Ayah Bdeir created littleBits—sets of electronic building blocks that snap together to form a variety of circuits—with engineering and design professionals in mind. But when she brought her invention to Maker Faire in 2009, it grabbed the attention of children—and their parents and teachers. Today, the company has sold millions of bits, and has a separate team just to write littleBits-based curricula now used in 3,500 schools worldwide.
According to Bdeir: "When I was growing up, as far as I knew, there wasn’t data mining or user-experience design or front-end engineering—and now they’re some of the most coveted careers in the world. Today, we can’t just prepare students for certain types of careers—we have to enable them to adapt to whatever new careers emerge.
As a society, we accept that everything around us changes quickly and responds to advances in technology. Yet education is such a different thing. Teachers are already very busy—to expect them to guess at what future careers could be is difficult. So we make lesson plans to teach these adaptive skills using a principle that we developed called “invention-based learning.” It’s about giving the kids inventions that are relevant to them as prompts, and then they start inventing to learn the underlying principles. For example, we have students create a catapult, working with a partner and competing against another two-person team, to knock over a pyramid of cups. So you’re learning collaboration, you’re learning how to try and then learn from your trial and try again—and you’re also learning the scientific principles underneath: mechanics and robotics, and physics and trajectories. We don’t just want to make STEM exciting for students; we want to make it more accessible to people of different countries, different languages, and different genders."