Educator Spotlight: Rachel Albert

By Allison Vannatta

This week, we’re excited to share Rachel Albert’s education story! Rachel encourages her students to create 3-D interactive art installations that engage their problem-solving skills and express their cultural heritage and life experiences. Check out their life size tape sculpture on our project page.

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Tell us about your school or program.

I work in a public alternative high school in Northern Virginia that serves a very diverse student body.  Some students had difficulties in a traditional high school and were placed at our school following disciplinary proceedings in the county school system. Others are teen parents trying to balance parenting and school, and still others are new immigrants and English language learners, starting out on a long journey to earn an American high school diploma. The art program at my school focuses on three-dimensional work that allows students to problem-solve, while also expressing their respective cultural heritages and life experiences.

How did you discover littleBits? What drew you to our product/company?

I first discovered littleBits when looking for a step-up from snap-circuits as a learning tool for my 6 year old son.  He loves circuits, engineering and making creations that do something.  Ever since he received a littleBits Base Kit as a birthday gift, all he’s asked for is additional modules for every special occasion.  His favorite invention is a cardboard box “ambulance” for his stuffed animals.  It has headlights, but the best parts are the siren and a spinning design on the outside – which are all activated by a pressure sensor when a stuffed animal patient is inside!  

How does your school/program use littleBits as a 21st century STEM/STEAM teaching and learning tool?

The 2 Starter Kits we use in the art program have been the first exposure my school has had to littleBits. After using these with my students, I think these Kits will help generate excitement about hands-on learning.  Our students sometimes struggle with the feeling that school is not for them and the “when will I ever use this?” mentality.

I am also hopeful that the littleBits Kits will engage the students who have some engineering interest, but who lack English language proficiency required to take courses in those areas.  The potential for confidence building in those students is truly exciting.  Additionally, I have offered the 2 Kits as a collaborative tool between my art program and the science department, and those faculty seem excited about the use of them in the classroom too, so we’ll see where it takes us!

What is your favorite littleBits project?

The first activity I plan to do with students are the littleBits challenge cards – I love those!  Students need to understand the individual pieces before they can figure out how to integrate them into their own work.  I don’t think I have a favorite project yet, since this is new for me in the classroom, but I will keep you posted! 

Describe littleBits in your own 3 words:

Accessible, playful, functional 

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If you could challenge your students to make anything with any amount of littleBits, what would you have them create?

I imagine either an interactive or choose-your-own-adventure type of art.  Artwork that interacts with the viewer can have a profound effect on the maker and the observer.  Having students think about cause and effect and also about what they want the viewer to take away from the experience of seeing the work could be inspiring.

I’d like to have students plan for a work of art that changes depending on the viewer’s experience- make something that changes when opened, something that lights up when someone is in front of it, etc.

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I would love for students to design clay sculptures that would littleBits.  We have made water fountains before out of clay, and the planning that is required to accommodate a pump, tube, and the general flow of water, requires a higher level of thinking than a simple flower vase. That’s when watching students work, think and problem solve is really interesting!

What advice can you offer teachers who are new to littleBits?

Let the students explore the modules first.  In my observation, learners– from my 6 year-old son, to my 20 year-old students– are craving to make things that are interactive.  The spark of excitement when their circuit does what they planned to is so genuine.  Once students understand what can be done, maybe try asking “how do you want this to work with your own ideas?”  Let it come from them.


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