Hack Your Habits

by dave_littlebits

Published on March 8, 2016

Students will brainstorm ideas and then use the littleBits Invention Cycle to create an invention that tracks daily habits. Students will use defined constraints and criteria for success to test and then iterate upon their invention to improve its functionality. Students will collect data that will inform how they can then transform that invention to positively change the identified behavior. Conclude the activity by instructing another student on how to use the data collection invention, or summarize findings in a presentation.

By the end of the Lesson, students will be able to:
  • Brainstorm ideas for meeting the designated challenge
  • Create and test a circuit containing a power source, inputs and outputs
  • Construct a prototype of an invention that using Bits and other materials
  • Test their prototypes and make improvements
  • Self-assess their work based on the identified success criteria and constraints
  • Demonstrate their ability to CREATE, PLAY, REMIX and SHARE an invention through the littleBits INVENTION CYCLE by recording their processes in the Invention Log
  • Summarize their process and share the resulting invention by creating a “before” and “after” storyboard.
BITS: Any Bits
ACCESSORIES: Any accessories
OTHER TOOLS AND MATERIALS: See list of commonly used materials on pg. 119 of the STEAM Student Set Teacher’s Guide

The Invention Log checklist (pg.18) can be used to assess your students’ understanding of the Invention Cycle, use of the Invention Log and ability to attain the objectives of the lesson. For formative assessment while students work, you can use this checklist to ask questions about their current task and ensure that they are on the right track. The checklist can also be used as a self-assessment tool by students as they move from phase to phase. For summative assessment, you can use this checklist to review students’ entries into their Invention Log and assess their understanding of the challenge and the invention process as a whole.


3-5-ETS1-1 Engineering Design: Define a simple design problem reflecting a need or a want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost.
  • To fulfill this standard, students are explicit about the need or want being designed for, and call it such, as well as criteria for success and constraints of materials, time, cost etc. that they’re willing to work within.
3-5-ETS1-2 Engineering Design: Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • To fulfill this standard, students explicitly compare multiple solutions on the basis of the success and criteria constraints.
3-5-ETS1-3 Engineering Design: Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.
  • To fulfill this standard, students test their prototypes and make improvements. Set all but one variable as fixed, and change just one parameter in attempts to maximize the agreed upon criterion for success. Students may also be allowed to “borrow” the best aspects from one another’s designs during this process.
MS-ETS1-1 Engineering Design: Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions.
  • To fulfill this standard, students set various criteria for success, as well as constraints for the successful completion of the design problem.
MS-ETS1-2 Engineering Design: Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.
  • To fulfill this standard, students Create different solutions to the problem and explicitly compare them on the basis of their ability to meet the goal within constraints.
MS-ETS1-3 Engineering Design: Analyze data from tests to determine similarities and differences among several design solutions to identify the best characteristics of each that can be combined into a new solutions to better meet the criteria for success.
  • To fulfill this standard, students test their prototypes and make improvements. Set all but one variable as fixed, and change the amount of just one parameter in attempts to maximize the agreed upon criterion for success. Students may also be allowed to “borrow” the best aspects from one another’s designs during this process.
To meet these standards, students will need to fill out information in the REMIX section of the Invention Log (pg.11 and 12) every time a variable is changed and tested. Be sure to print additional copies of these pages before the lesson begins.

*For other curricular connections, see the“Extension” section at the end of this lesson.

littleBits Invention Log

For Open Challenges, we recommend that the teacher Create an example invention themselves, which may or may not be shown to students at the beginning of the lesson. Taking the challenge through the Invention Cycle will better equip teachers to successfully conduct the lesson and be more knowledgeable about where the class, or specific students, may need a bit more time or support.

power, output, input, circuits, magnetism, criteria for success, constraints

  • Introducing littleBits
  • Introducing the Invention Cycle
  • * Knowledge of data collection techniques and graphing are recommended.

    Duration: 150 minutes (minimum) **For tips on how to break up your lesson over multiple class periods, see pg. 117 of the STEAM Student Set Teacher’s Guide

    Lesson Guide


    SET UP This lesson can be done individually or in small groups (2- 3 students). Each group will need at least one STEAM Student Set and Invention Guide, plus one Invention Log and Assessment Checklist per student. We suggest handing out the Bits in the Create phase to keep students focused on initial instructions and review activities. For more experienced users, you may want to provide access to additional Bits in the Play and Remix phases to provide a greater diversity of circuit combinations. Place a variety of construction materials and tools in a central location in the room.


    INTRODUCE (15-20 MIN)

    Introduce the lesson objectives and the concept behind the challenge: “Have you ever thought about how many times a day you perform a task? For example, how many times a day do you use the recycling bin? Go to your locker? Use your cell phone? For this challenge, you’re going to Create a data collecting invention to learn more about your habits and get to the bottom of these types of questions. At the end, you’ll use the data you’ve collected to Remix the invention into something that could change or improve your behavior.”

    Before jumping into the challenge, provide a quick review of the Invention Cycle framework and the format of the Invention Log (pg. 11). Ask students to Share lessons learned about Bits, the invention process and things they enjoyed or struggled with from previous challenges. Pay particular attention to their knowledge of the number Bit and its modes, as this will be a very useful tool in the data collection step.


    CREATE (55–65 MIN)

    A. CREATE IDEAS For each of the prompt sections below, students will record their process and reflections in their respective Invention Logs.

    What ideas do you have? Prompt students to create a list (either as a class, or in groups) of habits they want to know more about. Maybe it’s a habit that they’d like to improve (e.g. how can I make fewer trips to my locker?), something they’re curious about (how many times do I get high fived a day?), or an issue they’d like to help people understand (why doesn’t our class recycle?). For additional brainstorming ideas, refer to the Invention Advisor section of the STEAM Student Set Teacher’s Guide (pg. 36).

    Which idea seems best? After making a list of 5- 10 ideas, have students choose the habit that they want to learn more about. Encourage students to pick a topic that they are most passionate or interested in, as this will increase motivation in the challenge.

    Students should record their choice in the What Will Your Mission Be section of the Invention Log.

    What’s the “before” story? What is life like now, before the proposed invention exists? Ask students to draw or describe the series of events before, during and after to show cause-and-effect scenarios. Be sure to consider the characters involved and the setting that the “story” takes place in.

    What are the constraints? Constraints are the limits and requirements that need to be considered in the invention process. Examples include time, materials, location and weight. We recommend running this exercise as a class (or for younger students, providing the criteria for them) due to the complexity of the multipart challenge. Students should document this information in their Invention Logs.

    What are the criteria for success? How will students know if their invention works? Describe the #1 goal for the invention. What qualities are important for the invention to have? Consider how this habit could be tracked and what unit of measurement that will be collected (inches, minutes etc. or in terms of the number Bit: counts, values, volts).

    B. CREATE PROTOTYPE For each of the prompts below, students will record their process and reflections in their respective Invention Logs.

    How could Bits help you achieve your mission? Instruct students to look through their available Bits and materials to see how they could (or couldn’t) be combined to measure or track the chosen behavior. E.g. Could the button help students know when something is moved? Could the light sensor detect when something is opened? Be sure students are thinking about how to measure and record the data as well. E.g. Do you need to count something? Does your invention move along next to a ruler when the locker is opened? Does it draw when it receives an input?

    In most cases, the number Bit paired with an input will be the most useful circuit for tracking numerical information; students may need some help exploring the adjustments on the Bit. If students get stuck, try snapping a Bit into a circuit or read through the Bit Index (pg. 7- 27 in their STEAM Student Set Invention Guide). If students’ initial ideas don’t directly translate to the function of the available Bits, check out helpful suggestions in “Concept Prototypes”on pg. 38 of the STEAM Student Set Teacher’s Guide.

    What does your first prototype look like? Students Create a drawing(s) of their first prototype, labeling Bits and any important features. A description of how the prototype is supposed to work should also be included. This is a time for students to dig into the Bits and materials and start to bring their ideas to life.

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    PLAY (25–35 MIN)

    How did your testing go? Once the prototypes have been constructed, students should test the inventions themselves to make sure they work.

    Allow each student (in the group) to try out the invention over a short time interval (e.g. 1 minute). Record the data. Getting it to work reliably will require adjusting; failure is part of the process. For example, if you’re using a light sensor and a number Bit secured to the top of the recycling bin to track how often it is used, does your number Bit count up every time it is opened? After making initial tweaks, encourage students to try running the invention over a longer period of time (i.e. 3 minutes) to see if the functions have improved/the data is more reliable. Students should take note of successes and things that still need to be improved in their Invention Logs.

    For the first official trial, decide how long the invention should be used for (keep in mind the time constraints laid out in the Create phase). Have students make a hypothesis about the results that the invention will collect during this time period. For example, if you’re tracking the recycling bin use over the course of one hour, how many times do you think it will get used?

    Pro Tip: Keep in mind that in good experimental design, the subjects involved often don’t know that their behaviors are being studied. For this challenge, the goal is focused on the students developing the tool and exploring the data collection and invention process, and less about the accuracy or validity of the data. Nevertheless, it’s a good discussion point to bring up when students start to look at their results.

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    REMIX (30–90 MIN)

    To meet the outlined NGSS standards, instruct students to fill out a new REMIX section in their Invention Logs (Invention Log pg.11 and 12) every time a variable is changed and tested. If you are do not plan to adhere to the NGSS standards, allow students more flexibility and exploratory pathways during this phase of the design process.


    This is the opportunity to experiment with fixes and improvements. Record data from your invention’s first full-length trial. Did the invention gather data well? Does it seem accurate? How does it compare to their predictions? As students make changes to improve their inventions, make sure they are documenting in their Invention Guides how their prototypes are changing and the results (good and bad).

    Continue the Remix phase and continue to record data from each new trial until the contraption is able to meet the criteria for success, or until the allotted time runs out. If you need more advice on how to conduct and provide prompts in the Remix phase, read through the Being an Invention Advisor section (pg. 36 of the STEAM Student Set Teacher’s Guide).

    If you’d like to take this challenge a step further, have students graph the results of their data collection and look for any trends. Using this information, consider how new features could be added to the invention to make it something that positively changes the habit. Using the recycling bin as an example, how could the invention be altered so that it also rewards people for using the bin? Does this rewarding interaction cause more people to recycle? Try making some adjustments (going through the Play and Remix phases again) and install the improved device. Run a few trials, record the data and see how it compares to the data that was collected before the positive reinforcement was added.

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    SHARE (30–90 MIN)

    Wrap up the challenge by reflecting and tying together the story of the invention.

    For students who have focused solely on the first data collection invention, teach another classmate how to use the device and have them try it out for a day. Will they use it for a new purpose? Record notes and compare results.

    For students who have completed the full challenge, compare the tracking information from before and after the positive features have been changed. Create a poster or a short presentation with your findings. Encourage students to interview classmates that participated in the experiment and see if qualitative data can be added to the story about how their behaviors were affected/if they are more aware of their habits after your invention intervention.

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    CLOSE (5 MIN) At the end of the lesson, students should put away the Bits according to the diagram on the back of the Invention Guide, clean up their materials and hand in their Invention Logs.



    Incorporate one (or more!) of the following extensions in the Remix section of this challenge to bolster your lesson’s NGSS applications:

    MS-ESS3 Earth and Human Activity: Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.

    - To fulfill this standard, choose a personal and individual behavior that is known to have a negative impact on the environment (e.g. leaving the lights on when someone isn’t home).