High school students used Bits to teach an engaging lower grade class

The results are so insightful.

February 6, 2017

My name is Ian Snyder. I teach science, some math, and run our makerspace here at Northumberland Christian School. I have a few maker heroes. I have always enjoyed Adam Savage and his love for making, blowing things up, and tinkering. I also try to stay connected with some great minds through social media and personal communication. Jay Silver, the crew at Digital Harbor in Maryland (Shawn and Steph!), Ryan Landis at NCS, and my good friend Josh Seitzer are all people who challenge my thinking and implore me to keep making. My goal for my students this year has been the challenge of rethinking who they are in the role of the world. I have been challenging them to rethink themselves as more than just a consumer. We were made for more than that…What can you contribute to the your classmates and the world around you?

Photography via Ian Snyder

This class project was birthed from the idea of my students could be the experts instructors with littleBits. Because our school is K-12, we have a great opportunity for the high school students to invest in the minds of the elementary students. The parameters I gave my students were broad. They needed to design a lesson for an elementary classroom. The lesson needed three essential parts. First was that the project needed an introductory piece that captured the attention of the kids. From the introduction the students must explain the basics of how littleBits work. The second phase was an open creative play time. We believe this is essential for kids to get their hands on the bits and figure things out for themselves. The last phase of the lesson was a guided build/challenge. This phase consisted of the students being led through making a specific model/project.

With older students there can be inhibitions about doing something of this magnitude. They were scared at the thought of being in charge for a 40 minute classroom period. They also had an irrational belief that they couldn’t make something stimulating enough for the kids. This graphic has been so important for me.

I believe it was first contrived by James Nottingham and there are many variations out there. It was amazing for me to see my kids heading for the brick wall and all the while knowing we had to hurdle or smash through the impeding wall. With enough encouragement (and a few empty threats), we started to break the project down. I realized my students needed to focus on each piece individually and not focus on the larger project. Once we started doing this, we started to pick up momentum. Ideas and creativity were birthed once we got the cart rolling. After the initial ideas came out then we started to tweak them and evaluate.

One of the most important parts of this project was modeling. I knew my students had a basic understanding of what this should look like, but as a teacher I needed to put actions to my words. I decided to take on Kindergarten to teach a lesson and show for them what I was expecting. They came along as observers but I also had them serve as helpers. In terms of helping, this modeling activity was the key in unlocking this whole project. We talked about what went well. We discussed what wouldn’t work. We talked about timing, distributing, keeping focus, and so many tiny details that would have been missed without getting in the classroom.

So far we have been in Kindergarten-2nd, and 4th-6th grades. With each student presentation, we were learning new things and taking away important aspects. Each presentation helped the next presenter. Confidence was built building on mistakes and errors. It was great to see that what was originally seen as a flaw in a lesson became a building point for the next team.

The thing that surprised me the most about this project was the way students seemed to so naturally take on the role of a teacher. It is amazing what you can glean by simply being a student for the 12-13 years. Amazing to see they could remember what excited them about learning, what was fun as a kid, and what a good lesson should have. It was memorable for me to see them on the floor with the kids exploring and learning. They were not lecturing teachers and experts. It was joyous to watch them quickly get out from behind the lectern and got on their knees. Learning by doing. Learning by playing.

My advice to another educator for doing a similar project is to spend plenty of time in the planning phase. You will have to battle those who want to just try and wing-it. One of the most uncomfortable things for me is to watch someone squirm in the front of the classroom because they misjudged the value of people’s time and attention. Kids tending to grind against getting plans on paper, testing their ideas fully, and planning for the uh-oh moments. I tried to walk my students through a lot of scenarios for their lessons. Being prepared and planning well cannot be overlooked in this type of project.

Ian Snyder
Educator, Northumberland Christian School