littleBits reports on the Future of Storytelling

By Erin Mulcahy

By Karen Balliett

Is technology changing the way stories have traditionally been told? Is the proliferation of new technology impacting the organic and intuitive process that links children’s play to the ways in which children invent stories? What will education initiatives like STEAM/STEM, rapid introduction of children’s programming platforms such as SCRATCH and open hardware like littleBits mean for the future of storytelling?

working on masks

Last week, littleBits stepped into the Future of Storytelling (FosT) to consider all of the above and more. We ran a hands-on workshop with “grown-ups” to explore littleBits as a tool to bring a character, and his/her story to life.

Future of Storytelling describes itself as: “a special one-day gathering designed to put participants in direct contact with the most vital ideas, people, and technologies that are shaping the way we tell stories.” The intention behind FosT, the brainchild of Charlie Melcher of Melcher Media, is a wake-up call to remind us that something essential to the future of education is occurring at the nexus where economics meets technology and culture. Business, brand, and narrative were the defining motifs at FosT. What does this have to do with K -12 education? Potentially: quite a lot. Education was on the minds of many of the presenters and the participants at FosT. A question I heard repeated throughout the event was:

How do we educate a next generation who can rise up to challenge with resilience and a flexible and creative skill set?

There is big data and economic trending to point to the vital importance of developing this newly evolving set of 21st C skills. This is reflected in the Obama administration’s advocacy of STEM Education. The emphasis on STEM/ STEAM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathematics,) to include design thinking, open-ended challenge, creativity and Maker Movement tinkering skills represents more of what’s currently trending. All of this was provocatively incorporated and celebrated by the FosT Summit. FoST was in and of itself a STEAM celebration. By design, the diversity of the people who gathered, the range of topics that were explored through talks, workshops, and performance represented a convergence of distinct intelligences—it all felt like the best day at school ever!

littleBits was thrilled to participate in the magical Future of Storytelling Summit. My assignment was to consider the Bits modules as electronic artifacts or objects that could tell a story– this proved to be its own absorbing Maker’s Design Challenge. I collaborated with littleBits education curator and Dalton School art teacher Anne Lockwood, with input from littleBits industrial designers Jordi Borras, Emily Tuteur, and Program Manager Erin Mulcahy to create the workshop. We essentially used littleBits as a tool to inspire a STEAM language arts lesson, and to stimulate creative storytelling.

Fost Masks

Our audience was comprised of savvy adults. We wanted to provoke a playful interface with character, language, creativity, with the added surprise of littleBits. We selected paper dolls of familiar cultural icons to include: Marilyn Monroe, Pablo Picasso, Emily Dickinson, Mahatma Gandhi, Sigmund Freud, and Venus the Roman Goddess of Love. We asked participants to distill the essence of their character, or some story about their character into one line of text. For example, for Marilyn it was “Light my fire.” For Ghandhi it was “ No Salt.” The next task was to build a circuit with littleBits that animated the essence of the created text. We offered all manner of arts & crafts materials and simple wooden masks. An installation to celebrate each character was created atop each mask, and littleBits made eyeballs roll, lips light up, bells vibrate.

fost bit exploration

So, what happens when children tinker with hands-on technology as they tell stories and make meaning of the stories they’ve heard? We who know children recognize this is neither a radical nor a new idea. Children tinker intuitively. A sock becomes a puppet, sticks becomes trains, a button becomes a magic token, and a paper airplane becomes…sound familiar? littleBits is all about hands-on tinkering, prototyping and iterating to learn with a twist, because the notion of open hardware as a classroom tool is modern and novel.

What we did with adults at FosT, can readily be adapted for children. We played with archetypes from popular culture. Archetypes from folklore: myth, fable, fairy and folktale could easily be substituted, and Bits modules can be introduced as a new tool that stimulates storytelling and imagination, and thereby enhances a language arts lesson.

I loved a statement that Professor Jennifer Aaker, General Atlantic Professor of Marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business contributed to one of the FosT sessions I attended. She offered:

“We need to re-make materials to change education.”


littleBits’ recent experience at FosT reminds me what is gained when creative minds collaborate and play to learn. Suddenly, the future of storytelling implies more than we may realize. Take a look into what The Center for Future Storytelling is up to at the MIT Media Lab.

Once upon a time is not quite what it used to be, and littleBits is “new material” like you never imagined.



What to teach your own storytelling lesson with littleBits? Find out more here.


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