. You program Edison with a clean drag and drop icon system then download the program to your robot with a cable from your computer's headphone jack.

Out of the box you can have it follow a flashlight/torch, follow lines on paper, fight each other in a sumo ring, avoid walls, and lots more. In this picture there's two Edison's stacked on each other. The top one has the wheels removed and replaced with Lego elements to make robot arms.

image

LEGO Mindstorms

OK, yes, LEGO Mindstorms are $350, so that's not exactly frugal. BUT, I've seen parents buy $500 iPads without a thought, why not consider a more tactile and engineering-focused gift for a girl or boy?

This is THE flagship. It's got Wifi, Bluetooth, color sensors, iPad apps, collision detection, motors galore and unlimited replayability. There's also a huge online community dedicated to taking Mindstorms to the next level. If you can swing it, it's worth the money and appropriate for anyone from 6 to 60.

81Hn0H3SyAL._SL1500_

Snap Circuits

I couldn't love Snap Circuits more. I started with the Jr. Snap Circuits and we eventually graduated to Snap Circuits Pro. They are my #1 go-to gift idea for kids of friends and relatives.

While this isn't a robotics kit, per se, it really builds the basic understanding of batteries, electronics, and motors that kids will need to move to the next level.

91lfaA93v0L._SL1500_

What robot kids do YOU recommend?



© 2014 Scott Hanselman. All rights reserved.