Posts from hacking education

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: http://www.ewsis.org/tealsk12

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 – http://teals-nyc-relay.eventbrite.com/

Info Session #2: Thursday 4/24 @ Microsoft – http://teals-nyc-msft.eventbrite.com/

Volunteer Info: tealsk12.org/volunteers

Volunteer Application: tealsk12.org/apply

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
THIS EVENT IS FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC
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.

Dream It. Code It. Win It.

I attended a CS Teacher Meetup last night at USV. We talked about a lot of things but focused on the issue of getting more girls to code. It’s an important issue that I think we are starting to make good progress on.

Though not focused on girls per se, I heard about a neat coding challenge that is happening this Spring called Dream It. Code It. Win It.

This is a programming challenge (not a Hackathon) aimed at High School and College students. It is organized by the MIT Club of New York, MIT Enterprise Forum, and Trading Screen. The goal is to reward “the creative aspects of a computer science education.” College teams can win monetary prizes ($20k, $15k, and $10k). High School teams can win iPads.

The submission is a video where the team explains the problem they set out to solve, their solution, and a demonstration of a live working product that solves the problem.

Submissions can be made here and the juding panel will meet in NYC on April 30th from 5pm to 9pm to select the winners.

If you know a high school or college aged student who likes to code, please let them know about this contest.

Girls Who Code

I feel badly for Paul Graham because he's being made out to be something I am sure he is not. But the brouhaha that he unleashed about women founders, women coders, and women hackers is a good thing because we ought to be having a broader conversation about these issues.

Paul asks "God knows what you would do to get 13 year old girls interested in computers?" and that is a damn good question and one that I have been thinking about a lot over the past four years. We see very few women entrepreneurs walk into USV and that is disappointing to me. And I agree with Paul that one of the issues (but by no means the only issue) causing this gap, is that young women are not embracing tech in the key development years in middle school and early high school.

At The Academy For Software Engineering (AFSE), we use a "limited unscreened" model to accept students. It's limited because you have to attend an open house and make AFSE your first choice, but once you do those two things, its a lottery system to get in. So effectively the distributiion of students admitted is going to be very similar to the distribution of students who apply and make the school their first choice. In our first year, we admitted 24% young women. In our second year, the percentage was less, I believe below 20%. This is very upsetting to me and we are working on a number of things to change this. It will require working hard on the parents of the young women and the middle school guidance counselors. There is a lot of systemic bias in the system against young women taking this kind of direction with their studies and their career. And we must change that bias and it must be changed at the middle school level.

However, the young women who enroll at AFSE are incredible. I have spent a fair bit of time with them and I can tell you that they work hard, study, take school seriously, and can code as well as the boys. Last week I got to hand out the awards at the first ever AFSE hackathon. The winning team were all freshman, two girls and one boy. These girls were good, really good. I was super impressed.

Afse hackathon winners

So it can happen, it should happen, and if we make the effort, it will happen. 

There are a number of important initiatives under way to try to change things. The title of this post refers to one of them, Girls Who Code, which is a summer program in NYC and SF and now adding after school programs for young women to learn to code. There is also Black Girls Code, solving an even more difficult and important problem. And programs like TEALS and Code.org which are bringing CS education to the broader public school landscape will certainly help get more girls into coding too.

Taylor Rose, who is a young woman studying at MIT, wrote a good post about all of this and more yesterday. I think she sums up the situation as well as anything I've read.

There are efforts underway to attempt to close the gap between women and men studying CS. And it can be done. Harvey Mudd now enrolls as many women CS majors as male CS majors. Here's a ten minute video that talks about how they did that:

So as Taylor suggests in her post, instead of turning Paul's comments into a blogosphere shitstorm, maybe we would all be better off staring the issue in the face and thinking about how each of us could help make a difference on this issue. It's an important one and I am glad we are talking about it.

Crowdfunding Brooklyn Castle: An Update

I woke up to this email:

Hi Fred,

This weekend our team traveled to Florida to compete in the National Grade Chess Championships.

We won!

Our sixth graders and our seventh graders each won the team championships after three grueling days of seven games each of which could last up to three hours.

Thank you for your support!

here is a link to a little video the kids made today…sorry to say i am better at chess that video production..if the kids look exhausted it is because we arrived back in NY at 1 am last night.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?v=10202014393592894&l=6816040591261209313

Thanks!


JG

To everyone in the AVC community who contributed to the DonorsChoose that made this possible, thank you.

And do yourself a favor and click on that link from the email and watch the 30 second video. It made me happy and I think it will do the same for you.

Hour Of Code

This is CS Ed Week and this year we are celebrating it with an Hour Of Code. The idea is to get every student to spend an hour this week writing code. 

If you want to do this with your kids (at home or in school), here are some resources to try:

The Codecademy Hour of Code iPhone app - download this on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch and learn the basics of coding in an hour. As many of you know, Codecademy is a USV portfolio company and millions of people have used Codecademy to start learning to code.

Code.org – Code.org has built tutorials for teachers who want to do an hour of code in their classrooms. Code.org is a non-profit dedicated to bringing CS to schools all around the country and they are leading the Hour Of Code effort nationwide.

Other resources - there are a host of resources out there, like Scratch, Scalable Game Design, CodeHS, Globaloria, and Tynker that you can use to teach the hour of code to your students.

In other CS Ed news, Obama endorsed CS Ed and the Hour Of Code in this video yesterday.

And the city of Chicago announced that they will integrate CS Ed broadly in their schools so that every student gets the opportunity to learn coding skills.

And last but not least, in NYC, Chancellor Wolcott announced a $1mm program to train over 100 teachers in the code.org curriculcum. This program is a partnership between CSNYC, Code.org, NYC EDC, and NYC DOE, all of which participated in the funding. If you want to help support this effort, we are raising money for CSNYC so that we can fund more programs like this in NYC. Our crowdrise fundraising page is here.

Yesterday was a big day for CS Ed. Everyone should celebrate CS Ed week by doing an hour of code with your kids. This is an important effort that is now getting the attention it deserves. 

My Idiosyncratic View Of The World

Jeff Wise has a piece in this week's NY Magazine about teaching kids to code which features my partner Albert's home school and great programs like Code.org and Girls Who Code. It also talks about the work my colleagues and I are doing to bring CS education to all of NYC's public schools.

Jeff ends the piece with this observation:

Like much tech-world philanthropy, the tech schools are arriving as a fiat from on high, rather than welling up from grassroots demand, and it’s easy to read the education evangelism as motivated, at least in part, by a desire to mainstream techies’ own idiosyncratic way of looking at the world.

Pardon me, but that accusation stings. "A fiat from on high?"  "A desire to mainstream our idiosyncracies?"

No good deeed goes unpunished. I know that. But this critique seems so out of left field.

My idiosyncratic view of the world is a place where we all understand how to control the machines that are increasingly controlling our world. It is a place where kids who are headed to flipping hamburgers for a living get an option to do something a bit more stimulating. It is a place where we all have the tools to make things that make our lives better.

Now that I've got that out of my system, I will go do some yoga.

Crowdfunding More Public School Chess

The AVC community will remember back to this summer when we helped to crowdfund a middle school chess team that was struggling to come up with the money to go to the tournaments it had won numerous times over the past decade. That was a huge success for everyone involved. And like most successes, it brought out other similar efforts.

One that I am particularly fond of is at the Park Slope Elementary and Middle School (aka PS/MS 282) in Park Slope Brooklyn. At PS/MS 282, every student learns chess and 50 of the students are selected to represent the school in the state and national championships. Last year, PS/MS 282 won the National Championships in the K-5 category for Under 900.

Royal panthers

In order to raise the funds to send the kids back to the state and national championships this year, PS/MS 282 is doing a Donors Choose campaign right now. I have given to the campaign and I thought I'd let everyone here at AVC know about it too. If you want to support public school chess and help these kids defend their title, you can support them here.

I am a big fan of teaching chess to youngsters. I think it teaches struggling, persevering, thinking ahead, and getting ahead. I would like to see more of it in our public schools.