“Little Bits” – an immersive Design Thinking experience

June 24, 2020

Written by: Evelyn Goh


It was Monday – the week was as new as our very first ‘LittleBits’ online delivery. As I logged on for my first session with Upper Yarra Secondary College, bright faces, waves and many enthusiastic ‘thumbs-ups’ greeted Phurich and myself. The students’ excitement grew as it was a novel experience for them.

We played a video on what these colour-coded electrical bits can do when their magnets snap together – lights, music, wind, vibration… the list goes on. The students were mesmerized by this stage; eyes lit up and small conversations started. While their spirits were high, Phurich and I dished out the design brief: develop an assistive technology for a children’s hospital ward, integrating Empathy, the first stage of ‘Design Thinking.’

Swiftly switching into the hands-on approach, we split the students into predefined groups to begin their class activity and explore their kits put together by Tech School staff. By now, the students were more than ready to start. On the tables, lights flashed and buzzers blared. Excited chatters filled the room as Olga, their classroom teacher, walked around with the roaming tablet so we too could interact with the groups. Though the internet’s connectivity was not ideal, the students were able to show us their designs and engage in brief conversations. As a learning extension, ‘LittleBits’ cards were handed out to groups who finished their tasks quicker.

The students then settled back in front of the camera for stage 2 and 3: ‘Definition’ and ‘Ideation.’ We tossed out questions like, ‘who is your target group?’, ‘what issue(s) do they face?’, ‘how might we help them?’ The students entered a ‘generative’ mindset and the room was buzzing with discussions. Many took to sketching during this brainstorming time. We grinned as we watched from the other side of the screen, approving the buzz around the room. As the hour drew to an end, Olga commanded the students to sanitise the LittleBits components and put them away with care.

Little Bits packed and ready to be sent to Upper Yarra Secondary College


Wednesday arrived without much notice. The same cheery faces greeted us over the screen as Olga let her class into the science lab. Phurich and I announced that it was ‘Prototyping’ and ‘Testing’ day.

The students watched with interest as I showed them a prototyped winter beanie. My idea was to help hospitalized children light their way while they take evening walks, and demonstrate the intensity of the lights changing as ‘the sky gets darker’. 

As project ideas filled their mind, Olga sprung a surprise – the highest voted group wins chocolates! The next 20 minutes proved to be a busy time for all of us. Deep conversations emerged as students built stories around their prototypes. We (the roaming screen) were visited multiple times by students who needed assistance with circuitry. Measurements were taken and scissors snipped away. The prototyping stage had commenced.

Students started populating the board with their names and each were given a sticker as a voting entry. We could feel the tension in the lab as the first group stood at the front, ready to showcase their design. With Olga’s instructions, the room settled to silence. The testing had officially started. Nervous students came up to the front and put their best foot forward. Some memorable pitches included a prototyped headband designed to help the hearing impaired in times of fire using light and vibration outputs. Another group designed a mountable pressure sensor for those with mobility limitations to turn lights on and off, as well as adjust fan speeds.

Votes were cast on design merits and two groups were tied. As facilitators, it is unanimous to say that the students did brilliantly given the limited time frame. We were most impressed with their design learning journey and the prototypes they came up with. I think the students themselves were too. 😊

Matt and Evelyn teaching Upper Yarra Secondary College Year 9 students