This week, we’re spotlighting Alan Miller and Lauren Fuller, who work with The Baldwin Center Youth Learning Lab’s Engineering Club. By focusing on the key concepts of engineering, this club helps students develop skills in problem solving, critical thinking and inquiry to help prepare them for a technology and engineering driven future.
Tell us about your current teaching experience.
My name is Alan Miller, and I am an engineer at General Motors Engine Engineering, in Pontiac, Michigan. I teach Sunday school for grade K-2, at the Kirk in the Hills Presbyterian Church in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Our new Engineering Club is hosted at the The Baldwin Center Youth Learning Lab, a non-profit that provides quality after-school enrichment. Lauren Fuller is the Director of Education at the Baldwin Center. The Engineering Club is for 3-6 graders, as part of a local community outreach program. The Engineering Club was designed to expose students to the basic principles of engineering, engage in critical thinking, and support their inquiry skills.
How did you discover littleBits? What drew you to our product/company?
My two sons and I are known at work for solving problems using simple experiments and entering awesome science projects at their school science fairs. Our neighbor saw the littleBits online and educated us on the product. My father-in law then bought my oldest son the Extended Kit and Deluxe Kit as a gift. Our neighbor and my father-in-law both thought the littleBits Kits would be ideal for my sons…and, they were right! I was also very interested and impressed with Ayah Bdeir’s background and littleBits’ startup story.
As I watched my sons play with the littleBits modules, I saw how excited they were and how much they learned using the modules. I realized they would be a perfect addition to our Engineering Club. The littleBits product was a natural fit for getting underprivileged kids excited about science and engineering.
How do you use littleBits as a 21st century STEM/STEAM teaching and learning tool?
I have been supporting the Baldwin Center by raising money in a variety of ways: collecting soda can returns at work, arranging turkey donations for the Baldwin Center’s Thanksgiving meal program, and handing out Christmas gifts to the homeless with my sons. Lauren Fuller asked me if I was interested in setting up the after school program Engineering Club for deserving kids between grades 3-6. Two college co-op students, a design engineer and I set-up an 8-week program where we taught how to make projects, including simple cars and pop bottle/water rockets. The program also included a visit to my company’s engineering facilities. We used littleBits in two of the eight week session teaching modules. The littleBits assembly instructions were our engineering blueprints at first and then our ideas took off from there!
What is your favorite littleBits project?
Our students in the club have built the littleBits Truck Crane and the Tickle Machine. The students were very excited about the Prank Handshake, because they could build the circuit, and physically demonstrate it to the Director of Education. The kids also enjoyed going ‘Free-style’ and using their imaginations to build their own creations with the modules.
Describe littleBits in your own 3 words:
Hands-on, visual and exciting. The littleBits are a tool to ignite new interests and passions for kids of all backgrounds and experiences.
What advice can you offer teachers who are new to littleBits?
My advice is not to underestimate the ability of your students. The kids I am working with may be behind in writing and math at their grade level, and may not have all the opportunities that other kids get in more affluent school districts. But, when exposed to littleBits you could see their creativity ignited and they become passionate about learning something that have never seen before. You can see their eyes and minds light up immediately. Also, the kids were able to follow the littleBits instructions, and built the projects together with very little help. It was wonderful to see the sense of accomplishment that they exhibited when they successfully completed a project and it worked as they hoped it would.
How can we find out more about the Baldwin Center Youth Program?
The Baldwin Center Learning Lab is a licensed after school program in the underserved community of Pontiac, Michigan. All the programs are free. The purpose of the Learning Lab is to expose students to a variety of programming that will engage them in different modalities and ignite new passions and interests. Most all “elective” programming has been eliminated in the Pontiac school district due to budget cuts, so students rely on the after school program to receive the opportunity to engage in activities such as STEM/engineering, art enrichment, cooking, fitness and nutrition. The Baldwin Center currently serves 40 students in the after school program, and 65 students during the summer.