Westmoreland IU 7: New technology Teaches Teamwork and Problem-Solving

 In the 21st-century economy, educators and businesspeople emphasize the importance of teamwork, creative thinking, and problem-solving.

However, teaching those “soft skills” for measurable results can be a challenge. Westmoreland IU 7 is one of the first schools in the nation using a new technology called littleBits to train teachers in encouraging student problem-solving and teamwork.

littleBits are best understood as Legos for technology. Tiny circuit boards, about Lego-sized, each serve very specific functions. One littleBit controls sound. Another acts like a light switch, while still another can make lights blink. There are also littleBits for motors, sensors, and other functions. They snap together with built-in magnets and work together in seemingly infinite combinations to create power, light, and sound for any functioning device a user can dream up, from motorized toy cars to flashlights made with paper-towel tubes.

Recognizing the professional development possibilities of littleBits, IU 7 created training sessions for teachers from many disciplines – not just STEM, but also teachers from all curriculum areas. Teachers learn the fundamentals of using littleBits, and then they brainstorm a problem to solve. In one session, two teams devised very different machines for picking up crumbs scattered on a table – one a mini-car with scoop and brush, the other a sort of rolling, sticky lint brush.

From there, teachers take littleBits kits to their classrooms, says IU 7 Educational Technology Integration Supervisor Timothy Hammill.

“Students start working, and they realize issues to address,” he says. “They start teaming. They delegate out problems. It’s a very dynamic environment.”

IU 7 expects to train about 100 teachers a year from its 17 school districts, including districts interested in starting their own initiatives in STEM and STEAM (that’s science, technology, engineering, art, and math).
In classroom projects, results are measured according to whether the team has fulfilled the steps required, whether the product succeeded, and how the product is presented.

“Students have to speak intelligently about the design and what was done in the process,” says Hammill. “This addresses a lot of those things that we have to integrate in relation to Common Core standards. Students are actively problem-solving. It’s about putting concepts into a real context instead of just studying about them.”

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