Review: Chibitronics Love to Code Creative Coding Kit

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Making Paper Circuits with Chibi Stickers

I’ve been a fan of Chibitronics since I learned that these sweet little circuit stickers existed! In 2015, I learned a lot about circuits alongside my Circuit Girls when my Donors Choose grant for the Circuit Sticker Notebook was funded. I became pretty obsessed with making paper circuits because I was able to learn some of the fundamentals of electronics with my own hands! This obsession moved to sewing circuits because suddenly, this complicated thing known as Arduino became accessible to me (see my For the Love of Arduino post.) I no longer needed to understand breadboarding, I could just build my own circuits with conductive thread. (And through the magic of meaningful making, I now understand breadboarding from crafting sewing circuit projects.)

But wait…Programmable Paper Circuits?!

Last year, I was lucky enough to get a couple of Jie’s new clippable Arduino prototypes- the Love to Code Chibi Chip. This awesome little Arduino clip can be clipped onto a paper circuit so you can program your circuit stickers (or regular LEDS!) I was (and STILL AM) amazed at the ease and power of this tiny little board. However, the most AMAZING thing is that you and your students can program this microcontroller from your phone, iPad, or Chromebook. YES, ladies and gentlemen, from a CHROMEBOOK! No software download is necessary.  Check out the first few projects I made with the Love to Code board here.

Introducing the Love to Code Creative Coding Kit!

Now Jie and Chibitronics have a great new immersive and interactive coding book where you and your students can clip an Arduino board right inside this beautiful binder and program your freshly crafted paper circuits.

K-Fai’s illustrations bring Jie’s instructions to life. There are ample pages for children and students to create their own drawings and circuit traces. Which makes crafting and learning a joy in this all inclusive DIY kit.

We received the kit in November and my 8 YO daughter enjoyed creating and drawing her own circuits. However, the best thing about this kit (that astounded me) is that she learned to tinker with Arduino code and found confidence in programming her paper circuits with MakeCode.

 

 

 

 

 

 

She worked through the simple circuits, parallel circuits, and beginning coding projects. She loved adding hidden drawings that only appeared with programmed light.

Eventually, I started working through the book in some of the more complicated projects, because I really wanted a turn to use this book!

Love to Code / ChibiScript Platform

One of the coolest things about this coding platform with Chibitronics, is that students, teachers, and learners of all ages can program with any type of device (phone, Chromebook, etc) that has an audio jack. PLUS, they can easily find errors in Arduino coding in the ChibiScript platform. (Which is something that is really difficult to understand as a beginner Arduino coder in the original Arduino software.)

When Jie and I taught an ISTE workshop last summer based around the new Chibi chip, I was amazed to see that every educator in the room had success programming with this powerful little board. Most of these educators had never even made a paper circuit, programmed a microcontroller, or seen the Arduino platform before! See their explorations in programming paper circuits here.

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Programming with MakeCode

My 8 YO preferred programming with MakeCode. Once I’d taken over crafting the circuits (because I really wanted to get my hands on the book… sorry kid….) I let my 8 YO program (and reprogram) the circuits. It was super easy to do, especially letting her just write her programs on an iPad. She loves this type of problem solving.

 

So….What’s in the Kit?

The Powered Binder– This amazing illustrated binder has 150 full color pages that can be removed, hacked, and crafted upon. Students can read through Fern’s story and learn alongside this funny frog as she learns how to make simple circuits, and how to program LEDs. The explanations are student friendly and the drawings by K-Fai are delightfully fun. I love how the book uses simple illustrations to cover big concepts. (I also heard that *soon* educators will be able to buy subsequent sections to fit into this same binder. There is room to grow both physically and mentally!) Plus, the binder has it’s own power source, so learners can plug right into this binder and be ready to program! This might actually be my favorite thing about the whole kit, a simple and quick power source solution.

The Chibi Chip on a Chibi Clip – The amazingly accessible Chibi board is pre-mounted onto a chibi clip. This is another simple solution that makes coding so much more accessible. The coder can just pop their clip down on a hand made circuit and test their code in seconds!  (No breadboarding, no alligator clips- just laying down a circuit with copper tape!) This board is USB powered and programmed via an audio jack. The cable for power and uploading is included of course!

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Image from Chibitronics

Copper Tape and LEDs- The kit comes with 2 rolls of copper tape, 36 white LED stickers, 64 conductive fabric patches. Which is more than enough to make a few mistakes and still have tape and LEDs leftover!

The Stencil –  My daughter’s favorite thing in the kit (besides the story and the experience) is the Chibi stencil. She loved using the stencil to hide the Chibitronics logo all over the book.  As an educator, I loved the stencil because it helps when designing your own circuit traces.

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Cost

Yes, the entire kit is expensive for an educator at $85 a kit. However, it’s well worth the price and the activities within will last you and your makers for months. While you might not be able to afford a class set, I’d suggest buying at least one to try it out yourself, or buy a few to try with a coding club. I’m planning on using mine in workshops to help independent learners that want to know more about programming paper circuits. If I had enough in my school budget to buy a class set for my coding club, I would! But for now, I’m going to buy a set of the Chibi Chip boards and supplement with the binder. (Maybe next year I can buy a set through Donors Choose or have a club fee? Things that make you go hmmm……)

Plus as a parent, I think it’s a beautiful gift for a child and well worth the money! (Probably best at 8 and up!)

Bottom Line?

The book and kit is amazing and worth every penny! It’s such a fun experience to be able to tinker and explore programming paper circuits in this binder. The Love to Code board is accessible for makers 8 and up, and the activities are easy to start and build schema quickly.

This set is one of the BEST low floor high ceiling tools in the maker ed market! 

Note: I did not get paid to write this post. I did receive the amazing binder for free and I am thankful to Jie and K-Fai for sharing their art with me. It is a beautiful resource! 

Handmade Stamps and Eric Carle’s Mixed Up Chameleon – Making and Literacy

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Feeling Mixed-Up

As an elementary librarian, I’m always looking for ways that books can inspire making.  I love the artwork of Eric Carle and I thought it would be really fun to have students invent their own animal based on the book, The Mixed-Up Chameleon.  My initial idea was to make an animal in the same way that Eric Carle makes his art, by painting paper and then cutting out animal shapes, and collaging them together. However, without a table top cutter, I knew this would be a lot of prep on my part.

Making and Picture Books

Then I met Nora Peters during SXSWedu. We had coffee and talked about all of our favorite picture books and how each unique book could hold a spark for creativity.  When Nora was at the Millvalle Community Library, she created projects for picture books and included instructions inside the front cover of library books. (Read more about this here!)

As we were talking about our favorite activities and books, I told her about my dilemma with wanting to invent animals with cut out shapes, and Nora said, “Why don’t you just make stamps?”

So over spring break, I debated buying a table top cutter so I could mass produce stamps, but finally settled down and created these stamps by hand.

My 8 YO gave me the idea to draw the animal and then subsequent animal parts on one piece of paper.

Then I just drew my design with a fine tip sharpie on a foam sheet, cut with scissors, and engraved designs with a ballpoint pen.

Aaron taught me how to use a table saw to cut my wood blocks, then I was stuck trying to figure out the best way to adhere the foam sheet to each block. Hot glue would be lumpy…..but what if I just used double sided sticky tape?  Would it hold up?

After a week of being used with kindergarten, first, and second, I’m happy to tell you that my stamps survived!

If you decide to make your own stamps, make sure you line up the front and back so you can trace the design on top and then your elemakers will be able to line up their unique animal parts to invent their new animal species.

I love my homemade stamps so much! And now I want to own a Silhouette Cameo cutter or Cricut Maker so I can mass produce more stamps, or try my original idea and have students paint paper and draw shapes. Then I can cut their animal shapes with one of these rad plotter machines.

During my lesson this week, Lucie Delabruere came to visit and has a great snapshot of the entire lesson! She caught me in my “natural habitat” so to speak! Read her snapshot of being in my library and her other “March is for Making” posts here.  Ironically, I told Lucie I wasn’t focusing on making this week, but rather on literacy and research…. it’s funny how it all really does tie together into a seamless learning experience.

My favorite part of this activity was that after inventing an animal, students researched animal habitats and had to decide where their mixed-up animal would live. I’d love to go further with this lesson and have them write explanations of why they chose that habitat for their new animal species.

Check Out All the Student Work!