Case Study: Summer Camp

Emily May, Instructor and Curriculum Developer

December 18, 2014

In April, we featured Marcus Duvoisin from the Digital Media Academy in an Educator Spotlight and we were eager to hear an update on the Adventures in Engineering and Rocket Science session. Since then, Emily May, Instructor and Curriculum Developer, compiled her experiences and we’re happy to share her story in this summer camp case study:

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littleBits Case Study Submission

By: Emily May, Instructor and Curriculum Developer for Adventures in Engineering and Rocket Science

Organization: Digital Media Academy

Age Levels: 7-12

littleBits Products: Deluxe Kit, plus additional modules

Date: December 2014

 

Explain how you incorporate littleBits into your program:

Adventures in Engineering and Rocket Science is a three part exploration into three different engineering fields: structural design, electrical engineering, and space flight. It is delivered over the course of a week and during that time campers explore each field through career research, project-based discovery, and lessons about the science behind electronics, architecture, and rockets.

Our week begins with a full day of electrical engineering with littleBits. Kids start the day with free exploration of their kits, working in small groups to discover how a circuit must go together to power an output. They build proficiency with the kits as the work to complete a series of objective-based “challenge cards” and, later, build an electronic game. The day ends with an “inventor’s hour” when student engineering teams design and construct a drawing machine.

Later in the week they revisit electrical engineering and littleBits on Challenge Day. This day allows them to utilize their new skills in each engineering subject to build machines that meet a specific demand. In the case of littleBits, they get access to a new tool (light sensors) that they must use to construct a line follower.

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Who were the key people in your organization that made this project possible?

Tricia George, Curriculum Developer
Emily May, Curriculum Developer
Marcus Duvoisin, Assistant Director of Curriculum and Development

 

What worked well?

Our best successes come from open-ended projects that allow kids to design their own solutions to a problem we present (e.g., designing a drawing machine, working to complete challenge cards). These activities encourage kids to think about the utility of each part of a circuit and work with what they have, both in and out of the kit, to achieve their objective. There can be lots of competing ideas during these processes, but it allows them to practice the ever-important skills of compromise and redesign. In these cases, products are always diverse and kids really appreciate the chance to see everyone else’s ideas.

 

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What was a challenge?

Broken pieces are one of the biggest challenges we’ve encountered. The modules are well-built, but delicate. We give instructions about properly using the materials which helps, but a few things seem to break more consistently than others (e.g., screwdrivers and things with wires leaving the body of the module, like fan bits).

We’d also love to see a kit that includes wheels that are directly compatible with the motor mate. Or, if we’re really dreaming big, an adaptor that allows two wheels and an axle to be attached to one DC motor. Campers designed a lot of wheel-based machines and we ended up borrowing wheels from LEGO Robotics kits, but it would be awesome if they were included.

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What has been the response of your students/community?

Out of the 150 students who went through the course and filled out a survey, there was an average rating of 4.4 out of 5 when asked specifically about the material inside the course.

Fridays are a time when parents come to the camp and see what their students have been learning all week. During this time, parents mentioned that their child has expressed interest in learning more about littleBits after camp.

 

How would you summarize what you learned in implementing your littleBits program?

It is important to help kids make an explicit connection between littleBits and the other ways people make and interact with circuits. This expands their ideas about how littleBits can be used and allows them to dream up lots of potential uses for circuits. It can help them see the modules not only as fun toys, but tools they can integrate them into functional machines. With this in mind, children, particularly in settings that serve a variety of ages, come in with different levels of understanding of electricity. I found it most helpful to preface littleBits exploration with direct instruction in electricity.

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What standards did you incorporate into your lessons/programs?

As a summer program we are not constrained by standards. That being said, we strive to teach concepts that are applicable to students’ other scientific endeavors, such as the engineering design process, diagramming a circuit, and the fundamentals of electricity, amongst others.

 

What are your future plans for littleBits use?

As we move into our second year working with littleBits as a camp, I am excited about the potential of designing our own projects to contribute to the knowledge base. The idea of providing students with open challenges with uncertain answers, challenges that are driven by the engineering design process and their interests, rather than a single outcome, will guide us as we begin this work.

Additionally, we are looking to include littleBits into another one of our Adventures courses. This course will be solely focused on Electrical Engineering and would be paired with Arduino. We will send details as soon as they are developed 🙂

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Thank you Emily and DMA for sharing your story!