Jorge Valenzuela is embracing the concept of lifelong learning and has stepped down from his previous position in order to return to school for his doctorate. Here, he looks back on his experience with as a littleBits Lead Educator as he moves forward.
My littleBits Story
I’m a BIG fan of littleBits! I discovered littleBits during my tenure as supervisor of the Technology & Engineering Education (TEE) program at Richmond Public Schools (RPS). I served school division priorities with STEM leadership projects. The goal was to integrate and connect both academic and CTE K-12 classrooms to higher education and the workforce. Part of my work was developing and/or acquiring STEM curriculum for the division’s TEE teachers. At the time, we had amassed a rich curriculum for our STEM ecosystem; including departmentally developed project-based-learning (PBL) projects, the world-renowned Engineering by Design, and Project Lead The Way. We utilized several products like LEGO Mindstorm, VEX IQ Kits and Makey Makey for helping students master building, programming, using sensors, motors, gears, and also lessons in Physics.
Although I was proud of all we did with our students, I still felt we weren’t reaching all of them. Some students wanted more voice and choice to express their individual creativity with the products they were creating. All of our students had the power to make, but not everyone wanted to be told what to build. Luckily the standards for our Technology Foundations class inspired me as they require students to design a system (or model) that is controlled by electronics. Hoping to find a product that offered students more choices over what types of models they built, I began searching.
During one of my (many) late-night YouTube searches, I discovered a littleBits STEAM video. The concept of “Make something that does something” really caught my attention as it correlated with the Technology Foundations standards. A Google search of littleBits led me to Ayah Bdeir’s TED Talk, and from there, I became hooked on the Bits. I was amazed at how she likened the automatic binding brick to the concrete block and then to the concept of digital bricks. Ayah had used the instructional scaffold of connecting to previous knowledge to teach the complex concept of digital electronics. If her lesson worked for me, then I knew it would work for our teachers and students.
Introducing littleBits to Students & Educators
At RPS, we first integrated the littleBits STEAM Student Set into our summer enrichment Junior Engineers Program. Due to the positive response from both students and teachers, we then incorporated them into our division-wide Makerspaces. I also conducted several showcases/workshops for educators in our school division (administrators and teachers) for them to learn how incorporating littleBits into classroom projects helps students master academic standards and 21st-century competency skills. The successes at RPS caught the attention of littleBits. They invited me to take part in a webinar with Sergio Anaya on best practices and student successes with using littleBits.
Joining the littleBits Lead Educators Program
When the littleBits Lead Educator program manager asked me to the join the littleBits Lead Educators (LLE) Program, I was SUPER excited! The program is a collaboration between littleBits (their education, product, and community experts) and top educators across the country, with a goal of co-designing student-centered activities, tools, and resources using littleBits. This would start with co-designing for the new littleBits Code Kit.
I briefly coded last year with the littleBits Arduino Bit, and I knew the Code Kit was the opportunity I needed to continue learning. Previously, I coded in college with C++, and Visual Basic (VB). The Code Kit app reminded me of the VB ActiveX controls I used previously (as I recall back in 2001). I found the tutorials on basic coding principles to be empowering — they covered concepts such as inputs & outputs, looping, variables, and functions. It had been a while for me, and the app allowed me to focus on the basics with tutorials right at my fingertips. These tools proved to be even more fantastic for the young people that we introduced to coding with the Bits.
Another plus for me in being a part of the LLE program was working with students to master and apply both coding and engineering principles. To me, success always relates to developing internal self-mastery of the fundamentals before getting fancy. “One cannot learn calculus without first learning algebra,” as Dr. Stephen R. Covey once said. Getting grounded in the basics is what initially attracted me to littleBits, and the students appreciated it as well. They’ll never forget these important concepts as they build the capacity for utilizing more complex languages, and as they learn how to write algorithms within bigger data structures.
The LLE program and the Code Kit helped me sharpen my coding skills as an educator as much as it did for the students I worked with. My plan now is to assist other teachers and young people with mastering these skills through a series of workshops. I’ll also be collaborating with other educators to develop and implement PBL where students apply the skills learned through the Code Kit to real-world scenarios. We currently live in the robotic age — littleBits develops the tools and resources that help students and educators be able to both navigate and invent in today’s world!
Jorge Valenzuela Former supervisor of the Technology & Engineering Education at Richmond Public Schools