Pearson and Hands-On Science Producer LittleBits Pair Up on New Curriculum

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The global education corporation Pearson is partnering with littleBits, a maker of hands-on classroom products, on a science curriculum for students in elementary and middle schools.

LittleBits, founded in 2011 and based in New York City, sells electronic-focused kits for children. The kits are made of color-coded, magnetic building blocks that company officials say give students the ability to “invent anything” from alarms to robots to digital instruments.

The new partnership will integrate littleBits within a science curriculum offered by Pearson, called Elevate Science, to create a new product, Elevate Science + the Pearson littleBits STEM Invention Toolbox, the two companies said.

To date, many schools use littleBits’ kits in supplemental ways, as special stand-alone lessons or projects focused on STEM or engineering, said Azi Jamalian, the company’s head of education strategies, in an interview.  The partnership with Pearson creates a huge opportunity to have littleBits woven within core science lessons, she said.

Pearson’s ability to reach large numbers of K-12 buyers across states is an obvious attraction to littleBits, added Jamalian.

Too often, hands-on lessons are treated by schools as a “nice add-on,” rather than a core part students’ curriculum, she said.

“This is a way for us to bring STEM and engineering skills into core subjects. [Now] we’ll be in science classrooms…It will be very well integrated.”

The partnership “offers advantages for both companies,” Pearson spokesman Scott Overland said in an e-mail. “Pearson can capitalize on the novelty approach to hands-on engineering with the littleBits activities, [and] littleBits gains greater recognition in classroom practices, and students get an innovative, hands-on learning experience.”

We’ve been reporting pretty extensively on the “maker movement” in K-12 education over the years, and its implications for instruction and the demands of schools for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) products.

School officials are ever-eager to find products that engage students in science and other subjects, while also weighing the practicality of maker products, and their costs, which can extend to several hundred dollars, and are often meant to be shared among groups of students.

The new product will be a combined print and hands-on curriculum designed to encourage students to use the scientific processes to investigate phenomena and design products and share them, the two companies said in a statement.

Each of the new “toolboxes” will come with a set of littleBits electronic building blocks and related accessories. Students and teachers will be asked to take part in challenges revolving around inventions that are meant to give them a deeper grasp of engineering design and science concepts presented in a textbook.

The two companies are betting that the timing of their partnership, which was announced late last month, makes good business sense. They noted that the product will be made available throughout the country as the science curriculum adoption cycle begins in a number of huge markets–Florida in 2018, and California in 2019.

The new curriculum is meant to be aligned to new state standards, and it is “reflective of the direction” of the Next Generation Science Standards, the companies say.

“This collaboration continues our legacy of leadership in science education, moving beyond the textbook using a groundbreaking, hands-on inquiry approach,” said Bethlam Forsa, Pearson’s managing director of U.S. learning services, in a statement. The partnership is meant to bring “the next level of inquiry and wonder to the classroom.”

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