NEW CANAAN — Since joining Saxe Middle School 19 years ago Vivian Birdsall has helped to start a Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) program.

Though she has been a teacher for over 19 years, her love for STEM originated from a career long before she became a teacher.

“Before I was a teacher I was a 727 pilot,” Birdsall said. “Once I had kids I left flying and became a teacher.”

The Southbury resident originally worked for a company called People Express. Shortly after her company was bought out she decided to make a career change.

“I decided I didn’t want that kind of lifesyle so I went into teaching,” Birdsall said.

More Information

To learn more about the STEM program at Saxe Middle School visit https://www.ncps-k12.org/Page/5573

Her time as a flight instructor led to her decision to become a teacher.

“I really enjoyed instructing,” Birdsall said. “So I thought let me see if I can teach kids.”

15 years ago Birdsall became the math instructional leader at Saxe Middle School. Despite the change in jobs she still wanted to teach students.

“I had no kids during the day because I was working with adults as a coach and coordinator,” she said.

Her passion to teach and love of technology led her to start an afterschool club. Originally it started as a small gathering in the library for kids interested in technology.

“After about 10 years I went from my original four kids to 104 kids,” she said. “They decided that maybe it was a good time to turn it into an actual class.”

First the four kids wanted to simply build websites. The following year the kids wanted to build a computer and the year after that the kids built one of the first 3D maker bot kits.

In the STEM class at Saxe Middle School she teaches a variety of things. This includes Vex Robotics where students can design, build and code a robot.

She also teaches Autodesk Inventor, a 3D modeling program, and MIT Apps Inventor, a program for students to learn to code apps for Android devices.

Birdsall said the learning curve has been huge with technology rapidly changing since she came to the school 19 years ago. Over the years she has grown with her students as technology evolves.

“The program has grownup as technology has grownup,” Birdsall said. “Everytime technology made a jump the kids and I jumped with it.”

Students have made robots out of kits and even made charging units for phones. As it became easier to code The support of the middle school and the community has allowed the program to blossom over the years, she said.

“We’ve had parents come in who are experts in their fields come in and talk to kids,” Birdsall said. “We’ve also had parents help kids with whatever their expertise and things that I can’t do.”

Over the years she has learned with her students and works with experts in fields she may not be knowledgeable in. For example, one parent who was a scientist came to the class and showed students how to make Hydrogen out of water. Using a solar panel he showed students how to power a motor.

“We’ve had people from all over the community who do incredible things,” Birdsall said “I welcome people from the community who can help teach the kids.”

Over the years as technology has evolved and the STEM program has grown the capabilities of the class has increased. Birdsall recently asked for a grant so students can experiment with virtual reality. Students will have the opportunity to program Microsoft Hololens for virtual reality.

“People don’t realize how sophisticated eighth graders can get,” Birdsall said. “As technology grows up so do the kids.”

dj.simmons@hearstmediact.com, 203-842-2568