Posts from hacking education

AP Computer Science Exams In NYC

The NYC Department Of Education announced yesterday that almost 4,000 high school students took an AP Computer Science exam in the school year that ended in June. This news was part of a larger announcement that total NYC students taking AP exams increased 7.5% last year to almost 50,000.

The NYC public school system is the largest school system in the country with about 1.1mm students, about one third of which are in high school. So moving the needle in a system that big is hard but when you do it, you can really have an impact.

The AP CS news was particularly gratifying to me as I have been working for most of this decade to get computer science broadly offered in the NYC public school system. I see this work as an important investment in the children of NYC and in the NYC economy and business community too.

When I started this work, about 600-700 students from the NYC public school system would take the AP CS exam each year. And most of them were from the top schools in the system (Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, Brooklyn Tech). That number slowly grew, to 926 students in 2015, and to 1,137 in 2016.

So what happened this year to cause an almost 4x expansion in one year?

Well first and foremost, the The College Board added a second AP CS exam, called AP Principles of Computer Science. That opened up the AP CS population to students who are not deeply skilled/schooled in Java (which is a big part of the AP CS exam).

But equally important, the CS4All program in NYC, which is bringing CS to every school and supporting 40 middle schools and 40 high schools to offer full multi year programs in CS, is starting to kick in. Over 90,000 NYC public school students studied CS in their school last year. That is starting to have an impact.

So where do we go from here? Well I expect we will see over 10,000 NYC students take an AP CS exam within another few years and that number will get even larger before the ten year CS4All program is fully deployed in 2025.

We are also seeing the AP CS test taking population starting to more closely mirror the demographics of the NYC public school system. More girls are taking it. More black and hispanic students are taking it.

AP CS exams put students on a path to attend college and study CS. They will do that in NYC where the local colleges, including CUNY, are upping their CS game significantly. And they will do that at leading engineering schools around the country.

And that, in the end, leads to a more diverse set of skilled talent for our economy, both locally in NYC and around the US, in the coming years. And god knows we need that. Badly.

CS4All is a public private partnership between the city government which is putting up half the funds for it and private donors who are putting up the other half in a $40mm capital campaign that I chair. If you know of a person, a foundation, or a company that would like to support this work, please have them contact me or my colleague Jennifer Klopp who is the Director of the CS4all Capital Campaign. We will gladly come talk to them about our work and how they can support it.

The NYU Courant MS-CEI Program

I was on the board of NYU for almost a decade until recently stepping down. I learned a ton about NYU during that time and one of the things I learned was that NYU’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences is one of the most prestigious math schools in the world.

In addition to a world class math program, Courant houses one of NYU’s three computer science programs (the others are at the Tandon School of Engineering and the Stern School of Business), and has a top notch machine learning faculty, including Yann LeCun, who also leads Facebook’s AI Research Team in NYC.

Courant is a special place where math, machine learning, and computer science come together.

And now Courant is offering a new Masters degree in Entrepreneurship in partnership with NYU’s Stern business school. It is called the MS-CEI Program.

The MS-CEI program is a Master’s degree in Computing, Entrepreneurship and Innovation, combining computer science courses from the Courant Institute (Graduate School of Arts and Science) and business courses from the Stern School of Business…. The MS-CEI is designed for computer science students and technology professionals interested in pursuing entrepreneurship or assuming leadership roles in innovative technology based organizations.

Here is a link to the program overview and sample courses.

The initial class will enroll in the Summer of 2018 and applications are due by December 2017.

If you are interested in this program and want to learn more, please share your contact info with NYU here.

Go Back To School With Quizlet

If you or someone in your family is going back to school in the next few weeks, I strongly suggest putting the Quizlet mobile app on your/their phone as part of the back to school preparation process.

Quizlet (a USV portfolio company) has a bunch of new stuff for its existing and new users this back to school season:

  1. Diagramming – an entirely new way to make and use study sets using visuals instead of or in addition to text
  2. Learn Mode – personalized, time based, adaptive study mode with reminders and notifications
  3. Quizlet Go – a new low priced subscription that provides ad free studying and customized themes

Quizlet is the largest user powered study tool in the world with over 185mm study sets created and available for learning pretty much anything.

You really don’t want to go back to school without it.

MBA Mondays

For almost four years, from Jan 2010 to late 2013, I would write a column every Monday called MBA Mondays where I tried to cover the basics of a business education here at AVC.

There are roughly 200 posts in total that I wrote during the time this weekly series was active.

Since many regular readers have shown up since then and may not know about MBA Mondays, I thought I would let all the new readers know about it.

You can see the entire MBA Mondays archive here.

There is a lot of good stuff in there.

Bearing Witness

Yesterday afternoon I spent a couple hours sitting on the stage at the high school graduation ceremony for the Academy For Software Engineering.

This evening I will spend another couple hours sitting on the stage at the high school graduation ceremony for the Bronx Academy For Software Engineering.

Both yesterday and today are busy days with lots of work obligations, board meetings, decisions, and family time.

But these four hours are the most important hours I will spend this week.

About two hundred young adults will graduate from these two NYC public high schools over this two day period.

These are young adults who made the decision four years ago to take a risk on two brand new high schools with no track record and no reputation.

But this week they are walking off the stage with a high school diploma and a set of skills in extremely high demand in today’s economy.

They also know how to talk to machines, tell them what to do, and make them work for them.

I am proud of these roughly two hundred young adults and I am pleased to bear witness to their accomplishments and the very bright futures that they all have in front of them.

Fun Friday: The Digital Dance

Last week at the Annual NYC Computer Science Fair, I got to judge a student coding project showcase. The team that won was 50 young women from the Young Women’s Leadership School in Astoria Queens.

These young women choreographed a dance routine using software and hardware engineering. The used LED lighting strips and Sphero robots to animate their dance routine and they wrote the software code that synchronized the music and dance routine with the hardware.

Here is the dance performance:

And here is how they made it happen:

I love this for so many reasons, but here are a few of them:

  1. Young women have not been as interested in software and hardware engineering because we have not made it relevant to their interests. This is an example of how to do that.
  2. The Digital Dance has now become an annual event at this school, the next one is coming up this spring, so another 50 or so young women will be exposed to hardware and software engineering each year.
  3. This is something that other schools can and should do. It could become a “thing” and I hope it will.
  4. It’s awesome.

Scratch’s 10th Anniversary

The Scratch programming language and community is ten years old and we celebrated that last night at a gala in NYC where the Scratch Foundation raised funds to support their work and they chose to honor me for our K12 CS Ed work in NYC.

Here’s what I said to those who were there, I thought it would be nice to share it with the world.


If you want to be filled with joy, take off the morning, head off to one of hundreds of middle school or high school buildings in NYC, and check out an introduction to software engineering class. Or go visit an elementary school home room where the teacher is doing a computing module in a history or science lesson.

Here is what you will see. Roughly thirty young students, slightly more than half girls, and a rainbow of race, religion, and means. You will see girls in hijabs, boys with afros, kids who speak Spanish or some other language at home, all sitting together working on some sort of creative project, often in teams, solving problems, getting excited, and doing something that challenges them and interests them.

And there’s a good chance that the software they are running on their computers will be Scratch, a visual programming language that makes building software as easy as building a Lego project. But Scratch is way more than a programming language. It is a community, free for everyone to use, now more than 70mm large, where the software creators share what they made with others and let others reuse and remake what they made. It is remix culture for making stuff on a computer.

Scratch is also a gateway drug to serious software engineering. I know many young adults who started on Scratch and now work on some of the most serious programming challenges in computer science at big tech companies, startups, and the top research labs and universities.

Scratch is a gift to the world from Mitch Resnick and his team of colleagues at the MIT Media Lab. You all know the saying, “don’t give someone a fish, teach them to fish”? Well that is what Mitch and his colleagues are doing with Scratch and they are doing it for tens of millions of people all around the world. I suspect the magnitude of this gift they have given the world is on the order of things like the personal computer, the smartphone, and the web. It’s that big.

When I got interested in making sure every young person in the NYC public school system could learn to instruct a machine about seven or eight years ago, I didn’t really know how we were going to make that happen. Like most things I do, our organization, called CSNYC, just threw ourselves at the problem, listened and learned from those, like Mitch, who had been working on the problem for a long time, and we tried lots of things.

One of the things we tried early on at The Academy For Software Engineering was Scratch. AFSE is a new public high school we started five years ago where students learn computer science and which has a few students in attendance tonight. And it has become an essential tool in our CS4All curriculum all over NYC. I see it in elementary school classrooms, I see it in middle schools, and I see it in high schools. I don’t know of a better way to get a student programming a computer than firing up the browser and pointing it to scratch.mit.edu.

There are certainly other tools that are used to teach programming in K12 classrooms across NYC and across the country and the world. Scratch can’t teach everything. But it can get the student going, excited, productive, and hooked. And that is the biggest step.

So while I am honored to be recognized this evening for the work we are doing in NYC and around the country, I want to make sure that everyone knows that our work would be impossible without the fundamental building blocks that have been put in place over the last 15-20 years, and Scratch is right up there at the top of that list.

So thank you to the Scratch Foundation for this honor but mostly thank you for doing what you do and let us all help them keep doing that.

PS – Michael Preston, who runs CSNYC, sent me this photo of the students who sat with us at our table last night and Sean Stern who left a good paying job writing software for Amazon to teach them. A picture tells the entire story.

Feature Friday: Learn Mode

Our portfolio company Quizlet, which is the world’s most popular studying tool, launched learn mode yesterday.

Here’s how it works:

The team at Quizlet has built a way to go from cramming to studying, delivered via technology that’s in our pockets. Well done.

Learn mode is available on Quizlet’s iOS app and it is in closed beta on Android and coming soon to the web.