There’s a reason why LEGO has become one of the most popular toys for kids of all ages.
Clicking bricks together in a modular way is inherently satisfying!
And what makes the LEGO experience more enduring is the limitless possibilities.
BUT, how does this fit into our modern need to learn STEM principles such as coding and electronics. Sure, there are LEGO Boost and Mindstorms, which we love, but these essentially add a non-modular brain to the kit, which can be programmed via an external interface, eg. a tablet device using Scratch.
What if the bricks themselves were individual electronic/coding elements that could be assembled in countless ways?
Crowbits by Elecrow
Elecrow, a leader in STEAM education products, has brought the magic of LEGO and the modular nature of electronics and coding together in an exciting new product named Crowbits.
Crowbits is a coding toy that is familiar in many respects, yet unlike anything we’ve seen before. There are over 80 blocks that can be assembled in unlimited possible designs. The kits can be used in highly structured ways, with clear lessons and STEM learning outcomes. But, they can equally be used in much the same way as LEGO, with kids free to clip together the parts in any way they choose. In fact,…
Many Crowbits pieces are LEGO-compatible!
Meaning that kids can mix and match blocks for even larger projects!
As parents we’re increasingly worried about the amount of screen-time our kids are subjected to. An exciting development in STEM toys in recent years has been the availability of “No-Code” products. These are great because kids can learn the concepts of coding and algorithmic thinking without pulling out their devices.
Crowbits has Hello and Explorer Kits that let kids build STEM projects with cardboard, LEGO-compatible blocks and a variety of other materials.
To fully explore the possibilities of Crowbits, you’ll want to check out the Inventor, Creator and Master Kits.
The Inventor Kit is based on micro:bit and gives kids the ability to make a 4-in-1 car that can:
- respond to gestures
- track a line drawn on a surface
- avoid obstacles
- be controlled via Bluetooth
The Arduino-based Creator Kit expands the Bluetooth possibilities, allowing for some fun and alternative ways to control a variety of online interactive games.
Finally, with the Crowbits Master Kit, your junior product engineer can build fully-functional devices, like a game console, a security radar and even a phone!
Right now, Crowbits is available to back on Kickstarter. If you love the idea of this innovative toy, you can pledge at any level without expectation of a reward. But,… where’s the fun in that? 😉
To get your hands on one of the Crowbits kits (or all of them!), head over to the Crowbits Kickstarter page. If you like the idea and want to support it, you can pledge at any level. Pledges that include a Kit as backer reward start from ca. $26. Estimated delivery is currently June, 2021, but I recommend getting your order in fast, since there are limited spots available for backers at each level and there is a steep discount for early backers.
Oh, and don’t forget, with Kickstarter, there is never a guarantee – you’re supporting an initiative with the prospect of a potential reward. However, I believe you’re pretty safe with Elecrow – they are a well-established company with other successful Kickstarter campaigns under their belt. Also, Crowbits has already surpassed its funding target, so it looks set to be a success!
We were very fortunate to receive three Crowbits sets from the company for review, with the Kickstarter campaign nearing an end. My sons, 9 and 12, first tried out the Explorer Kit, which is suitable for kids 8 years and older.
My kids were fascinated by the snap-together electronics modules and they immediately started to experiment by putting them together in a variety of ways. The way the modules easily snap together magnetically is a particular strong point of these kits.
Smart Money Box
Browsing through the 12 projects included in the User Manual, we decided to try the “Smart Money Box” first. The projects are of two different types:
- “fold-and-stick” cardboard-based projects, and
- LEGO-compatible structures
Construction of the Smart Money Box required carefully folding a cardboard template and sticking it together using Scotch tape. I must admit that this was quite fiddly for my kids. Scotch tape can be a challenge to use, and this kit required careful placement of very thin double-sided tape to hold the structure together. It was quite frustrating at times, but we got there in the end!
To finish the project requires placing some of the electronics modules together:
- power supply (micro-USB rechargeable lithium battery)
- IR reflective sensor
- DC motor
- magnetic cable
Once we had the cardboard structure assembled and the required electronics modules connected, the real magic of Crowbits shone through! The Smart Money Box is designed so that when something is inserted through the slot, eg. a banknote, the IR reflective sensor will permit the motor to run, which is connected to a wheel that pulls the banknote into the money box.
My kids thought it was pretty neat! And, even better, they independently worked out that if they switch the polarity of the power source, the motor can feed the banknote back out! Overall, I’d say this project was a big hit with my kids.
Next up, we decided to try one of the projects based on the LEGO-compatible structural elements. We had less success with this project than the money box. The instructions were somewhat difficult to follow. It was difficult to see from the diagrams how the components connected to each other. This led Mr. 9 Year Old to get distracted and he became uninterested in finishing the build. Dad to the rescue (while Mr 12 randomly connected modules together!), but even in the end, it was difficult to get the circuit working as instructed, since the wires that needed to be connected were only just long enough. There were other annoyances, such as the insulation not being sufficiently stripped away to allow easy connection. Unfortunately, this project was not a hit with my kids.
Creator Kit and Inventor Kit
The Creator and Inventor Kits take the complexity up a notch, using Arduino and Micro:bit modules, respectively. Unfortunately, the neither of the kits we received included the Crowbits User Manuals, so we have not yet had a chance to try these kits out.
Final Words on Crowbits
Overall, I think Crowbits is an exciting new line of STEAM kits with huge potential. Judging by the kits we received, the value for money is extremely high. I’m very impressed with the components and project ideas I’ve seen so far!
At this point in time, being at the Kickstarter stage, Crowbits is still a bit rough around the edges. The instructions that we followed could definitely use some improvement. Particularly for kids at the younger end of the intended age range, imperfect instructions or discrepancies in diagrams can lead to frustration and abandonment of the project.
I thoroughly recommend Crowbits for families and children with an interest in STEAM. These kits are well-suited to tinkerers who like a bit of a challenge, like to be somewhat independent, and do not need perfect instructions for every step. Certainly, the magic of these kits comes from the unlimited potential of what can be created and exploring the possibilities!