Exploring Bioluminescence with littleBits

Exploring Biolumiescence

This lesson was inspired by Melinda Huffman- Schwartz’s 3rd grade project on Bioluminescence and the Edith Widder’s TED talk.

I crafted my own version of this lesson for a wide range of grades: 1st and 5-8th, so it’s definitely scalable.

I’ve attached some of the project share sheets below; which give an overview of materials, outcomes and pictures for each creature.

I hope you are inspired to make your own lesson!

– Erica Iannotti
Founder, THINQubator

Duration: 1 45-minute class

Elementary (ages 8-10)
Middle School (ages 11-13)


littleBits Basics

fan (1)
slide dimmer (1)
roller switch (1)
branch (1)
dc motor (1)
buzzer (1)
long led (1)
light sensor (1)
bargraph (1)
button (1)
dimmer (1)
power (1)
pulse (1)
rgb led (1)
vibration motor (1)
pressure sensor (1)
servo (1)
sound trigger (1)
bright led (1)
E – markers (1)
battery + cable (1)
wire (1)

model magic 1
paint 1






STEP 1 : Introduction

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– Introduce the lesson and ask the students if they have ever heard of bioluminescent animals and if they can name any! The Angler fish from Finding Nemo is common. (2 min)

– Watch the first minute of the David Gallo TED Talk, Underwater Astonishments. (1 min)

– Show inspiration board and discuss the different animals we saw in the video. Review the main reasons scientists think animals are bioluminescent: avoid/attract prey, attract/win mates. Ask the students if they know any facts about bioluminescent animals (they usually know a few). (5 min)

STEP 2 : Learning About Bioluminescence

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You can discuss the following facts (3-5 min):

– Most biolum. animals give off blue light. Very few give off red light which is not visible to the vast majority of deep sea animals. Scientists think these fish use their red light as a sort of flashlight for finding prey in secret!

– Some biolum. star fish will release a glowing arm from its body and let it float away to divert predators long enough so it can escape. Most star fish/sea stars can regenerate so in a few weeks, their arm will grow back.

– Some jelly fish will show a hypnotic, circular pattern as they are being attacked in the hopes that it will attract a bigger predator that will attack its attacker!

– If I’m teaching students older than 5th grade, I will teach the luciferase/luciferin chemical reaction that creates bioluminescence. For younger students, I post the animation on the inspiration board but I don’t teach it outright unless there is a question.

STEP 3 : littleBits Demo

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Demo the bits. This lesson is LED-heavy, so make sure to demo all of the different light modules, including how to manipulate the pulse and RGB LED. (3 min)

STEP 4 : Brainstorm and Sketch

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Distribute paper and pencils for the students to sketch their animal and ideas for their circuit. (8-10 min)

STEP 5 : Build a Sea Creature

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Once the students have a fairly developed idea for their project, distribute the Model Magic and markers, paint etc. and start building and decorating. As they build, make suggestions like “make sure you have a cave big enough to fit your circuit”. Support the students as needed through their build, taking pictures as they go. (25 – 30 min)

STEP 6 : Share and Document

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– Share projects. I built a black box so the students could view their projects in total darkness, but turning off the classroom lights works too! (10 min)

– Communicate with parents and post to social media. Let the world know the awesome work your students are doing by posting to the littleBits website! If Melinda Huffman-Schwartz had not shared her great work, I might not have been able to share this great lesson with my students!