Finch Loan Program
The Finch loan program is our contribution to this year's Computer Science Education Week and Code.org's Hour of Code initiative. We are loaning out hundreds of Finch robots for use by school districts over the next year.
The program kicks off in December, 2013, just before the official start of CS education week (December 9 to 15). We are loaning out six sets of 50 robots to over 70 school districts and other organizations around the country. These robots will move to a new location every month through at least January 2015. All together, we anticipate that the robots will be used by 15,000-30,000 students.
Our goal is to catalyze coding and computer science learning experiences for students who might not ordinarily have the opportunity to program a robot as part of their typical classroom experience. The program is completely free for participating schools; we are covering all shipping costs and will replace any robots that break during the program (we are confident in the Finch's robustness!).
To ensure that schools and teachers are prepared to use the Finches when they arrive, we are creating a number of sample activities in the spirit of the one hour of code project. Our activities will take anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours to complete, and are designed to be accessible to novice programmers. Additionally, we are sending two robots to each participating organization at least two months in advance of when the main batch of robots is scheduled to arrive to ensure that there are no software or IT glitches on school computers, and to allow teachers participating in the program to practice the activity.
Each organization was selected according to the following requirements:
- Pledge to share the robots equally between students; we believe coding is a fundamental and basic skill, not an advanced topic. If any student in a given grade is provided this opportunity, all of their peers in that grade should receive it as well.
- Pledge for the majority of students in the program to be in 4th-9th grade. Scratch and Snap! are quick to learn and successfully used by children as young as 7 or 8.
- Pledge to tell us the number of students who participated in the program upon program completion.
- Can deploy the program to at least 250 students. We will be shipping robots in batches of 50, and we expect each robot can be used by a minimum of five different students in the course of the month.
- Have teachers or volunteers ready to participate in two-three hours of online training and willing to dedicate an additional five hours to preparation/learning.
- Have a standard period (at least 40 minutes, hopefully longer) of time available to devote to the activity.
- Have a laptop cart or computer lab that allows for a ratio of no more than two students per computer/robot.
Finally, we gave precedence to applications coming from school districts that have a large number of students in free/reduced lunch programs at the schools in which they plan to use the robots.
Applications for the 2014 year are closed. We were able to provide robots to 75 of 160 applying organizations. If the program succeeds, we will re-open applications in August 2014 for 2015.
BirdBrain Technologies was founded in 2010 to commercialize educational robots and kits from the Carnegie Mellon CREATE Lab. The Finch robot, released in 2011, is our first product and is designed for use in introductory computer science education. The Finch is in use in hundreds of CS classrooms, from elementary school through college. It is a small, USB powered robot with light, obstacle, temperature, and acceleration sensors. Students can program the Finch in a wide variety of languages and environments, including Java, Python, C/C++/C#, Visual BASIC, Alice, and Snap!/Scratch 2.0.