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How Birdbrain Technologies® is inspiring a sense of wonder in one teacher’s after-school and summer programs.

August 27, 2021 8:26 AM | Ashley

How Birdbrain Technologies® is inspiring a sense of wonder in one teacher’s after-school and summer programs.

When you hear the terms “coding” and “robotics,” do you feel overwhelmed?

Excited? Intimidated? Curious?

Or maybe a little like this …


If you are like many educators, it is probably a mix of these emotions.  

There is good news though -- robotics and coding is now more accessible than ever thanks to companies like Birdbrain Technologies®. Their Hummingbird Robotics Kits and Finch Robots are helping teachers around the globe inspire students to learn to code and dive into the fascinating world of robotics. 

And one of those teachers is right here in Illinois

Jodi Mahoney, a technology teacher at Chicago Public Schools, teaches kindergarten through 8th grade, meaning she has to have a variety of knowledge to share. Desiring to go beyond her skills to give her students more opportunities, she searched for a way to incorporate coding and robotics into her classroom.

After discovering Birdbrain at ISTELive and again at a two-day workshop hosted by IDEA, she developed a plan to implement an after school program with the Hummingbird Kits and Finch Robots. 

The next hurdle -- one you’ve probably faced too -- was funding. Accessible as these kits may be, they do have a cost as expected for anything tech. 

Fortunately, she was able to get financial support from a parent fundraising group and had an amazing support system from her principal, Renee Mackin, and assistant principal, Gabriel Parra. So, in February 2020, she started her venture into robotics and coding with an after-school program. 

The program began with a group of 7 middle schoolers for four weeks. The students worked with the Humminbird kits with the hope of developing engineering and design skills, computational thinking, problem solving, creativity, and collaboration skills. 

“These kits allow you to help them access the kids’ confidence, especially the girls,” said Jodi. “What I try to focus on is inclusivity. I want everyone to see the creativeness in code. You don’t have to be super good at math or computer science. I tell my kids all the time I am not good at math, but can still do this.” 

After the four weeks, these students were supposed to become mentors to a group of second graders that would be in the second session of the program. 

But, unfortunately, it was cut short due to COVID. 

After a year and a half of no hands-on learning, Jodi was presented with the opportunity to teach robotics once again in the summer of 2021.

When her principal first asked her to do something for a summer camp, Jodi was hesitant. It had been an exhausting year for teachers, as you all know. She thought what she needed was a break.

“A couple days later she (the principal) brought it up again,” said Jodi. “As soon as I said no, I knew the best thing to do was to get kids back and play with Hummingbird kits. I thought, ‘surely I'll feel better by June.’”

Although her friends said she was crazy after the year they all just had, Jodi looks back on the summer camp and knows she made the right decision. 

“Our principal targeted kids who hadn’t come into the classroom during hybrid learning,” she said. “One kid wept the first day because he saw the gym and said, ‘oh there’s the gym .. I remember the gym.’ The kids needed the community.”

The mentoring model she had in place for the after-school program came in handy over the summer, too. Each group of kids were intermixed, ranging from first to eighth grade. 

“The mentoring model works so well with this,” she said. “When the older kids are working with the younger kids, it is empowering for both when they realize how much they have learned and can accomplish.”

Jodi says the true magic of these kits is how they connect the terminology and provide building blocks that give kids room to grow. Kids from kindergarten to high school can learn and develop their skills with just these two pieces of equipment.

“When you show a kindergartener the Finch Robot, they notice it looks like a bird,” says Jodi. “And they get this sense of wonder when they learn they can make the bird move. There are multiple levels with the app. Eventually they figure out you can make your Finch Robot move forward faster. It’s cool when a 7-year-old can grasp that.”

It’s moments like this that keeps Jodi humble.

“I immediately get fearful and think, ‘what am I going to do with this kid when they are in third grade,’” she says. “I just open the door and follow them through it.”

And even though the pandemic threw a wrench in Jodi’s initial plans, she knows positive things have come out of it.

“The cool thing about covid is that you have a group of kids that are way more tech savvy now,” she said. “There are kids that are correcting me now. Many kids have made great use of this time to learn a bunch of stuff, especially in the technology world.”

Jodi is hopeful to start her after-school program back up this school year. Eventually, her plan is to bring the Finch Robot and Hummingbird Kits into her classroom.

After hearing Jodi’s story, we hope the words “coding” and “robotics” make you feel inspired and encouraged. 

Are you thinking about implementing Birdbrain Technologies in your classroom or program? 

If you are an IDEA member, contact us for pricing details and to place an order or click here to see what we have available in our store!

Students enjoy learning about coding and robotics during Summer Camp. 

Call: 630 628 1088

2735 Hassert Blvd.

Ste 135 PMB 304

Naperville, Illinois 60564

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