ISTE 2015: Looking for Love from littleBits

One of my favorite parts of ISTE 2015 was visiting the Vendor Hall. I love technology and I love exploring the impact of innovative new technologies on student learning. Maker education, makerspaces and 3D printing were a big theme at this year’s convention. I was lucky enough to be able to give 4 presentations on #makered topics this year. People often ask me for advice or recommendations for tools and resources when starting out with making in the classroom. When I went to the vendor hall, I was looking for new tools and to find out the latest scoop on tools I already use. I also listened very carefully to what message vendors are sharing with folks new to the product. Often I would casually stand to the side to overhear the conversation and mentally compare the sales pitch with my own hands-on impressions.

Late in the day on Monday, I was walking the hall with a MakerEd friend. (I’ll call him Darth to protect his identity.) So, Darth and I were visiting a few specific booths and keeping an eye out for anything new. We were also on a light swag hunt (seeing what vendors were giving away). It was very casual and there was hardly anyone in the hall. As we were getting ready to go, Darth scanned the banners and said, “Hey! There is littleBits. Let’s go see what they got.” If you haven’t been to the vendor hall it is an aircraft hangar sized room filled to the brim with booths and banners from technology names big and small. There are huge displays from giant companies like Google, Microsoft and Pearson. (Map) But for maker educators like Darth and I, littleBits was a booth worth visiting.


There were littleBits modules scattered around on the tables but no one was actively making anything. There weren’t any stickers or flyers out on the table. We talked to a booth guy for a minute that turned out to be littleBits Chapter leader but he didn’t get into anything about littleBits in education. He was more than likely a booth volunteer and seemed unsure on what he was doing. He handed us over to someone that was more likely a littleBits employee. We said that we were littleBits customers and I mentioned that littleBits support was helping me with some 9V battery connectors. Darth has a Pro Library and over $500 worth of bits in his personal collection while I have 8 deluxe kits and a few of the Korg kits in my makerspace. I also commented about the light wire and how it wasn’t quite bright enough because kids try it don’t see any light and then move on to something else. The sales guy said that the light wire was being redesigned and that there was a new warranty plan and pointed at a curriculum document on the table. He seemed distracted and when someone beside us apologized for interrupting but had a question the sales guy said, “Oh, don’t worry about them they’ve already bought littleBits.” My take away at that moment was that the sales guy was saying that littleBits are a one time purchase. He seemed to be saying, once the sale is done there isn’t much more littleBits can offer other than a service plan. I know there is much more to littleBits than this, but on this one day, that was my take away for existing customers.

Now, what the littleBits guy could have done is asked us if we had the Korg kit or the Space kit or the Cloud kit. He could have made suggestions about how we could extend our use of littleBits using new bits like the Makey Makey bits. He could have shared amazing projects he has seen. More importantly, he could have asked a single critical question. What do your students make with littleBits? If he had asked that question, he would have heard about how my 7th grade STEM camp students create solutions to invasive species using littleBits in the makerspace. He would have heard how my students love to put 6 buzzers in a row in a circuit to imitate the call of a Mute Swan. He would have heard about how we are exploring using the Korg bits to control lights and sound to attract the invasive species. If he had asked how my kids use littleBits, he would have heard how the kids are currently duct taping littleBits to the projects and that we need something to keep the bits from disconnecting. He would have heard how I am interested in exploring engineering problems from the book The Martian using the littleBits Space kit.

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Last year there was an energy and excitement to the littleBits booth at ISTE. The team was engaging and were ready to literally sit down and Geek Out about using littleBits. That shared interest in creating and inventing was really inspiring. littleBits are still a great product, but this year I felt like I was just a customer.

Update: Received a personal email from littleBits Edu team checking in and asking for a call this week. Also received a tweet from Ayah Bdeir the founder of littleBits. littleBits customer service has also been very helpful, replacing 3 battery packs for my makerspace before ISTE2015.