Southland schoolgirls' bee-saving app creates winning buzz video

Robyn Edie/Stuff

Makarewa school pupils with the App they have designed and built called 'Beefriend Pi', who is a bee. The App is to teach children more about bees and the role they play on the planet.

A love for bees and a passion for technology have led three Southland schoolgirls to create an app highlighting the pollinators' plight. The app has won them the South Island regional prize in the Tech Girl Superhero competition. The Beefriend Pi project is the result of hours of work by Madi McGearty, Kaycee Winsloe and Sophie Cundall in the McGearty family shed in Makarewa, north of Invercargill.

"They also won the prestigious overall United Nations environmental award, and they have been invited to submit their project to the World Technovation Challenge to be held in San Francisco next year," says Madi's mum Ginia McGearty. "They are very excited at the thought of where this project could lead to helping the bees." 

To enter Next Tech Girl Superhero, the children had to create an app about something they were interested in, along with a business plan and a pitch video. The competition is open to children in Australia and New Zealand.

Makarewa school pupils, from left, Kaycee Winsloe, 10, Madi McGearty, 9, and Sophie Cundall, 10, with the App they have ...
Robyn Edie

Makarewa school pupils, from left, Kaycee Winsloe, 10, Madi McGearty, 9, and Sophie Cundall, 10, with the App they have designed and built called 'Beefriend Pi'. The app is designed to teach children more about bees and the role they play on the planet.

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"We've noticed a big change in the bee population and how it's decreasing," nine-year-old Madi McGearty says. "And if we don't have bees it's not going to be good for us."

Her teammate Kaycee Winsloe, 10, says educating other children their age about the importance of bees was a key aim, and they've learned a lot more themselves, such as the fact bees seem to have their own personalities. "Different bees have different ways of getting to places and collecting pollen," she says.

Beefriend Pi came about when Madi's nana Karen Popham saw a story about the Next Tech Girl Superhero competition in the newspaper. "I thought, 'That would be good for the girls', not knowing how much it would involve," she says.

Sophie, Madi and Kaycee with their mentor Gabby Asplin.
Robyn Edie

Sophie, Madi and Kaycee with their mentor Gabby Asplin.

Popham is a gardener by trade and had talked to her granddaughter about the environment and the declining bee population, but the technology side of the project was another matter. "I have done my own website so I did know a bit," she says. "But I knew nothing about coding. I actually had to teach myself how to code before I taught them. It was huge. I was up to two and three in the morning just learning it."

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The girls were full of enthusiasm for both bees and coding, however. Every Sunday from 11am to 3pm they would gather in the McGearty shed with Popham and their mentor, former teacher Gabby Asplin.

The girls did all the illustrations for the colourful app themselves and made the promotional video. It contains facts about bees, information on how to promote healthy bee populations as well as Q and As.

Next Tech Girl Superhero is run by the Tech Girls Movement, founded by Queensland social entrepreneur Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen. It is a non-profit organisation aimed at promoting careers for women in technology and creating a more diverse IT workforce.

Sophie Cundall in particular could see her future career going in either the direction of technology or the environment. "Ever since we did this app it's got me really hooked in and I enjoy it heaps," she says.

But as is the way with 10-year-olds, she also says she likes working outdoors and had "kind of noticed" there weren't as many bees around. "It's just been a great experience. We've made people aware and we've done something out of our comfort zone," Sophie adds.

The three young bee ambassadors are also keen to take part in the Great Kiwi Bee Count, New Zealand Gardener's annual citizen survey of the bee population.

Popham says the three girls have learned a great deal, in particular how to work as a team. She also believes it is children who hold the key to encouraging the world to be more bee friendly. "It's the kids that keep reminding the parents," she says. "They'll say to mum, 'don't spray during the day, because the bees are out pollinating'."

 - NZ Gardener

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