Posts from hacking education

Attention All Software Engineers: Please Volunteer During The Hour Of Code

The Hour Of Code is a great hack that introduces coding to students in K-12 schools all around the country. Most schools don’t have CS teachers and CS classes. But any teacher in any classroom in any school can find one hour to get their students in front of a computer writing code. And so that’s what the hour of code does. Last year 15mm students did an hour of code. Think about that for a second. 15mm students wrote code for an hour last year. That’s a gateway to something more for the students, teachers, and schools. Which is exactly the point.

The Hour Of Code happens during CS Ed week which is December 8-14 this year. And the numbers are going to be even bigger this year. And so here is my throwdown to all of the software engineers and coders and hackers out there. Please take an hour out of your work week and go to a school and code with the students. It’s one thing for a teacher and her kids to code for an hour. It’s entirely another for them to do that with a real life software engineer.

There are many ways that you can do that, but here’s an easy one:

The TEALS program, a CSNYC grantee, is organizing an effort to bring tech industry professionals into schools to help lead Hour Of Code activities during Computer Science Education Week. The volunteers will give career talks and then help students with their first programming experience. If you want to volunteer, or know a school that should host a volunteer, visit tealsk12.org/hourofcode to sign up.

And finally, here’s a 3min video of a teacher who works in an all boys public middle/high school in the Bronx talking about CS, his students, coding, and the importance of role models in the classroom. Please watch it. It’s inspiring.

Orbital Boot Camp

One of the things I am most proud of is the alumni group at USV. It is an outstanding group of men and women who have gone on to do some awesome things. We don’t have a career trajectory at USV. We bring talented people in for a while, we learn from them and they learn from us, and then they head out into the world and do great things.

One of these alums is Gary Chou. Everyone who has met Gary knows he is an incredible person. He is generous to a fault. Which is an asset in my book. He is also very talented. He operates at the epicenter of making, coding, designing, building, and managing product. And I mean product in the broadest sense.

The product Gary has been making for the past year is Orbital, which is in three floors of a tenement on Rivington Street which formerly housed our portfolio company Kickstarter. It’s a space with excellent karma. What Gary has built at Orbital is a school where people can learn skills from those who have mastered them. But it’s not a typical school. It is also a place talented people work and meet and collaborate on projects. Everything is highly considered and curated at Orbital. Gary is not maximizing for revenue. He is maximizing for soul. I do not use that world lightly but in this case it is true.

Right now Orbital is hosting the fall semester of the School for Poetic Computation, which is an awesome thing. Click on the link and check it out.

And this winter, Orbital will be doing the second Orbital Bootcamp, which is a “twelve week course to help you launch your side project”. Gary wrote about Orbital Boot Camp here and I would encourage you to read his post if this is at all interesting to you. Applications are due Monday, December 8th at 11:59pm.  If you or someone you know has a project that they’ve been meaning to launch, they should consider applying.

Finally, Gary is running a Crowdrise campaign to fund scholarships because not everyone who should be in this bootcamp can afford the $4500 it costs to attend Orbital Boot Camp. I donated and maybe you will too. The Crowdrise is here.

A Great Job At CSNYC

As many of you know, CSNYC is  a non-profit I helped start a few years ago along with some colleagues. We are attempting to bring computer science education to the 1.1 million children in the NYC Public School system.

The organization is still quite small but has been growing slowly and steadily since we formed it. There are five or six people working at CSNYC depending on if you count people working on it part time.

We are doing a lot with a small crew and this year there will be over 100 public schools in NYC (high school, middle school, and even a few elementary schools) with CSNYC funded classes in them. We do this by partnering with the very best computer science programs around the country and funding them to come to NYC and train teachers and get their curriculum into classrooms.

We also do a bunch of other things and possibly the most impactful of all the things we do is community development. We run meetups and other events to bring NYC public school teachers (and other teachers too) together to talk about how they are using computer science and programming in their classrooms.

Our largest meetup, the CSNYC Education Meetup, has almost 600 teachers in it and has quadrupled in size in the past year. My great hope is it will quadruple in size again this year. Each monthly meetup has a theme, such as Careers in Computing, CS Across Disciplines, Showcase of teacher resources and student work, etc. There is a meetup today actually. It is a meetup today about Teaching the Next Generation of Tech, a symposium led by panelists from ScriptEd, TEALS, AFSE and Flatiron School. Anyone who is interested in learning more about CSNYC, the programs we fund, our teacher meeetups, or teaching computer science to K-12 students is welcome to attend.

So that is a long lead-in to this job opportunity. We have opened another job at CSNYC and this role will be dedicated to running and coordinating all of our meetups, our events, and our communications efforts, including our website and social media efforts. The job posting is here.

This is a great opportunity for the right person. You will get to meet and work with hundreds of teachers who are embracing computer science and bringing it into their schools and classrooms. The right person will enjoy meeting new people, and will be organized, web savvy, and passionate about the CSNYC mission. If you are all of that, and more, please send an email to [email protected].

And if you know someone who would be great at this job, please send an email to [email protected].

This is an important effort that is doing great work and I’m proud to have been part of making it happen. If you would like to support it financially, you can do so here.

Freemium In Education

We’ve been investing in the education sector for a few years now. We started our exploration of online education in early 2009 with an event called Hacking Education. The takeaways from that event have informed a lot of what we’ve invested in since then.

One of the key takeaways was that learning could and should become free. Our friend Bing Gordon said this at Hacking Education:

From an economic point of view, I would say the goal… is to figure out how to get education down to a marginal cost of zero. 

We have invested with Bing in online education. Bing and his partners at KP led the most recent round in our portfolio company DuoLingo. DuoLingo is the most popular language learning mobile app in the world. And one of the reasons for that is that DuoLingo is free.

So you might ask “how can you make money giving away a learning app?” This past week DuoLingo answered that question with the commercial release of the DuoLingo Test Center.

The DuoLingo Test Center is currently free but it won’t be for long. Give it a try if you’d like to see how it works. Once the DuoLingo Test is accepted at schools and employers, the company plans to charge $20 to take its test.

There’s an established incumbent (monopoly) in this market called TOEFL. If you’ve come to the US to study, you’ve probably taken this test. It’s a lot more expensive than $20 per test and DuoLingo is out to prove it can do this testing less expensively and better.

But what this example shows is something more than how one company plans to monetize its free app. It’s a model for freemium in online eduction. Provide the education for free but charge for the certification (testing). This is a very elegant implementation of freemium as its an easy on ramp and the customers who get the most value are the ones who pay.

I am pretty sure this will become the dominant monetization model in online education. We are already seeing it emerge in other sectors. A number of the attendees at Hacking Education predicted this over five years ago. It made sense to me then and it makes even more sense to me now.

Reading Rainbow

If you were a child growing up in the 80s and 90s, you probably remember Reading Rainbow, a PBS television show that encouraged kids to read.

Well Reading Rainbow is back as a tablet app and is headed into homes and classrooms. The actor and now entrepreneur LeVar Burton is behind the resurgence of Reading Rainbow.

And LeVar is financing this new version of Reading Rainbow with a Kickstarter campaign that is its final stage (32 hours to go).

The initial goal of the campaign was $1mm and when they hit that in the first few days, LeVar raised it to $5mm and as of right now, they are about $300k short.

I backed this project a while ago and I think it is fantastic. I encourage everyone from AVC to check it out and back it if you are so inclined.

Blended Learning

I am making some comments on Blended Learning tomorrow at the Forbes 400 Philanthropy Summit. My goal in doing this is to excite education philanthropists about the potential of Blended Learning to reshape our K-12 classrooms and improve learning outcomes in them.

For those of you who are not familiar with Blended Learning, it is a growing movement in K-12 education in the US and around the world. Some conflate Blended Learning, Online Learning, and Flipped Classrooms. They are related but they are not the same.

Blended Learning, at its core, is a repudiation of the one size fits all model of K-12 education that has been the standard model in the US for at least the last century. Blended Learning uses a combination of classroom redesign, schedule redesign, online learning, peer learning, and tutoring to delivery a personalized learning experience to each and every student.

In its simplest form, I like to think of Blended Learning as a restructuring of the teacher’s role from being the broadcaster at the front of the room to the person who creates the “aha moments” for the student, often in one on one or small group settings. Blended Learning would not be scalable without technology but it is not a technology centric approach to education. It recognizes that we need teachers more than ever in our K-12 system and attempts to leverage teachers for what they are best at and uses technology and process redesign to free the teachers up from the work that can be done in other ways (like content delivery and evaluation). It gets the teachers teaching more. As Michael Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute says in this Forbes column:

the real insight behind what it is doing is that it is not about the technology first and foremost. It’s about the learning model itself, and technology then acts in service of that model

I am sure there are people in the AVC community that know more about Blended Learning than I do and I would welcome suggestions on case studies, examples, papers, books, and other resources I should know about as I prepare to advise the wealthiest people in the world how to spend their money. Please leave those thoughts and suggestions in the comments.

That said, I have been doing my homework and reading up on Blended Learning. Here are some links I found valuable.

Clayton Christensen Institute’s Blended Learning Resources

A video on Rocketship Charter School’s approach to Blended Learning

A Foundation Strategy Group whitepaper on Summit San Jose’s High School Math program

A New Classrooms web page where they show how they redesign classrooms for Blended Learning

Kahn Academy Course on Blended Learning

A blog post on Summit’s Personalized Learning Software

A Virtual Tour (video) Of Acton Academy

A Forbes article on Teach To One, a Blended Learning program for middle school math

A Columbia Teachers College whitepaper on Teach To One

Grading Colleges?

Yesterday I walked down the kitchen and the Gotham Gal was reading the paper and she looked up and said “Obama wants to rate colleges. I think that’s a bad idea”. I thought about it for a second and said “hmm. I need to think about that”. We are both on the boards of trustees of higher education institutions (strangely not ones we attended in both cases). So I think its important to state upfront that my thoughts on this topic are not in any way related to the schools we are affiliated with.

The New York Times has a debate on this topic on their website today. I read all the views and understand the pros and cons. Here is where I come out.

1) Colleges and Universities should be held accountable for the outcomes they produce, particularly for students whose tuition is paid by taxpayers in the forms of grants or below market loans. If the taxpayers are footing the bills, we deserve to know where we are getting a return and where we are not.

2) The Federal Government is the wrong entity to do this. The chances that they will mess this up are too high to put them in charge of this.

3) We should peer produce this data, wikipedia style. Something like ratemyprofessors.com. Students who get federal or state funding for some or all of their education should be required to submit information to such a service. Students whose educations are not funded by the government should be encouraged to opt in and report. The data should not include personally identifiable information (although I recognize that it would theoretically be possible to reverse engineer it if someone really wanted to do that). Most importantly, we should collect data on how the students do in their careers so we can measure real outcomes. Grades and graduations rates are nice. Earning power five and ten years out is even more important.

4) This would be a completely open database. All data would be available to be analyzed via open and public APIs, like the early days of the Twitter API. This would allow many third parties to analyze the data. There is no one truth, but if you triangulate, you can get closer to it.

Building this would not be hard. Making it the standard would be harder. It should be a non profit like Wikipedia is so everyone can and will trust it and work with it. And the federal and state governments should adopt it, support it, and require participation in it for those who are benefitting from taxpayer dollars.

If Obama really wants to rate Colleges and Universities, and I think we should be doing that, then this is the right way to do it.

TEALS at NY Tech Meetup

This week Nathaniel Granor, who runs the TEALS program in NYC, spoke at the NY Tech Meetup. If you are a software engineer and if you might be up for helping to teach CS in High Schools, please take two minutes to watch this.

If you want to learn more about participating in TEALS in NYC, you can do that here. But please take action quickly as the deadline to apply is this week.