At littleBits, it always feels like a treat when members of our inventing community visit our New York headquarters. Mitchell Malpartida, a STEM/STEAM enthusiast and founder of the Masterful Creations STEAM Academy has long been one of our favorite inventors. For years we’ve been excited to see the littleBits-powered inventions that Mitch and his young family have created.
We recently sat down with Mitch to talk about the state of STEM, and his point of view on the best approaches to education and continually engaging kids to be problem solvers.
Kids Are Going Full STEAM Ahead
“I’m a lifelong learner,” Mitch told us. Like most educators and inventors, he sees opportunity to learn new things everywhere he goes, and he is excited that today’s kids have even more opportunities. “There are so many awesome products out there and associated lessons that go with them; these are educational opportunities that would have changed my direction in life if I had been exposed to them,” he said.
When it comes to building a technology-based future, there has been no better time to be a kid. “Early exposure [to STEM] is important because it reduces kids’ feelings of ‘I can’t do that,’” he explained.
Incorporating The “A” In STEAM
While STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) is an important concept, Mitch (like us!) leans more toward STEAM, which is STEM + art! As a highly visual inventor, he feels that art and creativity are vital to the learning process.
“When it comes to STEM, I see the arts being excluded quite frequently,” Mitch explained. “[Inventing] is not challenging in that you need to find the technology to make your creations come to life; the tough part is in gathering your ideas and putting pen to paper.” If educators are able to encourage kids use their creativity to tell a story or solve a problem, putting pen to paper will be much easier.
Mitch created this littleBits-powered character invention for the new Netflix “Next Gen” movie.
Going Beyond The Instruction Manual
Often, kids feel confined to following instructions — meaning that they have limitations on what they are trying to create from the onset. Mitch believes that this instruction manual mindset can be difficult for kids to overcome and hinders their creativity. “What is going to make them special and unique? It’s their ability to tell a story. It’s their ability to think outside the box, not just learn how to build the box.”
At littleBits, we think of the instructions for our kits more like suggestions, and strongly encourage kids to learn as they play with their kits — and then customize their ideas and inventions with the materials and the skills to which they are exposed.
This is an example of a littleBits-powered invention that uses household materials to bring a character to life.
Inventing: A Step-By-Step Process
One of the biggest challenges educators face is simply holding a child’s attention. Kids can lose interest or give up easily. As a father of young children, Mitch knows this all too well, but has a positive approach to keeping his own kids engaged. He believes that human beings learn in chunks: “Whether you can accomplish a complete task, or a single step, consider that a success.”
One success leads to another, and before you know it a project has come together.
How to Keep Kids Engaged in STEAM: Tips and Tricks
Before he left, Mitch left us with a few insights on how to keep kids constantly engaged:
- Know what’s next. In his house, he keeps a whiteboard titled “What Should We Make Next?” This gives his kids the opportunity to contribute their ideas in a group setting, so that everyone takes a bit of ownership.
- Invent “out loud.” While they may wander away from a project, Mitch makes sure to also be making and inventing out in the open. When his kids see that he is working on something, they wonder, “What is Dad doing over there?” and then re-engage themselves in the project. Though they may drift in and out of doing the actual work, they can all feel like they did it together.
- Set an example. If you can show kids that inventing doesn’t have to be hard and challenges can be fun, their confidence will increase dramatically — and they will be more inclined to work together and teach each other.
A big thanks to Mitch was stopping by to see us, and we’ll see you again soon!
Follow Mitch on Twitter and Instagram to see his newest inventions and thoughts on STEM/STEAM.