Posts from hacking education

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 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.

Dream It And Code It

A few months ago, I posted about a student coding contest called Dream It Code It Win It. I attended the awards contest last night at The Great Hall at Cooper Union. I love that space. You feel the history when you walk into the room.

The majority of the event was a panel event which in my opinion was a waste of time. I wanted to see the students present their projects. Which sadly did not happen. But the students were invited up onto the stage to collect their awards.

In the high school category, almost half of the participants were women. That is a fantastic stat and hopefully a sign of things to come with women and coding.

I was super excited to see a team from The Academy For Software Engineering win one of the awards. That is a great accomplishment for a school that hasn’t yet completed its second year. Here is the team from AFSE getting its award.

afse students


It was also really fantastic that The Young Women’s Leadership Academy (an all girls high school in NYC) fielded a winning team. I’ve heard great things about that school.

Not surprisingly Stuyvesant High School had three winning teams. The Stuyvesant CS program has been around for almost twenty years and its leader Mike Zamansky is one of the unsung heroes of the NYC tech scene.

Mike sent me videos last night after the event for the three winning teams from Stuy. One of them is so good, I think it would easily get funded on AngelList. It’s called Cartwheels (great name) and here’s the video.

These kids eat at food carts every day, they dreamed of a better way, they built it, and they won it. That’s awesome.

SHIP @ St Joseph’s – A Summer Coding Program In NYC

The godfather of K-12 computer science education in NYC is Mike Zamansky. Almost 25 years ago, Mike left a programming job at Goldman Sachs and become a NYC public school teacher. A few years later, in the mid 90s, he started the CS program at NYC’s Stuyvesant High School. The NY tech sector is full of software engineers who got their first taste of coding in Mike’s classes at Stuy. He’s an inspiration to me and one of the unsung heroes of the NYC tech sector. The raw material of any tech sector is talent and Mike creates home grown talent. They might leave NYC to go to college, but many of them come home to start their careers. We need more of this and that’s what CSNYC is all about. And Mike was instrumental in getting me to take this thing on a few years ago when I saw what he had built at Stuy.

Anyway, Mike is running a summer coding program at St Joseph’s College in the Fort Greene neighborhood in Brooklyn. It is called SHIP @ St Joseph’s. It’s a four week program that lasts the month of July. I believe it is focused on high school students but it could be available to a wider range of students. If you are interested in learning more, go here. If you want to apply, go here.

Teaching Computer Science To High School Students On The Way To Work

Last year I posted an almost identical title and the result is that about half of the software engineers working in the TEALS program in NYC were recruited from this blog. That makes me feel great and I would like to thank those 20 or so software engineers who read that blog post and went through the entire TEALS onboarding process and are now in a high school classroom teaching CS.

Here is a quick reminder of how TEALS works. A high school decides they want CS in their curriculum. They decide if they want an Intro to CS or an AP CS class or both. The school selects some of their teachers to formally teach this class. Those teachers are then paired with software engineers who volunteer their time (usually twice a week, first period, on their way to work) to actually teach the class. The pairing of the working software engineer and the professional teacher is the genius of the TEALS program. It is a hack on the system that gets the software engineer, the subject matter expert, into the classroom without having to deal with teacher credentialing. It also means the software engineer can deliver the lessons without having to deal with classroom management, homework, testing, etc. And, most importantly, in most cases the professional teacher who is paired with the software engineer is able to teach the class on their own after a couple years of pair teaching the class with the software engineer.

Here are some facts and figures on TEALS in NYC:

TEALS partnered with 9 high schools in NYC in 2013-2014, serving nearly 300 students.
40 NYC volunteers from 30+ companies including Google, Etsy, NYTimes, Kickstarter, Yext and Amplify.
Based on our 1st semester data:
Before the course, 87% of TEALS NYC students reported they were not proficient in any programming language.
After the 1-semester intro course, 90% of TEALS NYC students reported they felt they had average or above average programming skills.
All or almost all partner schools will return, half of them adding a 2nd course
Blog Post from one of our NYC schools about TEALS:

I love the TEALS program and our non-profit, CSNYC, is helping the TEALS program expand in NYC by providing financial and other assistance.  We hope to significantly grow the number of students and high schools in NYC that are participating in TEALS and so we need another 40+ software engineers to volunteer. If you are so inclined, well thank you, and here is how to learn more:

Info Session #1: Tuesday 4/15 @ Relay GSE –

Info Session #2: Thursday 4/24 @ Microsoft –

Volunteer Info:

Volunteer Application:

I know there are a lot of software engineers in NYC who read this blog. I am very grateful for all that you do for the companies you work for (including many, maybe all, NYC based USV portfolio companies). So it’s hard to ask you to do even more. But I can promise you this. Teaching kids to code is rewarding. It is important. It makes me feel good. And I think it will make you feel good too.

The Value Of An Engineering Degree

Six years ago, in the summer of 2008, NYU and Polytechnic University came together to create NYU Poly, NYU’s engineering school in downtown Brooklyn. When I saw the news, I called NYU President John Sexton and asked for a meeting. He agreed and I went down to Washington Square to meet with him. I told him he had just acquired a jewel, but a jewel that had fallen on hard times. I told him he needed to invest in bringing that jewel back to it’s former luster and that if he did, it would be an incredible thing for NYU, for Poly, for Brooklyn, and for NYC. In typical John Sexton fashion, he got up, gave me a big smile and a big hug, and said “I will do it but I need your help”. And that is how I found myself on the board of NYU Poly and NYU.

Here’s the thing I know. Engineering schools and engineering degrees are the most valuable degrees you can issue in higher ed. Here is the data:

20 year ROI on education

You might be surprised to see Stevens Institute and NYU Poly on that list. But I am not. NYC is starved for the kind of technical, quantitative, and analytical minds that engineering schools generate. Combine a big urban center with a top engineering school and you have a recipe to print money. And you have a recipe to change lives. Many of the kids who go to NYU Poly are from immigrant families and are graduates of the NYC public school system. They are smart and work hard. And with an engineering degree and a big city like NYC, they can earn more in a year than their parents earn combined.

The value of a diploma is set by the marketplace, by the laws of supply and demand. There are more technical jobs open than qualified candidates to fill them. It is the one bright spot in an otherwise bleak employment picture. We need to be investing in our engineering schools and we need to be investing in a K-12 education that gets our children ready to go to these schools.

When I am not working at USV and/or hanging out with friends and family, I am working on this problem. It is an important one. I plan to post more on this topic in the coming weeks. I have been looking at enrollment data and we are seeing some really interesting things. It is very encouraging and exciting to me.

The FIRST Robotics Competition

While many will be focused on the final four next weekend, the Gotham Gal and I plan to attend another competition, the NYC FIRST Robotics Competition at the Javits Center in NYC.

robotics competition

FIRST is a global robotics program with a number of competitions. Next weekend is the NYC competition and the winning teams will go on to the global competition in late April in St Louis.

The competition will go on for three days next weekend in NYC and attendance is completely free. Details are as follows:

April 4-6, 2014 – 9:00 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.
Jacob Javits Convention Center
655 West 34th St., New York, NY 10001
Download Full Program Agenda and Layout

We plan to attend saturday afternoon. I’ve never been to one of these and am looking forward to it.

Scratch Jr

I’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years talking to students and teachers about learning to code. I’ve also spent a lot of time observing classrooms where coding instruction is being given. I’ve had a lot of “aha moments” and been inspired by many things I have seen. In all of those experiences, the thing that really stands out is seeing Scratch, a free visual programming environment developed at the MIT Media Lab, being used effectively by all ages and abilities. I have come to believe that almost anyone can learn to use Scratch and thus start down the pathway of learning to code.

The Scratch project started in 2003 and since then over 5mm projects have been built and posted on the Scratch website. You can browse the projects here, you can find one you like, you can fork/copy it, and you can make something yourself. It is this forking/copying thing that is so powerful in my mind. You don’t need to start with a blank canvas in Scratch. You can find a project you like, you can look at the code to see how it was made, and you can then modify the code to change the way it works. That’s actually how I learned to code too (by initially modifying someone else’s code).

I just found this flappy birds style game that was posted to Scratch yesterday (use the space bar to flap, hit the flag to start).

If you click on the link that says “posted to Scratch” right above the game embed, and then click on the button that says “see inside”, you will see the code that was used to create this game. You will see how visual and inviting that code is relative to most coding systems.

Anyway, this post is not about Scratch. It is about Scratch Jr. The one thing that you need to be able to do to use Scratch is read and write. So kids who are still learning to read and write can’t use Scratch. A few years ago some researchers at Tufts started working with the team at the Media Lab to create a version of Scratch that younger kids can use. It is called Scratch Jr. Scratch Jr is getting close to commercial release, which will be on tablets (iOS first, Android next).

Since Scratch and Scratch Jr are free to use and supported mostly be research grants, there isn’t a lot of money to commercialize Scratch Jr, particularly the development of easy to use iOS and Android native apps for tablets.

That’s where all of you come in. Scratch Jr posted a Kickstarter project this week. I backed it yesterday. In a few days, they have already raised their initial target of $25k, but I am certain they could use a lot more. The more money they raise, the faster they can get iOS and Android out and the more they can do to get Scratch Jr into classrooms all over the world.

Here’s the Kickstarter page and here is the video they posted. It’s only four minutes and the bits where Mitch Resnick (the “father of Scratch”) talks about learning to code and coding to learn is really good. You should watch it. And please consider backing the project too.