One tool erases frustration and boredom and makes electronics fun for students

littlebits-stemVery young students often have a hard time engaging meaningfully in electronics projects. Sure, most middle school kids can learn the function of basic electronic components and follow a set of instructions to create a basic circuit on a breadboard. Often, however, their work suffers from the mistakes, short-circuits, and sloppiness that plague any novice.

More limiting than the struggle to keep bare wires from accidentally brushing each other, is the wall that most students hit after they create the alarm circuit or lie detector that they built from the schematic in the textbook.

While their imaginations are ripe with ideas of things they might like to build, most young students lack the fundamental knowledge to push beyond the canned circuits provided by their teacher and to create something original.

By limiting a student to the re-creation of pre-designed circuits, we are teaching her how to pay attention to detail, how to carefully follow instructions, and how to perform a variety of specific tasks such as stripping the insulation from wire and how to install an IC into a breadboard.

If our aspirations for our hypothetical student involve work on an assembly line, this will be all the training she needs. But if we want a little more for our kids, we will need to set the bar higher.

By following instructions to build pre-designed circuits, our student is not learning how to visualize how her idea might operate in the physical world. She isn’t learning how to brainstorm various design ideas, test them out and persist through failure. We are not asking her to create.

(Next page: Kits that challenge students in a fun way)

[Photo by littleBits (littleBits) [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons]