The Importance of Invention

By Adam Skobodzinski

Did you know that littleBits made its debut at Maker Faire 2009? That was the first time that Founder and CEO Ayah Bdeir introduced her idea of using electronic building blocks to the world — and people loved it.
Nine years later, our team is returning from another successful trip to Maker Faire, and we have some key takeaways to share.

How to Inspire the Next Generation of Female Makers
The problem isn’t interest. When asked, more than 70 percent of teen girls say they are interested in STEM fields and subjects, yet only 18 percent of engineering graduate students are female. So where’s the disconnect?
At the Bay Area Maker Faire this year, littleBits hosted a panel to discuss how we can help inspire more girls to pursue careers in STEM. Our head of education strategy, Dr. Azi Jamalian, moderated a panel of engineers and educators (both male and female), who shared insights into the heady topic. Honestly, they blew us away with their honesty, thoughtfulness, and aspirations for the future.
And while it is a huge question worthy of a dissertation or two, here are some responses to the question, “How can we engage, and keep, girls engaged in STEM?”

  • FIND MORE FEMALE ROLE MODELS: Both girls and boys need to see more females in leadership roles in engineering. This includes more female technology teachers. Female role models enable all kids to visualize what women in STEM look like.
  • BROADEN THE NARRATIVE: STEM topics have traditionally been presented in a very narrow way; girls might not see ways to apply STEM skills that align with their interests. Pursue gender-neutral lessons and experimentation to include both sexes.
  • PUT THE “A” in STEM: Bringing the “A” into STEM means incorporating the arts into science, technology, engineering, and math. Art and creativity can make STEM more relatable to girls, who tend to gravitate toward storytelling, inventions that help others, and role-playing.
  • EXPOSE GIRLS TO STEM CONSISTENTLY: Exposure, both at home and in the classroom, is key. Expose girls to technology concepts early on (and often!), so that it becomes the norm. Help their male peers to recognize hidden biases when they arise, and without shaming anyone, talk about it.
  • ENCOURAGE INDIVIDUALITY: Teach all kids that there is no “wrong” or “right” way to engage in STEM, and that they should pursue STEM topics in ways that resonate with them. For STEM programs to be effective and interesting, we need to teach them in effective and interesting ways.

A special and huge THANK YOU you to our panelists: Mitchell Malpartida, founder of Masterful Creations STEAM Academy; Michelle Lee, portfolio director of IDEO’s Design for Play team; Christina Whitmire, district ed tech ToSA in the Oakley Union Elementary School District; and Jackie Tan, maker educator at South Tahoe Middle School. We appreciated your time, invaluable insights, and diverse experiences.
The Top 5 Things You Don’t Know About littleBits’ Code Kit
Thousands of parents, teachers, librarians, and makers around the world are intimately familiar with littleBits. They use our products every day to create new possibilities, large and small.
However, while they might know all about our award-winning Hall of Fame Kits, this year’s Maker Faire taught us that there are some things they don’t know about littleBits’ Code Kit.
For example, did you know the following?

  • The littleBits LED matrix is a crowd-pleaser for ALL ages, but you can do so much more with the Code Kit than create designs on a blank canvas that upload to the LED matrix. So. Much. More.
  • You don’t need to know how to code to start inventing with the Code Kit; in fact, you don’t even need to purchase anything additional (such as Blockly or other software).
  • The Code Kit is modular; it can be used in conjunction with other littleBits kits. The possibilities for invention are limitless.
  • The Code Kit comes with hundreds of project ideas, so educators are not left trying to make up lesson plans on their own — unless they want to!

Did you attend Maker Faire this year? Tell us what you learned @littleBits!

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