They come with a smart pedigree – MIT – and Sifteo cubes did not disappoint John Galloway
Sifteo packSifteo cubes work over wireless from a computerSifteo cubes are clever new devices originating from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), a world leader in innovation: six little blocks, about 5cm square and 1cm deep (each with its own video screen) that work together to generate a whole host of activities for all sorts of ages, abilities and purposes.

For a start there are a number of logic puzzles, such as Chroma Lite which necessitates bringing the blocks together to pop bubbles of adjoining colours. While is sounds easy it gradually gets harder, especially as more cubes are introduced, but with fewer bubbles.

The content can be manipulated, by tilting, flipping, shaking, pressing and neighbouring (making them adjacent), resulting in lots of ways to work with them. Initially they were thought of as a means of exploring data – literally sifting it – but have developed to provide a host of activities.

There are music ones, where the blocks play different loops, but the composition changes depending on where they are in relation to each other. Then there are logic problems, re-arranging them to let the gopher move through a maze for instance, but each move not only provides a path, but breaks one too.

Some activities are straightforward drill and practice – putting the words in alphabetical order, or practising spelling. While these are well established activities, the Sifteo Cubes bring a new slant to them.

When putting fractions in order, Fatma, Brikenna,and Lorna, Year 8 students in Haringey, found they had to talk about what they were doing. The time limit meant they had to work quickly, but the changing faces of the cubes meant that no one person could dominate by hogging them all. As they worked they prompted each other, trying different methods to work it out, such as converting the fractions to percentages and checking each other’s working out.  Once the cubes were in order the next problem would appear.

SifteoThe cubes also come with a do-it-yourself template, as yet limited to putting them in a pre-defined order, such as elements of a sum, or simple spellings, but the promise of this device is much more.

Sifteo cubes are smart, making even repetitive activities exciting. They are loaded from a wireless dongle, so they need a computer to be able to work. For such small devices they are packed with a lot of technology (including Arm processor, 128 x 128 colour TFT LCD, 3-axis accelerometer, 8Mb of flash memory (rechargeable battery, wifi, near-field object sensing). Games can be bought online, with some upgrades being earned through completion of others (you get 500 points to start).

In all a clever device that shows a lot of promise, at a price. If you just want word games then Boggle cubes from Argos will suffice, however, for a glimpse at the sort of tools all classrooms will have some time soon, Sifteo gives some fascinating and pleasurable clues.

Ratings (out of 5)
Fitness for purpose   4
Ease of use               4
Features                   4
Quality                      4
Value for money       2


Set of six Sifteo Cubes with charging dock and AC adapter, two free games plus 500 points to spend on a wide range of games, each addressing different skills, £230 ex VAT from RM.


John GallowayJohn Galloway works as advisory teacher for ICT/SEN and inclusion in Tower Hamlets, London, and as a freelance writer and consultant. He is the author of Harnessing Technology for Every Child Matters and Personalised Learning and runs his own blog.