Maker Experiment #1

I have always been interested in the intersection of art and technology. When I received my littleBits kit, I started thinking of uses to explore the crossover between the technology inherent in the kit and the creation of art.

In my first project, a moving shadow puppet theater (discussed in an earlier post), I combined the light and motion aspects of littleBits to create an automated kinetic shadow puppet screen students could use to explore the creative use of light and shadow.

Taking the auditory arts into consideration, I have imagined modulating the buzzer bit’s output to produce sounds that could be used as a part of a musical composition. More recently, I have explored the idea of using the powered fan bit controlled by one of the dimmers to blow ink or paint onto a canvas.

But the activity I planned a lesson on was inspired by the following littleBits workshop video link. This activity has students attaching “mark making devices” (e.g., pencils, markers, brushes, etc.) to littleBits creations to build automated graphic artists and using these “artbots” to explore the concept of randomness versus pattern in abstract drawings and paintings.

This is one lesson within a curriculum exploring several elements of art including line, shape, form, composition, negative/positive space and texture.

My guiding question for this activity is: how can students use technology to explore randomness vs. pattern in abstract art production?

Activity (Grade level: 4-5)

1.) In an art class where students have been exploring the creation of abstract art and how various artists achieved their results, focus a discussion on the topic of randomness vs. pattern.

2.) Display several images of abstract art (some suggestions include paintings by Jackson Pollock, Wassily Kandinsky, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Helen Frankenthaler, Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian and Robert Delaunay as well as Native American and Tibetan Sand Painting) and have the students identify randomness and pattern in them.

3.) Lead a discussion about techniques that were (or could have been) used to achieve the randomness or the pattern.

4.) Play the first 3:55 from the YouTube video “Robot Art: Harvey Moon’s Drawing Machines.” Note: while not Creative Commons licensed, the use of this video within the lesson is covered by the Fair Use doctrine in U.S. Copyright law.

5.) Have students identify and discuss Harvey Moon’s techniques for creating randomness and pattern as seen in the video.

6.) Introduce the littleBits to the class. Allow approximately 15 minutes for pure introductory experimentation.

7.) Challenge the students to combine the littleBits with available artists’ supplies (pencils, pens, markers, crayons, pastels, charcoal, paints, ink, styrofoam, sponges, toothbrushes, paintbrushes and various other objects that might be used as brushes) to create an “artbot” capable of creating either randomness or pattern on their canvases. An extra challenge is to build an “artbot” that can do both.

8.) Bring the class back together to share their creations with one another and discuss the challenges (and their solutions) of working with the littleBits as well as working with the artists’ tools to create both randomness and pattern.

This lesson is informed by a constructivist learning theory concept of building schema. According to Wheatley (1991), “the teacher’s role is to provide stimulating and motivational experiences through negotiation and act as a guide in the building of personalized schema” (p.14). In this lesson, students create a schema with the littleBits and combine it with their existing schema for the drawing tools. By joining both, they construct entirely new meaning by using ideas from both, as well as building a practical understanding of pattern and randomness. More significantly, again per Wheatley (1991),

“Students come to realize they are capable of problem solving and do not have to wait for the teacher to show them a procedure or give the official answer. Students come to believe that learning is a process of meaning-making rather than the sterile academic game of figuring out what the teacher wants.” (p.15)

And, in that process, students develop an intrinsic motivation for learning new things.


LittleBits TV. (2013, August 6). Drawing bots, generative art machines [Video file]. Retrieved from

The Creators Project. (2013, June 24). Robot art: Harvey Moon’s drawing machines [Video file]. Retrieved from

Wheatley, G. H. (1991). Constructivist perspectives on science and mathematics learning. Science Education, 759-21.

3 thoughts on “Maker Experiment #1

  1. Kevin,
    The idea of creating an “artbot” sounds like a lot of fun! I like the idea of letting the students explore and try to create their own creation. I think this is a wonderful teaching technique that sometimes is hard to do as a teacher. It seems your lesson doesn’t have a right answer or end result but lets the children learn by exploring, which is always an engaging lesson. I also liked the aspect of having the students not only share what they have created but also to share their challenges and solutions to those challenges. There are a lot of good ideas in this lesson that can be adapted to other lessons as well.


  2. Cool idea to bring art and technology together. I know a lot of my artsy students don’t always enjoy my science class and it is not their strong suit – I think those types of students would really enjoy this type of project. Thanks for sharing!

    – Jonathan

  3. Pingback: Maker Experiment #1 Revisited (UDL style) | Just Another Day in Technology…

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