Educator Spotlight: Janice Novakowski

Inquiry-based STEM/STEAM pilot project in the classroom

March 13, 2014

Janice Novakowski

This week we feature Janice Novakowski, a teacher consultant for the Richmond School District in British Columbia, who supports teachers and students in the areas of mathematics, science and technology integration. Her first experience with littleBits showed her the possibilities for using technology to nurture creative thinking and tinkering, and she has recently compiled a case study documenting her experience. You can download her work here.

Tell us about your current teaching experience.

This year I am working as a teacher consultant for our school district, supporting teachers and students in K-12 classrooms in the areas of mathematics and science. Previous to this position, I have been a K-3 classroom teacher, resource teacher, teacher-librarian, curriculum coordinator and university instructor. In my graduate studies, my research interests included authentic inquiry experiences for students.

How did you discover littleBits? What drew you to our product/company?

I read on Twitter about a colleague from a neighboring district using littleBits, so searched online for more information and was automatically taken in by the possibilities in the classroom. The littleBits website had videos that highlighted how littleBits could be used in the classroom and I was hooked. I ordered a Kit for my son as a gift and a few Kits for our district to try out in some classrooms.

How do you use littleBits as a 21st century STEM/STEAM teaching and learning tool?

Our curriculum is moving towards a more inquiry-based, integrated and competency-based focus. littleBits are an ideal teaching and learning tool to inspire creative and critical thinking across disciplines. Because of the open-ended and “maker” nature of littleBits, the materials draw in students that may not initially see themselves as future scientists, engineers or mathematicians. littleBits provide an integrated approach to STEM/STEAM content areas.

One of the areas of STEAM we are investigating in our district is ways to make students’ learning visible so that we don’t place all of our emphasis on final products, but rather find ways to document and highlight the process of inquiry-based experiences. Teachers and students are using iPad technology to document and share their experiences with littleBits.

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What is your favorite littleBits project?

When working in a grades 4 and 5 class, I watched two grade 5 students persist over three days to make their vision for a project come alive. The girls had this idea to make a small stuffed animal be able to move and dance. They drew up plans, performed surgery on a Miga (one of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics mascots) to remove the stuffing and used two DC motors as part of their littleBits circuit in Miga’s arms to make it dance. To top things off, they used a pulsing LED wire wrapped around a toilet paper roll to create a disco ball. Disco Miga was a hit and the girls pride was heartwarming.

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Describe littleBits in your own 3 words:

Creative, innovative, cool

The cool factor cannot be underestimated in the classroom and the littleBits components are definitely cool. The students who have used them think they are “awesome” and “sick” (that’s a good thing) which draws them in and then once they see the possibilities, the engagement continues.

 

If you could challenge your students to make anything with any amount of littleBits, what would you have them create?

I would want them to figure out what they wanted to create. I am sure their ideas would be far more interesting than mine!

 

What advice can you offer teachers who are new to littleBits?

Provide time for your students to explore, tinker and investigate on their own in order to figure out what the littleBits do. I believe this exploratory inquiry leads to students’ ability to see the possibilities for littleBits themselves and to begin to think and imagine what they could create with the components.

 

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Janice detailed her experience using littleBits in the classroom over the course of five days; the document is available for download. We hope you find this a valuable resource for guidance and inspiration as you introduce littleBits to your own students!