Anna Iarotska, co-founder and CEO of Robo Wunderkind, is one of the keynote speakers at the 2023 AACE EdMedia Conference in Vienna, Austria. The Austrian EdTech startup Robo Wunderkind offers an educational platform and product that encourages children to explore and experiment with robotics in a fun and intuitive way. Designed for kids aged 5 and above, the product offers hands-on learning experiences that combine colorful, physical building blocks with a visual programming language environment. Through interlocking modules, children can easily create and customize their own robots. An easy-to-use app allows learners to program their robot through a visual interface. The product is designed for adoption by elementary schools. A STEAM Hub with curriculum resources contains standard-aligned lesson plans. Furthermore, teachers are offered professional development opportunities and receive implementation support. Students have access to a wide range of educational resources, including step-by-step tutorials, interactive challenges, and creative projects.
What inspired the creation of Robo Wunderkind, and what specific goals did you set out to achieve with the company?
The inspiration behind Robo Wunderkind stems from our strong desire to make robotics, coding, and in general, technology education accessible and engaging for children. As a team of entrepreneurs, educators, and technologists, we deeply understand the significance of preparing young learners for the digital age and equipping them with the skills necessary for their future success. Our ultimate goal is to help every child realize their potential.
With Robo Wunderkind, our specific objectives are to encourage hands-on learning, foster creativity and problem-solving skills, and provide an inclusive environment for learners from all backgrounds. We aim to bridge the gap between physical play and digital programming by combining colorful building blocks with a visual programming language. By doing so, we empower children aged 5 and above to become confident creators and innovators in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics).
Our mission goes beyond just creating a product. We are dedicated to providing children, regardless of their socioeconomic background, with access to quality STEM education and opportunities. We strive to “future-proof” K-5 students through an equitable and rigorous STEM education. This involves exposing students to STEM early on, increasing engagement through our modular robotics, and offering an innovative curriculum that integrates STEM learning into core subject areas.
To ensure the broadest impact, we actively seek long-term partnerships with districts and schools, particularly those in low-income communities. We work closely with them to plan implementations, provide ongoing training and support to teachers, and connect students to STEM role models within their communities. Our vision is to create a lasting positive change in education by empowering students with the skills and confidence they need to thrive in an increasingly technological world.
Typically, when people hear about EdTech startups, they think of Silicon Valley, not Wachau Valley. How did the product idea and the company evolve?
While it is true that Robo Wunderkind originated in Vienna, Austria, we consider ourselves an international team with a global reach. Our diverse team members are spread across different countries and cultures, influencing our product’s evolution and success. Notably, our decision to become a US-based company last year had a significant impact on our growth.
The initial spark for Robo Wunderkind came when I met the two other co-founders at the Pioneers Festival in Vienna back in 2013. We quickly recognized the enormous demand for coding and robotics education, and that realization fueled our passion for creating a solution that could meet this need. That’s how it all started in Austria.
It’s worth mentioning that our journey received a significant boost in 2015 when we had the opportunity to present at TechCrunch in Silicon Valley. The exposure and media attention from that event catapulted our visibility and helped us gain momentum in the EdTech industry.
Overall, while our roots may be in Vienna, our ambitions and aspirations have always been global. We are proud to have a diverse team and to draw inspiration from different cultures as we continue to evolve and make a positive impact on children’s education worldwide, especially in the United States.
How many schools are currently using the ‘Wunderblocks’?
We launched our first product in 2018, and we have successfully sold over 25,000 units of our modular robotics kit in 16 countries. Our products are used in more than 5000 schools across the globe.
In 2022, we made a strategic decision recognizing the crucial need for school partnerships that consistently support integrating the latest technology into classrooms year after year. The United States is the first market where we launched our new model. As a result, we successfully launched our subscription model and established implementations in seven prominent school districts across North Carolina, New York, Maryland, Virginia, and Ohio. Currently, our new solution is utilized by 200 schools within these districts, positively impacting the education of over 10,000 students.
It’s important to highlight that our presence in North Carolina extends to a diverse range of schools, including Title I schools, which comprise 70% of the institutions where our solution is implemented. By targeting these schools, we aim to provide access to our educational tools for students who may have yet to have the opportunity otherwise. We firmly believe in promoting equitable education opportunities, and this strategic decision allows us to make a meaningful impact on students from diverse backgrounds.
How do you align your curriculum plans with different national education standards? Do you collaborate with teachers?
At Robo Wunderkind, we prioritize aligning our curriculum plans with different national education standards to ensure our educational program meets the needs of schools and teachers. Our in-house Curriculum Design Team is dedicated to this task, focusing on developing a comprehensive program that can be facilitated across all subject areas. Our curriculum is designed for students in grades K-5, and we plan to expand it to encompass grades K-8 in the near future.
We understand the challenge many states face in integrating STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) into subjects such as Math, ELA (English Language Arts), Social Studies, and Science, where dedicated STEAM activities may be lacking. This is where our product shines, as our modular building blocks can be effectively utilized in all these subject areas. Our curriculum team develops projects and activities targeting various standards, ensuring a seamless integration of STEAM education.
When it comes to specific standards, we prioritize the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) standards for Computer Science, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) for Science, International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) standards, as well as the Common Core standards for Social Studies, Math, and ELA. By incorporating these standards into our curriculum, we ensure that our educational program aligns with the requirements set by national education standards bodies.
Our platform offers over 100 hours of curriculum content, which is continuously expanding. As we began securing more extensive partnerships, we realized the importance of providing individualized pacing for our district partners. This means collaborating closely with our customers to develop tailored curriculum alignments that suit their needs. By offering this detailed alignment support, we can address a significant challenge faced by districts and provide them with a valuable solution that matches their local standards completely.
Many states may have adaptations or variations of the standards we align to, and we take this into account. We go the extra mile by creating crosswalks and mapping our curriculum to these state-specific standards.
Could you share some stories of schools that piloted Robo Wunderkind? What positive impact were you able to observe on children’s understanding of coding and robotics?
During the initial phase of our expansion in the United States, we conducted several pilot programs with schools to observe the impact of Robo Wunderkind firsthand. We needed to have the product in classrooms and experience the struggles and successes alongside teachers and students. Our team spent countless hours observing lessons and engaging in weekly conversations with teachers over several months.
One of the most significant observations was the student’s undeniable enthusiasm and love for Robo Wunderkind. Their engagement levels soared like never before. The hands-on nature of the product and the excitement of working with robotics and coding captured their attention and sparked a genuine passion for learning.
Teachers also appreciated the transformative effect Robo Wunderkind had on their classrooms. They found that previously mundane and challenging topics, such as math concepts and vocabulary, suddenly became more engaging and accessible to students. The tangible connection between the physical building blocks and the abstract concepts made learning more tangible and enjoyable for everyone involved.
Furthermore, we witnessed remarkable instances of teamwork and collaboration among students. Students who may have been reluctant to work in teams previously discovered newfound enthusiasm for partnering and collaborating on projects. Robo Wunderkind fostered an environment that encouraged cooperation, problem-solving, and communication skills, leading to positive social dynamics within the classroom.
One of the most intriguing and rewarding outcomes was empowering students who struggled in traditional subjects like Math and ELA (English Language Arts). In many Title I schools, students often face challenges due to a lack of support at home, resulting in deficits in reading and writing skills upon entering Kindergarten. However, through our program, teachers reported that these same students, who may have been behind in ELA and Math, emerged as classroom stars in coding and robotics. Robo Wunderkind provided a unique avenue for these students to shine and showcase their abilities, boosting their confidence and fostering a sense of achievement.
Witnessing the enormous potential of Robo Wunderkind to create equal opportunities in schools was truly inspiring and impactful. We recognized the power of our product to level the playing field and provide all students with the chance to excel and succeed. This realization has further fueled our commitment to building a more inclusive and equitable educational experience for all learners.
Did you observe any specific effects on gender equality and engagement of diverse learners?
Absolutely, we observed positive effects on gender equality and engagement among diverse learners through our program. One of our key takeaways is that starting early significantly increases the chances of students, regardless of gender, staying interested in STEM fields and developing a passion for them.
Our program is designed to be inclusive for both girls and boys. We strongly believe in the importance of introducing STEM education at an early age. As a female who didn’t have the opportunity to explore STEM fields during my school days, I understand the significance of providing such programs to inspire and engage students from all backgrounds.
We have observed that girls thoroughly enjoy our program and actively participate in it. They show enthusiasm and perform exceptionally well, grow their skills, and have fun while doing so. Similarly, boys also find great value and enjoyment in our program. We aim to bridge the gender gap in STEM by creating an environment where all students can thrive and foster their interests.
Will the kits be marketed solely to schools or can individual learners and their families expect access in the future?
Currently, our primary focus is on marketing our program to schools. We strongly believe in the value of forming long-term partnerships with educational institutions and providing continuous support to teachers. This is why we have implemented a subscription-based model that enables us to deliver ongoing assistance and ensure the program’s effective implementation in schools.
While our immediate focus remains on providing the best solution for schools, we recognize that the home market holds potential opportunities, particularly as the landscape of education evolves. Although offering our program to individual learners and families is not our current priority, we may explore this avenue in the future. As circumstances change, we will assess the feasibility of expanding our reach to homes and families to further promote STEM education and inspire young learners outside of the classroom.
How do you hope to grow the product market? Do you have specific plans for 2023?
At the core of our marketing strategy is our commitment to making our customers raving fans. We prioritize customer success and have seen the powerful impact of this approach. By focusing on delivering exceptional value and support, we have witnessed a shift from outbound campaigns to inbound requests.
Each customer we acquire becomes a catalyst for further growth. In our market, we are exceeding expectations resulting in exponential returns. Educators and those involved in education share our passion for fostering learning, and they recognize our dedication to education as they do.
The growth potential in our product market is tremendous. While we are currently concentrated mainly on the East Coast, we have plans to double our user base next year. However, this is just the beginning. We are diligently working on validating our concept and establishing scalable processes. Our top priority is being a reliable partner to our customers, and understanding the crucial role teachers play in shaping the education of our children. We support them and strive to make their lives easier.
A key aspect of our focus is integrating AI and IoT into our program. By bringing these cutting-edge technologies into elementary school classrooms, we aim to position ourselves as the leading provider of simplified, teacher-friendly solutions for incorporating the latest technologies. We are committed to empowering every teacher, regardless of their experience level, to confidently teach and engage their students using our platform.
We foresee increased classroom time dedicated to robotics, AI, computer science, and other relevant subjects in the next five years. We aim to reach one million students by 2025, equipping them with the essential skills and knowledge to thrive in the digital age. Through our continuous innovation and unwavering dedication to education, we are confident in our ability to make a lasting impact on the future of learning.
RoboWunderkind in the Teach For Austria Program
Anna Iarotska, Co-Founder & CEO, robo wunderkind
Anna Iarotska graduated from the London School of Economics and worked in consulting for several years before she entered the start-up world. With a vision of inspiring children to use technology creatively, she co-founded an award-winning edtech Robo Wunderkind together with Yuri Levin and Rustem Akishbekov. The robotics kits and coding apps of the Viennese start-up are now used by educators in more than 500 international schools and educational institutions and inspire more than 7,000 private users.
Anna is one of the top opinion leaders in digital educational trends in Europe and has been named one of the top 100 Edtech influencers in 2020 by Edtech Digest. In 2019 she won the prestigious Spark award – The German Digital Prize in the category “Female Founder”.