We are super excited that iD Tech, a leader in summer technology camps for kids and teens, is using littleBits in its Mini Summer Camps this year. We spoke to two iD Tech curriculum developers—Genevieve Johnson and Alycia Meier—to learn more about how campers are using littleBits to discover a passion for technology. Read the Q&A below!
What is your role at iD Tech?
Genevieve: I’m the Curriculum Development Manager. My role consists of setting the pedagogy for our courses, directing research into new products and technologies for use in our programs, and managing our Curriculum Developers. I love my job. I get to research all kinds of cool products and subject matters and then think about how they can be used to enrich a student’s life.
Alycia: I’m one of the Curriculum Developers, specializing in early childhood and electrical programming. I started working with iD Tech to make technology more accessible to children. When I was in elementary school, we only had two Apple computers in the library. Now, children have computers in every classroom and kindergarteners are learning on tablets. We live in an era where learning programming is just as important as creative writing. I really love being part of this new movement.
What’s a typical day like for a student at an iD Tech?
Genevieve: Students typically have 5-6 hours a day of instruction. We also balance the day with social time, outdoor games, and epic gaming tournaments. Our 8:1 student to instructor ratio ensures small class size so students really bond with each other and their instructor. Our labs are brimming with excitement, energy, and learning. We have theme days every week where students can dress up as their favorite superhero or wear their craziest hat. We live by our slogan, “this is camp, not school.”
What’s your process for designing the camp curriculum?
Genevieve: First, we find ways to get students excited about the software or subjects covered in a course. This usually involves hands-on projects that promote early mastery and confidence building. Then, we get that project in front of a student as fast as possible. We know that when it comes to kids and teens, learning happens through completing challenges and actually building and exploring, not listening to lectures. Our goal is to plant the seed of technology and inspire students to go on to take college level courses and pursue these subjects as a career.
How are you using littleBits in the camps? What other tools and materials do you use?
Genevieve: At iD Tech Mini, our division designed for students ages 6-9, we have courses in Minecraft game design, visual coding, robotics, and digital art. But no matter which course they are enrolled in, all students participate in our Maker Station, which features fun STEAM activities like building with littleBits. We include a variety of arts and crafts materials along with basic kits, it’s always a crowd favorite.
Alycia: Our campers have built tickle machines, night lights, and even made paper robots light up! It’s been a huge benefit to our young learners; we’ve been able to use the littleBits base kit to explain coding concepts and show how Minecraft redstone contraptions work.
Do you have any favorite littleBits inventions or stories to share?
Genevieve: My personal favorite littleBits inventions are those featured in #AnimatronicsChallenge. Although we are currently using littleBits with our youngest students, I think those projects really show how sophisticated you can get with the product. If people haven’t checked out the the amazing little girl with the growling crocodile, they really should.
Alycia: We had one camper, a girl around 7 years old, put a feather on the end of a DC motor and chase her mother with it! Another camper made a buzzer megaphone for her 4-year-old brother. Every time he pressed the button, he would squeal in excitement and jump up and down! Our campers love explaining how they make things. During Open House, at the end of each camp week, we put the Maker Station products on display, and our campers always bring their parents over to show them what they built that week. We’ve learned that what they make during a fun tech break is just as important to the campers as what they make in class.
Why did you decide to integrate littleBits into the curriculum?
Genevieve: I fell in love with littleBits at the Bay Area Maker Faire in 2014. There was a giant table filled with adults and children all snapping these colorful little things together. I was instantly drawn in and sending pictures to all of my friends about this brilliant thing I had found. Remember what I said about trying to figure out what is fun about a software or a subject? I knew immediately what was fun about littleBits and how kids would be drawn to it.
Alycia: We’ve noticed an increasing demand for electrical engineering and coding for young children. littleBits is versatile enough to teach basic engineering and design to young children while still “aging-up” to allow children and teens to program with the Arduino programming language.
How do you keep kids engaged throughout the camp? How do you accommodate different learning styles?
Genevieve: Instructors are trained to use a variety of teaching methods; it’s vital that they use a mix of visual aids, activities, guided practice, and direct instruction. Everybody learns differently. We train our instructors on how to accommodate different learning styles and to tailor their teaching styles and projects to each student. Does your student love soccer? Have them create a goal-making robot! We’re very lucky to have only eight students to a class which allows for in-class curriculum customization and personalized instruction.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced during planning or implementation and what strategies did you put in place to overcome these obstacles?
Genevieve: No class is the same! What works with one class one week might not work with a different class the next. Instructors have to be able to read the class’s engagement and adjust accordingly. For this reason we provide a variety of project ideas and collaborative activities to instructors, so they can pick what best suits their class and teaching style.
How do you collect feedback from kids and parents? What’s the best feedback you’ve received?
Genevieve: We do end day wrap-ups with students along with end of the week evaluations completed by both students and parents. We take the time to read every evaluation, and we love both constructive and positive feedback as a way to improve the camp experience. One parent told me that her son would leave camp skipping and smiling each day. He absolutely loved every minute and she knew the skills he learned would apply to his future. I just love the image of that student skipping and empowered with new knowledge—it makes me smile.
Any data or anecdotes of student successes/outcomes with littleBits?
Alycia: We had a student that was having trouble with math. At the end of the week, his mother approached us and said that after playing with littleBits the logic behind math started to click. He needed something that was visual and tangible to make the numbers real.
What are you working on next?
Genevieve: We’re already looking to summer 2017 and what lessons we can learn from this year’s camp season. The Maker Movement isn’t going anywhere, and Electrical Programming, Electrical Engineering, and the Internet of Things is more relevant than ever. How do we improve our existing courses on these subjects? Those are some of the thoughts on my mind right now.