Last week, our project page was flooded with creations from 5th and 6th graders at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Day School in San Mateo, California. Behind every great classroom project is an equally incredible teacher. Jason Mickelson teaches grades K-8 and serves as the school’s Academic Technology Coordinator. Here’s what he had to say about using littleBits in the classroom and how he’s using them to advance his MAKE curriculum:
How long have you been teaching? What do you enjoy most about the profession?
This is my fourth year in the classroom. In the past, I have taught high school mathematics, digital media production, and design thinking. I teach all the Technology courses (K-8) here at St. Matthew’s. The thing I enjoy most about teaching is learning along with the students. I went back to graduate school to study Interaction Design and Educational Technology a few years ago. I call this class my MAKE class. And I’ve been able to experiment with a lot of technology concepts that seek to join engineering, electronics, programming, digital fabrication, and art.
What was involved with your littleBits lesson plan?
Honestly, I flew by the seat of my pants a “little bit” with this one. I wanted the students to explore combining the Bits with craft materials in order to make a small prototype. The prototypes should address a “design challenge” which I conjured up the night before. I wasn’t able to carefully think about the challenge types with the realities of my schedule. But I have a lot of experience with design thinking and design projects, so I intuitively thought of some beginner challenges.
I made sure to have a variety of challenges that would use different Bits so we could see a range of actions as well as make sure we could effectively share the kits we have between all the students in class. Previous to this project, students had one class session where they explored the Bits with little to no direction. Afterwards we discussed the types of Bits in terms of their color and their function. Prior to working with littleBits the students built small circuits with copper tape, coin batteries, and LEDs.
What did the kids like the most about the Bit projects?
The kids really liked the challenge of using as many Bits as they could in their circuit. Some of the Bits were extraneous to the design challenge but they used them to add their own style and be creative. Tommy really liked trying to simulate an accurate heartbeat with pulses and LED Bits. Putting two pulses then two LEDs in the series led to some unexpected results.
Do you have plans for future littleBits projects?
In the Middle School, I want littleBits to play more of an introductory role to learning programming and electronics before I get to projects involving paper circuits, LEGO Mindstorms, and even Arduino-controlled physical computing.
In the Lower School we will build on an introductory project we did this year in the 2nd grade class where students completed an abridged version of the Quake-o-meter project. I believe it’s a great way to introduce data gathering and graphing. And it fits in with my plans for a K-8 engineering curriculum.
I will also be looking for ways to push the Bits into our math classes to explore concepts like fractions.
Lastly, I am a big fan of cardboard/paper automata and I want to use the DC motor Bits and sensor Bits to create “automatic automata” and replace a hand crank. We tried sound automata this year with Mindstorms motors and the motors themselves were way too loud. They drowned out the sound from the automata!
Can you offer any advice for educators interested in using littleBits to teach?
The best introduction is to say nothing and let students open the box and figure out what does what. Then follow up with a conversation about electricity, circuits, and inputs.
After a free-explore period, the students will need some goal to work towards. Have a variety of materials and tools that will help them build and follow where their creativity takes them. If there isn’t a design function for the project, challenge students to give it a name and develop a backstory for their creation.
Anything else we should know about your class?
My MAKE class is an elective open to 5th and 6th graders. Typically, it is smaller than my typical classes and there are seven students in the class. Also, its very important to me that students reflect on their work and show their understanding by presenting their work. So I am doing many video reflections where students describe the parts and also declare which parts of the process they struggled with, where they failed, what they did to fix things.
I also want them to realize that they have a voice and the ability to GIVE knowledge out, not just watch and TAKE from the web.
To see more of Jason’s student’s work, visit our project page.