Case Study: The Browning School

December 18, 2015

Meet Anderson Harp. As the Technology Integrator at The Browning School, Anderson covers the span of tech classes in lower, middle and upper divisions. In addition, he serves as the advisor for a 7th grade group of  boys and collaborates and/or runs four after school programs related to engineering, inventing and making, where littleBits are an anchor in classes and clubs. In Browning’s Epic Makers & Inventors after school club, students use the Pro Library to play to learn constructing prototypes with lots of cardboard and pipe cleaners. At Browning, teachers use littleBits to give boys a chance to tinker in a failure-free zone and build something meaningful while boosting their creative confidence.

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By: Anderson Harp

Title: Technology Integrator

Organization: The Browning School, High School, New York, NY

Age Levels: 10th grade

littleBits Products Used: Pro Library and cloudBit Kit

Colleagues and students describe Anderson as the always patient idealist with a knack for integrating tech with curriculum, instruction and assessment. He started his teaching career in public, rural elementary classrooms. During his first year teaching third grade, he piloted a 1:1 iPod Touch program, sending devices home for students to document experiences outside of school. Anderson understands high-quality learning as a reflective, social process where the dreamers and realists build mutual respect for multiple perspectives while doing. His style is more inquiry-based, with less talking and more guiding. He likes to ask lots of questions and point students to resources or cases that suit their interests. By and large, his job is to plant the seed and nurture character, creative thinking, tinkering and problem solving strategies.

 

WHO WERE THE KEY PEOPLE IN YOUR ORGANIZATION THAT MADE THIS PROJECT POSSIBLE?

Aaron Grill, Director of Technology at Browning

Ben Putnam & team, JUICE Pharma Worldwide employees

Forrest King, school parent and JUICE Pharma Chief Innovative Officer

HOW DID YOU LEARN ABOUT LITTLEBITS AND WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO IMPLEMENT THEM INTO YOUR PROGRAM/CLASS?

I first heard of littleBits, and the entire maker-mindset for that matter, from other educators—two mentors whom I owe a great deal of gratitude for helping shape my educational philosophy and goals today.

EXPLAIN HOW YOU INCORPORATED LITTLEBITS INTO YOUR PROGRAM/CLASS? DO YOU HAVE AN OUTLINE OF YOUR PROCESS?

Using the cloudBit Kit as the foundation, Bits were used to invent solutions for an “Internet of Things” themed engineering elective, which took place over one semester class of 13 tenth graders.

The class was split between a lab space, which was used for hands-on work, and a classroom, which was used for discussions on “news flash” assigned reading— articles or excerpts from scientific journals that detailed current events around inventing. The idea was to invent something that made daily life easier or more entertaining.

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During the semester, the school collaborated with an advertising agency to weigh in on the students’ projects. Select employees from the agency would be on a “Shark Tank” panel, listening to the students’ elevator pitches and evaluating their final product.

  1. One session of discussion that focuses on the practical side of being an innovator. After assigning readings about the rise of the Internet of Things, entrepreneurship and business leadership, I asked questions about the business aspect of innovation and understanding the consumer market. I asked students to think about their daily routine that they’d like to improve and consider how they could change it. They’d reflect independently and share their ideas with the class.
  2. One icebreaker session that emphasized design challenges and design thinking. I divided students into groups of four and gave them very open-ended challenges. For example, they got a sheet of paper and a piece of tape, and had to come up with the tallest tower. This helped them to start thinking outside of the box.
  3. One session that let them learn about the Bits through exploration, rather than straight explanation. I gave them a book (Chapter 8 of Make: Making Simple Robots by Kathy Ceceri) on tinkering that was published with a chapter on Making a littleBits Plotter. Giving them a box of basic supplies (like rubber bands, paper clips, and cardboard) along with the book, I challenged them to work together to follow the steps and build a working prototype of a machine. They had to figure out who would do what in a limited amount of time, how to use a limited resource for prototyping, and how to make simple objects work for them using littleBits. Students to start defining a problem they wanted to solve and come up with an idea of how they could connect that solution to the Internet.
  4. One discussion session in which students were tasked with searching for different products on the market, like Nest, that are making homes smarter in order to get an idea of how these inventions work and influence our lives.
  5. One session in which students sketch their own unique version of what would help them, or make someone else’s life easier.
  6. A session in which groups of students are given mini-lessons on the different tools in the Fab Lab, like laser cutters and 3D printers. A student is assigned to be the “expert” on each tool in order to help others in the prototyping process.
  7. 10 sessions for building their prototype and making improvements when plans did not work.
  8. For the final, students had to give their elevator pitch to the “Shark Tank” panel and explain their invention.
  9. One session in which students evaluate their own performance, pinpoint how they would improve it and what the next iteration would have been.

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WHAT WORKED WELL?

Using free tools like IFTT to connect the cloudBits worked well. Basically, giving students the resources to explore on their own (like researching the littleBits product page) and seeing what other people were doing with littleBits were effective.

Communications and collaboration were important here. We focused on the tech aspect—how to document the process using various mediums, we used a design notebook, White Lines, that was integrated with iOS apps so they could digitize what they sketched. At the same time they could use a pencil to check their work and send it to Evernote or Dropbox so I could see their progress.

Having them come up with a solution to a complex real world problem by breaking it down into chunks, refining it and then upcycling it taught them about engineering design standards.

WHAT WAS A CHALLENGE?

Time. We were short on time, and a lot of the students had ideas but weren’t able to fully complete a prototype. Everyone started using the laser cutter and then it broke, which threw off a couple of the students’ plans. They had to use handsaws, which taught them how to deal with challenges using limited resources.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE RESPONSE OF YOUR STUDENTS/COMMUNITY?

After hearing about this year’s class, the whole tenth grade elected to take this class next spring.

The entry point is easy for anyone, on any level of experience. We had kids that were a lot more technical than others, so using the cloudBit was a great way for everyone to get on the same level and then take it out to their area of comfort, dive deep and either go into more of a coding process or keep it simple.

Students really learned how to manage themselves in a loosely structured environment, and developed a sense of creative confidence through tinkering.

HOW WOULD YOU SUMMARIZE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED IN IMPLEMENTING YOUR LITTLEBITS CLASS?

I was surprised by how quickly students were able to jump into the project and come up with creative ideas. They were begging to use the littleBits as the semester started and had requested more time up front, which I will do next time—allowing more hands-on time with the Bits.

I learned to keep things simple.

Logistically, we had to factor in my time for setting things up and my colleague Erin’s time for troubleshooting. We also had to make sure we had enough the components, as we may have had more of one and less of another.

Also, [when using cloudBit] be sure to have a strong Internet network.

DID YOU UPLOAD PROJECTS OR LESSONS TO OUR WEBSITE?

We did not have the time to upload any projects to the website. I had hoped to have students share their projects as an ‘instructable’ as part of their maker portfolio. As this was the first class of its kind, I expect to refine this planning and pacing for the class spring 2016.

WHAT STANDARDS (IF ANY) DID YOU INCORPORATE INTO YOUR LESSONS/PROGRAMS?

Private school—does not directly incorporate standards.

Addresses non-fiction reading and technical reading/writing comprehension, following directions and being able to complete steps in a sequence.

HS-ETS1 Engineering Design

HS-ETS1-2. Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering.

HS-ETS1-3. Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS FOR LITTLEBITS USE?

Next year all tenth graders will take this class, and the advertising firm has agreed to participate again. A fourth grade class will use littleBits in partnership with the science teacher to create interactive dioramas, and the second and third graders will participate in an invention convention, which is more play-to-learn.

Read more about the Shark Tank challenge at The Browning School.