LeRoy HandoverRGBTake a step out of your comfort zone. I’m sure you’ve thought about trying something new in your classroom, but were tied to many other requirements that needed your immediate attention- Common Core, standards based grading, student behavior, parent issues. For many years, I wanted to implement something new to enhance my teaching, but I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes it takes an unexpected event to jumpstart that process. For me, it was my son playing with some electronics.

Introduction to littleBits

My son and I were at Barnes & Noble and an announcement was made that a Maker Faire session was about to start in the media department. We headed over to where the staff had set up a demonstration of littleBits. My son instantly gravitated to the pieces and began imagining, designing, and creating within minutes. Lo and behold we were there for about two hours! I instantly knew what I wanted to do to change my curriculum and my quest to implement a different kind of technology in my classroom began in earnest.

The Quest

I researched the product and bought a couple boxes to try. I set the littleBits out for my students to explore, not teaching them what to do or how to use them. It was just as impressive as when my son played with them for the first time. They were hooked! I decided to let go of my lesson plans for the day and allowed them to keep designing and creating. One of the sample projects required a feather. I searched my cabinets and drawers, but did not find one; completely ignoring the colorful boa on my bulletin board. My students were determined to complete the task; one student walked over to my board and plucked the feather off my boa! I couldn’t believe it, but I smiled at her boldness and drive to finish the project. I knew I had to get more littleBits; two boxes were not enough for 30 students. I wanted my students to be exposed to engineering.  I decided to leave my comfort zone and apply for the LeRoy Finkel Fellowship at CUE 2016.

What Am I Doing?

I had no idea how to complete the application. I read through the requirements and felt some anxiety. Make a minute-long video? If I was chosen, I would have to give a presentation in front of an audience of teachers, administrators, some district colleagues, and judges. I wasn’t sure if I could do that. I would also have to write a blog. I needed to get past these obstacles because I didn’t have the funds to buy the littleBits classroom set that I wanted and needed.

LeRoy Finkel Fellowship

Surprisingly, I received notification that I was selected as a finalist to present at the CUE National Conference for the fellowship grant. Now I had to get my mind in gear to prepare myself for this scary, exciting opportunity. The year’s list of many firsts grew: present at a conference, make a Google slideshow, and later create a blog! The day arrived at CUE 2016 and the presentation went as I had anticipated. My hopes were both high, but at the same time, I was not sure if I would received the full grant.

After some breathless waiting the judges announced the winner: a teacher who wanted a GoPro. I was deflated. I poured my heart and all my energy into that presentation. I knew it was a long shot, but still had the glimmer of the possibility I would receive the winning amount. After the session was over, I was approached by one of the judges, Roger Wagner, and he mentioned he was interested in helping me achieve my goal.

Roads lead to many different journeys

Back at school after the CUE Conference, I approached my principal with the same proposal I gave during my presentation. I was still driven to find a way to obtain a classroom set of littleBits for my students. My administrator was ecstatic that I wanted to implement technology in my classroom. He mentioned the possibility of funds that could help purchase a school library set! I couldn’t believe it. I struck gold! We ordered the littleBits and turned my classroom dream into a school wide program. We created Engineering Days for grades 3-6 for the last two months of school. Teachers from other schools in our district came to observe the excitement that was empowering our Maker Space in the library. The students’ creativity was impressive and I set up a day at Barnes & Noble to showcase their projects. I felt good about the direction of the students’ learning.

I kept in contact with Mr. Wagner and he helped me obtain hardware and a program he designed called the HyperDuino. It’s a system that enables student created projects to be linked to touch sensors, lights, and uploaded videos to make the projects interactive.

I received the sets towards the end of the school year and made it a priority to fit it into my day in addition to using the littleBits. I integrated the engineering app and hardware with learning the digestive system. My students created models and attached the touch sensors and lights linked to YouTube videos they uploaded to the program. They were once again empowered and so was I. It’s hard to imagine 10 year-olds doing this until it actually happens. It’s exciting to see their hearts jump and eyes light up because of their creations.

This summer, I decided to leave my comfort zone again. I had been teaching at an elementary school I truly loved for 19 years and wanted to try something new. I wanted to expand what I had been learning the past few months to other students. I became an instructional coach at a junior high within the district. Teamed with a new teacher, to whom I am grateful because of her willingness to let me work with her students. Her 8th graders built models relating to chemistry: elements, periodic table, energy levels of atoms, chemical change, etc. and linked them to the HyperDuino. Together as a team we recently presented during the Share Fair at the STEM Symposium in Anaheim, Ca. The students’ confidence levels were great to see to go from shy to very personable with the many educators that stopped by our table to see the students’ designs.

Moving forward

I now know what I am capable of and what I can do to help students accomplish more than just learning. My own confidence has grown. I have learned from my students. It’s always intimidating, sometimes debilitating, to take that first step, but I’m grateful I attempted those obstacles. Momentarily, I don’t feel I have a comfort zone because I somehow keep finding new things to try; and it’s a good place to be.

Interested in submitting your Big Idea? Deadline to apply for the 2017 LeRoy Finkel Fellowship is December 8, 2016.

Lisa Lista has taught in the Chino Valley Unified School District at Country Springs Elementary in Chino Hills, CA for 19 years. She is currently an instructional coach at Woodcrest Junior High in Ontario, CA. She received her M. Ed and Administrative Credential from Cal State San Bernardino. Her passion for implementing technology in the classroom is expanding as she is helping create a STEM LAB for students to go to during lunch and after school. Follow her on Twitter @LisaLista73.

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