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Expanding access to computer science through tangible coding experiences grounded in research about student engagement.

The Finch Robot

location_on Pittsburgh, United States
This educational technology tool can be programmed in five different coding languages, from Scratch to Java, making it immediately accessible to learners of any age and ability. A free loan program and resources to integrate into core curriculum helps any educator expose students to computer science as part of the regular school day.
My students fell in love with the Finch robots and many say they will always remember the glowing nose. They felt proud that they were able to problem solve and program a robot.

Topez Patterson, Technology Teacher, P.S. 123Q, South Ozone Park, NY

Overview

HundrED has selected this innovation to

Pittsburgh, USA

Key figures

Innovation Overview

5 - 18
Age Group
250 000
Children/Users
1
Country
2011
Established
For-profit
Organisation
1 752
Views
Updated on January 15th, 2021
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about the innovation

How can we afford ALL students the opportunities that come with learning computer science?

The Finch Robot was created at Carnegie Mellon University as part of a research program that aimed to create tools that improved motivation and interest in studying STEM. The hands-on, interactive nature of the Finch Robot engaged students who may have felt computer science, with its solitary sitting and looking at a screen reputation, was not for them.


In 2020, BirdBrain launched the next generation of the Finch Robot, Finch Robot 2.0. Eliminating the USB tether and featuring improved movement, LED lights, and sensors, this revolutionary update to the Finch hardware ensures the robot can continue to serve its mission of deep and joyful computer science learning for many years to come. 

When BirdBrain Technologies was created as a company in 2010, our founder, Dr. Tom Lauwers, quickly realized that the benefits of physical computing would not be shared equally among all students, due to the cost of educational technology. To combat this problem he started the Finch Robot loan program, enabling schools to borrow this innovative technology for free with the hopes that one day all students would have the chance to program a robot as a part of their regular school day.

The program has grown over the years and we are now loaning 1200 Finch Robots at any given time to schools across the United States. Our loans have reached over 1000 organizations in all 50 states and Washington DC. We loan to organizations serving students in juvenile detention settings, on Native American reservations, working with students with autism and other learning disabilities, girls working in single-sex environments, deaf students, among many others. In the Remake Learning area alone we’ve reached schools in rural, suburban, and urban settings. Many of our loan organizations work with youth from low-income families and from ethnicities underrepresented in computer science. So far we’ve reached over 168,000 students with our free robot loans, and we’re still going!

We hear many positive stories about how students respond to the Finch Robots; a few of these are collected in the posts below. In addition to experiencing hands-on computer science learning, students have used the Finch Robots to advocate for computer science education with their school boards and superintendents. Some students have even taken the Finches on road trips to their state houses to impress upon their state politicians the need for innovative education. In New Hampshire an enterprising group of students helped save their teacher’s job from being eliminated, using the Finch Robot loan as an example:            

    “Our district is making significant cutbacks for next year, my job was proposed to be eliminated, however, it was put back in after the students voiced their feedback.... They used the Finch Robots as an example of what learning is all about and how FUN needs to be part of their learning experiences. Incredible testament.”

Another program outcome is that teachers use the Finch Robot loan to build community with their peers. Many loan recipients have used the robots to provide professional development within their districts, as well as at local EdCamps. Loan recipients have also given Finch Robot presentations at regional and national conferences, such as the National Science Teachers Association and SXSWedu. Additionally, when teachers from the same district apply for a loan we introduce them to each other and they form a cohort of innovative teachers in a district, working together on bringing robotics to their students. The excitement generated by the loan can often catalyze a permanent change at an organization, most specifically by allowing participating teachers to generate community interest to advocate for permanent computer science offerings. The addition of the loan robots to an existing computer science class can catalyze interest in the class, and teachers often borrow the robots specifically to boost enrollment in their existing classes.

The loan program also allows us to continuously receive feedback on how to improve our offerings to better meet the needs of diverse users. We adapt our materials and add new lessons based on loan program feedback. We also participate in ongoing research using the Finch Robot; a professor at Southern Utah University used the loan Finch Robots to demonstrate the feasibility of providing robotics education at scale in a low-income, rural, elementary population. 

At BirdBrain Technologies we believe that all students, regardless of background, have a right to learn computer science in deep and joyful ways. The Finch Robot Loan Program is our way of diversifying the reach of our robots and inspiring young programmers across the country.




Research

HundrED Academy Review

Media

See this innovation in action

Finch Robot 2.0 Drop Test
What happens when a Finch Robot 2.0 drops off a table? It just keeps going...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDnrtL5_4HQ
Finch Chorus Line
One of the neat features of the Finch Robot 2.0 is an ability to use radio to communicate between up to 250 robots. Here 19 of them are dancing together, though 1 is a little bit out of sync...https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qouVW_oVDPs
Introducing the Finch Robot 2.0!
The Finch robot 2.0 is the next generation of the Finch. Same great Computer Science learning, now without a cord!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jiBCCskKkv8&t
Finch Loan Program Impact
Collaborative Learning Through Robotics
Students at Towns County Elementary School in Hiawassee, GA demonstrate their collaborative learning with the Finch Robots.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jAJ0pol7LU
Finch Robots Promote Coding
Minnetonaka Public Schools in MN share how using the loaned Finch Robots ensured that their students do not just use the technology of the future, they also build it.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OHjwTHhE_Rs
Teachers' Reactions to the Finch Robot loan program
I have had many teacher moments where I just listen and look at my kids and feel proud. I am seeing cooperation and teamwork, I am also seeing kids thrive in a new atmosphere! Kids who with problem solving in math is difficult but are succeeding in this. I am so grateful for this opportunity and to see these kids in a new light. I am seeing them grow in confidence and exceeding at a new skill! Thanks again! - Teacher, Bennington, NE"Awesome!" "I love my finchy!" "So cool!" These were just a few of the comments heard from students as we explored the Finch Robots this winter. Students in grades Kindergarten through 4th grade utilized the 4Cs as they collaborated, created, communicated and thought critically to learn to program their robots. One of my favorite parts of this experience is that the Finches were so easy to get started. The Finches went through mazes, danced, made music and more. High impact, high engagement - these robots were a hit! -Jenny Lussier, Librarian, Middlefield, CTThe Finch Robots add more depth and excitement to our summer programming. Campers enter the room engaged and continue to be challenged well after they figure out the basics of the programming languages and capabilities of the robots. This keeps the kids motivated and hungry for more, AKA the best feeling a camp instructor can have! - Luke Hladek, Teacher, Wheeling, WVI have already noticed a significant difference in this year's student learning with the Finch robots when compared to last year's, who did not have the access to the robots. The Finch robots make it easy to observe exactly what their code is doing--and it's fun! -Sara Kazemi, AP Computer Science Teacher, San Diego, CAWhat I liked as an educator was the true differentiation that occurred when using the Finch Robots with my students. Typically, it is difficult to design a lesson that meets each student at their skill level and engage them at the same time. With the Finch, we had students with little to no computer programming experience and other more advanced students. The end results were successful projects created by students at different ability levels. — Wendy Steiner, High School English Teacher, Carnegie, PAThe amazing thing about the Finch Robots was how quickly my students were able to figure out how to use them and make them do what they wanted -- this was a major confidence boost for many of our students that were less confident with new technologies. Plus, they had a blast while learning! What's better than that? — Leslie Gonzalez, Middle School Library Media Specialist, Athens, GAThe Finch robots are so simple to use and easily span classes. It was literally a "snap" to use the Finches with our 3 and 4 year old classes! Overheard in a 4 year old class: "This is the best day of my life!" — Martha Brower, Technology Director, Reidsville, NC
Combining Robotics and the Arts
Terri Gaussoin's 4th and 5th grade students at the Eubank Academy of Fine Arts in Albuquerque, NM combined the music and history of jazz with robotics and coding using their loan Finch Robots. Working in collaboration with high school mentors from the Digital Arts & Technology Academy (DATA) and their math & science teacher Aaron Jawson, the culminating project of this exciting endeavor was a music video combining Duke Ellington's "It Don't Mean A Thing" and the Finch Robots.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-qnzH-w880Y
Students' reactions to the Finch Robot loan program
The Finch was difficult at first, but when I got the hang of it it was really fun. I made the Finch change colors, go backwards, talk, and do doughnuts (go in circles). I would program the Finch robots everyday! — 4th Grade Student, Griffin County, GADear Birdbrain Technologies, I had so much fun on the finches! Thank you very much for loaning them. I had so much fun I might even ask for one for Christmas! They offer a great learning experience. These finches are amazing robots for children. -6th Grade Student, Lebanon, TNDear BirdBrain Technologies, I enjoyed using your Finch robot. It's amazing what you can do if you put your mind to it. I couldn't figure it out at first but then I got the hang of it. I started to enjoy it more and more. I would like to say thank you for letting my school borrow your robots. - 5th Grade Student, Monroe, NCDear BirdBrain Technologies, Thank you so much for letting us barrow the Finch robots. My favorite part was the drawing. Once we got it going all it did was circles so me and my partner were determine to make a square. I was pretty sad that we had to send the Finches back to you guys! I loved the Finches. - 5th Grade Student, Monroe, NC

Milestones

Achievements & Awards

May 2019
Pittsburgh, USA
May 2019
100 views
March 2019
Innovation page created on HundrED.org
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Steps

Inspired to implement this? Here's how...

01
Investment in Educational Technology
In order to start a loan program you need to invest in the educational technology you wish to loan to teachers. It can be one product or a whole lending library of options.
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02
Professional Development
In order for educators to be successful using products from a lending library they need appropriate professional development.
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03
Logistics
While the intent behind the loan program is of utmost importance, it is the small details which can determine a program's success.
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