Everywhere makers go, we hear that we don’t need fancy or high tech materials to take our maker space to the next level. And it is true, indeed!
Last August, I was one of many maker enthusiasts, from all over the world, that took the “The Tinkering Fundamentals” course, offered by The Exploratorium Team at Coursera E-Learning platform.
A three weeks course, “The Tinkering Fundamentals” aimed to help educators and enthusiasts to learn how to develop a practice of tinkering and making. This course was designed as a hands-on workshop, where we handled making and tinkering activities aided by video content, activity guides, background reading, forum discussions, and instructor`s guidance.
With a very clear and straight to the point content, especially for those who are taking their first steps into the maker movement, the Exploratorium Team guided us on how to conduct making and tinkering activities without handing to the kids the whole treasure map, motivating them to think, discover and solve problems by way of trying, failing, trying again and finally nailing it.
Each week we had to do an activity aligned with the content dealt with. I was happy to see that most of them were no news to our maker team at Casa Thomas Jefferson, and some were even already posted here as inspiration like the ones in the posts: “How to Make a Doodler”, “How to Make Your First Robot”, “How to Make a LED Powered Card” and “How to Make Your First Wearable Circuit“, just to name a few.
The activity of the Week Two though was a refreshing surprise: The Circuit Boards – what we right away nicknamed as BigBits (a clear reference to its ‘cousin’, the ©LittleBits). BigBits, as we call them now, are real electrical parts mounted on sturdy wood blocks designed for anyone (at almost any age) to start creating electrical connections between everyday objects like batteries, bulbs, buzzers, switches, and other electrical components, using alligator clips. They are very similar to the LittleBits, but with a difference: they are low cost since you can make them from scratch with used toys and electric parts, or very inexpensive components.
We put together a basic set here at Casa Thomas Jefferson and it made a surprisingly humongous success! We never imagined they would cause such engagement and curiosity. Even parents couldn’t resist the urge to start playing around. It is great to see how they figure the connections out without minimum orientation, and how participants solve the problems of multiple connections easily by working together.
We leave the set available on a table, and they are free to play with it whenever they want. We also use it as a drop-in station whenever we throw a Mobile Maker Showcase at our outposts or external events. In either case, it is a buzz maker!
To make a BigBits set is easy and it only requires some basic DIYer skills like drilling, hammering and handling the soldering iron and the hot glue gun. The detailed instructions on how to make the circuits are available at The Exploratorium website.
The wood blocks can come from scrap pieces of wood that you can easily negotiate at any wood workshop (I did and it cost me nothing!), and here are a few basic components you might find at any local electronic store – except for the hand crank generator (sold at Amazon) and those knife switchers (easily replaced by any regular ones). Check the materials and the tools you need here.
We also used some parts from old toys – from a campaign we made – like DC motors, servo motors, switches, lamps, engines and so on… Here are some images from our set in action.
So… what are you waiting for?! Roll up your sleeves and make a BigBits set for your maker space. One thing I guarantee: you won’t regret it and the kids will have loads of fun!
Exploratorium Activites Ideas
Exploratorium Courses at Coursera
Circuit Boards “BigBits” Handbook
Electrical Components Stores (Online)