Meet Beth Wilson. She has been teaching for over 15 years, teaching preschool through university students. She is now in her 5th year at Red Bank Elementary School in Chattanooga, TN. Beth was selected to be a STEM fellow for the 2014-2015 school year. As a STEM fellow, Beth learned how to engage her students in meaningful STEM activities. Beth enjoys having a STEAM-centered classroom and focusing on 21st-century skills.
By: Beth Wilson
Title: Classroom teacher
Organization: Red Bank Elementary, Chattanooga, TN
Age Levels: 4th grade
littleBits Products Used: Pro Library or Workshop Set and Space Kit
Beth is thankful for the PEF (Public Education Foundation) for the use of equipment, including littleBits. She also appreciates that her principal has supported and encouraged her to be innovative in her instruction style.
WHO WERE THE KEY PEOPLE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION THAT MADE THIS PROJECT POSSIBLE?
We borrowed littleBits from Public Education Foundations’ (PEF) STEM Hub.
HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT LITTLEBITS AND WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO IMPLEMENT THEM INTO YOUR PROGRAM/CLASS?
I was a STEM fellow with PEF (Public Education Foundation). Each year selected teachers get to participate in a one-year fellowship to learn more about STEM education. PEF purchases items for teachers to borrow for classroom use. We got to use littleBits as part of our inservice. I borrowed them and then took some of my STEM fellows’ stipend money to purchase a Space Kit for each of our five fourth grade teachers.
EXPLAIN HOW YOU INCORPORATED LITTLEBITS INTO YOUR PROGRAM/CLASS? DO YOU HAVE AN OUTLINE OF YOUR PROCESS?
I did a unit with my fourth grade class of 19 students on electrical engineering and design, and I wanted to incorporate littleBits to provide some real world experience and to have students learn by doing to complement reading.
In the first section of the unit, we learned about open and closed circuits and read about different electrical engineers and their inventions.
First, I let students experiment with different Bits, which helped them discover what each piece could do.
Once they were fluent in the Bits, I divided the students into groups of four or five and asked them to make a schematic drawing of whatever creation they wanted to build. Students had to figure out what Bits they would need to build their creation and explain what it would end up doing. Students then had to make a list of supplies they needed.
To mimic the real world, I played the role of the supplier, and they were manufacturers. They had to order the supplies from me, but the catch was that supplies were limited—we only had a certain number of Bits. When I ran out of a given supply, they had to go back and redo their sketch and order different pieces. For example, everyone wanted the servo, but I didn’t have enough. I had plenty of motors, so they had to figure out how to use the motor to do the same thing they wanted the servo to do. They also started bartering with each other.
It got pretty frustrating for some of them, but they learned about supply and demand as well as the design process—using different parts for the same outcome—in order to get their creation to the final stage.
Next, we did a unit on inventor and engineer James Dyson. For this part, students had to think of commonplace items but make them differently using materials they could gather from the cafeteria, like an old milk carton. For example, one of my students made a bed that could lift up or lay down, and another made a boat that turned into a car.
Because we’re a 1:1 school, students were able to make commercials using iMovie that would advertise their product. I also introduced to them crowdsource funding, like Indiegogo. They had to write their script, create their storyboard, and edit their movies.
WHAT WORKED WELL?
Engaging them from the start just by letting them play with the Bits. Kids take to things through discovery.
The fact that I made a real world connection with the different engineers we read about, discussed the need for engineers (and how they do well financially) was all great. But mostly that it was OK to make mistakes—that’s how Thomas Edison learned! They got to feel like they were playing, but ended up with a final project they could be proud of.
Also, asking students to make a list of the supplies they needed, like tape, kept things organized. It forced them to think through their creation, and it also prevented a mad grab for supplies.
WHAT WAS A CHALLENGE?
Not having enough Bits. I also found that there was a durability issue—sometimes the kids would just jam things together. Transferring delicate, unfinished projects to whatever available storage space was another issue. Also, we lost some Bits in the chaos of putting all the Bits back.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESPONSE OF YOUR STUDENTS/COMMUNITY?
Our principal brought all the teachers from the school to watch what we were doing with our design engineering. PEF’s vice president of learning, who is now the assistant superintendent of innovation, also came by!
HOW WOULD YOU SUMMARIZE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED IN IMPLEMENTING YOUR LITTLEBITS CLASS?
The coaching model, in which I let kids play and try things out, works well. It’s an easy way to teach an open and closed circuit. I also found that inquiry-based learning is a good match for littleBits. When students asked, “Why doesn’t this work?”, I’d reply, “Why don’t you think this works? Try again.”
WHAT STANDARDS (IF ANY) DID YOU INCORPORATE INTO YOUR LESSONS/PROGRAMS?
We use Tennessee’s version of the Common Core, called TNCore. This project covers requirements around creativity and engineering as well as science and social studies.
My principal let me go off the beaten path a bit, and as a result I think my students learned perseverance.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS FOR LITTLEBITS USE?
For the holiday season, my next project will tie in Van Allsburg’s “Polar Express” and Rube Goldberg’s creations. Using littleBits, students are going to make a Rube Goldberg-type of invention to get the Polar Express train to Santa, as well as pour the hot chocolate that’s served on the train. Students will learn all about motion and energy transfer.