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.

colleengraveschibiclip9

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! 

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Invention Literacy PBL- A Visitor’s Perspective

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As I’m wrapping up the last round of this year’s invention literacy PBL, I wanted to share a visitor’s perspective. New middle school librarian, Kelly Korenek, came to visit during the beginning of our building phase, and she sent me this note after leaving the buzz of Mrs. Feranda’s students prototyping:

Dear Colleen,

Thank you for allowing me to step into your Maker World today. You’ve created much more than a space-you have created a true maker culture at Ryan HS. As I begin my personal journey, I will reflect on all that I’ve learned from you. Here are a few highlights from today:

  • I observed most students working collaboratively with partners. Students were engaged, on task, and shared the workload. Several students verbally expressed their excitement about their inventions. Many students were re-creating items that are currently trending, and I believe this had a huge impact on their level of engagement and effort.
  • Students could verbalize their plans when asked, describe the materials they had chosen and why, and list specific materials that they were going to bring from home. Initial research and planning on the collaborative Google docs seemed to provide students with a clear purpose and sense of direction. I asked one group of students why they thought they had been assigned this project. Their response was, “So we can learn how to communicate better and work with other people to accomplish something.”
  • I was impressed with the level of collaboration between you and the classroom teacher. Your roles were clearly defined, but you worked together and overlapped in many cases to ensure that students had support at their point of need.
  • You allowed students to create and learn through trial and error. One group was designing a projector with sound. Rather than directing them to the Little Bits right off the bat, you allowed them to tinker-they thought that they might be able to use the speaker in the old laptop. Even though the two students realized that their initial plan was not going to work, they did not give up. Most students seemed quite comfortable with the invention process. While some students struggled more than others, I did not witness any group “give up.” Students were focused on looking for alternative sources or new prototypes. I witnessed a lot of GRIT!
  • As a middle school maker-librarian, I will have to make decisions regarding the types of tools I will keep in my makerspace- particularly those for cutting cardboard. I have to factor in the age and maturity level of my students. Safety training is essential. When students don’t follow the rules, they lose the privilege to use the tools. I heard a lot of complaints during the class in which students lost some of their tool privileges. Responsible making and safety procedures are a must.
  • Partnerships were key to student engagement and success with this project. Students whose partners were absent lacked motivation and direction. Students fed off of one another’s strengths, enthusiasm, and energy. They made jokes as they worked, they had fun, and they tossed ideas back and forth until something stuck-then they went for it! PBL is the best way to prepare our students for the future-they must learn how to communicate their ideas, listen to others, solve problems, and learn from failed attempts. It’s a messy process (figuratively and literally!) but it is well worth the effort to teach through an authentic, hands-on process.
  • The best teachers I had growing up were the ones who really challenged me. Your students were given the freedom to create what they wanted using whatever materials they deemed suitable. That in and of itself is, in my opinion, quite challenging. Standardized testing has, unfortunately, created a culture of multiple choice solutions. Kids have grown accustomed to learning a strategy to find the “right answer.” So many of our students don’t know how to think critically or reach the conclusion that there may be an unlimited number of “right answers” – an abstract concept that is difficult for many students (and adults!) to comprehend. This invention project was a huge challenge, and because you and the classroom teacher established high expectations from the outset, most students met or even exceeded the expectations. These students will remember you, and they will thank you for this opportunity to learn through making. I want to provide my students with the same kinds of opportunities to learn authentically.
  • In any given  group, you will always have kids who readily accept a challenge and wow you with their results. You will also have kids who struggle-who have no earthly idea where to begin. Interestingly, the kids who excel and the kids who struggle with a project like this are not necessarily the ones you might expect. A teacher-librarian must be willing and able to support all students. I observed you providing support at all levels. Some students were challenged to add a technological component while others were directed to look at a real guitar for guidance. This kind of support requires the librarian to build relationships with teachers and students.

Building a space, gathering the materials, developing the knowledge, and creating a culture of collaboration is a process. I am so ready to get started! It was impossible NOT to get caught up in the students’ enthusiasm, and I enjoyed observing them learn through a truly organic process. Your makerspace is not the norm, but I believe that your advocacy for makerspaces is making a huge impact on our profession and overall school culture.Thank you again! I’m looking forward to learning more and sharing my knowledge with my students next year!

All the best,

Kelly

Thank you for letting me share your letter, Kelly! I loved seeing the outsider’s perspective because you noticed so many things I hadn’t even thought about!