Last week at Launch Education and Kids, I saw a really high quality presentation about littleBits. This is a company that has already been well funded and is marketing itself fairly broadly. The founder, Ayah Bdeir, had her company be a sponsor of Launch Education and Kids, and she presented at the opening as an example of an educational technology product that has both a clear educational mission and is experiencing some real success.
littleBits is brilliant. If you have not yet seen this circuit building Lego style activity set- they call it an "open source library of electronic modules that snap together with magnets for prototyping, learning and fun"- you need to check it out. It's attractive, easy to use, and really fun to play around with. The company seeks to help young people understand how circuitry works in the electonics around us. They have a strong commitment to empowering young people with concrete, interactive experiences that will help demystify what is both omnipresent and taken for granted. As kids build the snap together circuits, with pieces that are color coded for function, they can create light, sound, and motion outputs. The tactile element is obviously a great appeal, but the skill delivered here is not necessarily related to that- unless you have a class full of budding electricians.
The value of littleBits for the middle level learner is one of empowerment through demystification. We know how much this age group needs to feel control of their surroundings and how much they crave autonomy; the psychological effect of grasping how everyday objects work is really positive for them. When circuitry, thus technology, can be explained as something physical, when it can be visualized and controlled on the most basic level, the world of the middle-level learner becomes less controlled by outside forces, less scary. It becomes less the source of disenfranchisement, less the object of self-protecting detachment. Seeing their world this way is a skill they need to master- and it certainly is a skill that middle level learners love to practice.
So my conclusion is that, if you are looking for educational technology that will engage your students on the level of meaningful skill development, littleBits is a winner And as the company moves forward with their plans for leveled and programmable units, the product will grow even more valuable.
Because our middle level learners are ready for more independence, age-appropriate challenges, and they crave mastery of skills, we need to teach them differently. Middle level learners need to spend less time memorizing content and more time developing skills. They need to imagine more, choose more, produce more so that they like school more. A skill-centered curriculum, using content as a vehicle for skill development, is the future of middle level education.