MINI-LESSON: REVERSE ENGINEERING WITH LITTLEBITS
Begin by showing students a common object that performs an action and can be easily taken apart, such as a wind-up toy. Ask students, “How could you find out how this works?”
As time allows, take apart the object and briefly explore how the mechanisms work inside. Explain to students that the process of deconstructing an object and analyzing the individual parts is called reverse engineering. Many engineers use this method to learn about and improve designs.
With the stage set, explain to students that they will think like engineers and use reverse engineering to analyze the individual components of a larger circuit, ultimately determining how each module functions as part of the whole.
Prior to the lesson, prepare bags that contain some known modules with which students are familiar (for example, a power module, battery, cable, button, and LED) and three unknown modules that students have not seen. On each unknown module, if time allows, the name can be covered with a small piece of masking tape, so as not to provide too much information about the module’s function. Examples of unknown modules may include the pulse module, inverter, light sensor, or the sound sensor.
(Optional, as needed) Depending on your students’ experience level with littleBits, demonstrate how the known modules can be assembled to create a complete circuit. Review any fundamental terms or concepts your students will need to know in order to be successful with this activity, for example, the colorcoding system or the order of assembly.
Divide students into groups of two and provide each student pair with a module bag. Challenge students to “experiment and explore to figure out what the unknown modules do.” While some students may hesitate and ask for more direction, keep this activity intentionally open-ended to allow for creative problem solving.
As students are working, walk around and ask questions to encourage self-discovery and scientific thinking, for example:
- What method are you using to figure out what the modules do?
- How did you come up with this method? Could it be improved?
- What modules stay the same (constant variables)? Which modules do you change?
- How are you recording what you’ve learned?
After determining the functions of the unknown modules, provide time for students to sketch and design a product that utilizes the modules in the bag, for example, an alarm for a lunchbox or a door. As time allows, students can begin building their product.
Wrap up the lesson by engaging students in a discussion about what they have learned. Ask students to apply this learning to explain how reverse engineering might be used to solve a real-life problem.