La Hora del Código

It is Computer Science Education Week. This is a worldwide movement to get schools everywhere doing an hour of code. It started in 2009 and nine years later it is one of the largest learning events in the world.

I celebrated CS Ed Week yesterday morning by visiting PS24 with NYC Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

PS 24 is a dual language (English and Spanish) PreK-5 elementary school in Sunset Park Brooklyn.  The school is led by Jacqueline Nikovic and the student population is 88% Hispanic and 45% are English Language Learners.

We started in a kindergarten that was a dual language integrated co-teaching classroom. That means these students are being supported in their effort to acquire a second language (English).

The students were using cards with Spanish words on them like Empieza (start), Brinca (jump), and others to create an instruction set. They then followed the instructions. Here’s a photo of one of these instruction sets (those are my shoes on the lower left).

This is a student showing the Chancellor and Borough President her instruction set.

By the time they get to fifth grade at this school, the students are doing Scratch programming in the computer lab.

In this photo below, the Chancellor was pair programming with a young man and a young woman (who unfortunately is blocked in this photo). Let’s just say the kids were doing the teaching and the Chancellor was doing the learning.

PS 24 adopted NYC’s CS4All program this year so it is the first year that teachers in the school are getting professional development in computer science education. Everybody I met at the school, the Principal, the teachers, and the students, seem incredibly excited about getting computer science in their school.

I was particularly impressed how PS 24 has made CS accessible to english language learners. The whole idea of CS4All is that we need to make these skills accessible to all learners, regardless of gender, race, age, neighborhood, language, etc.

Though the teachers and students made it look easy yesterday, none of this is easy. The NYC Department of Education, and the private sector supporters of CS4All, are doing something very hard, introducing an entirely new subject into a curriculum that has largely been stale for the last fifty years. 

Sometimes I struggle with how hard this work is. But when I go out to the schools, which I have done twice in the last month, I get totally energized. Seeing the excitement on the student’s faces makes it all worth it.

#hacking education

Comments (Archived):

  1. kirklove

    Q bien! Espetacular!

  2. aminTorres

    Mucho bueno!

  3. Christopher Forbes

    Fred. I was moved by your post this morning. My wife and I (and many others) founded a bit for profit that brings a wide range of enrichment programs to NYC k-5 schools. We go very deep, one school at a time from creative writing programs to music to tutoring to computer labs. We now support 15 schools and want to get to 30 in the next 5 years. I’d like to bring coding to our schools. We’re on the ground in these schools with onsite school managers that administer our programs. I think we can work together to bring CS4All to 15 schools. What do you think? How best to make it happen?Cheers,

    1. fredwilson

      Send me an email to Fred at USV dot com pls .we can do this

      1. PhilipSugar

        I’d say the “returns” on this post were mighty high. But like all truly great returns they came from passion.

  4. sigmaalgebra

    Nice looking keyboards!!Looking at the picture, a guess is that they are Lenovo keyboards.If so, then something similar, maybe the same, goes for $21.25 at Amazon;

    1. jason wright

      and a nice looking shoe, but how does a human foot fit inside?

  5. DJL

    It is amazing that this is going on in Brooklyn and other inner cities and totally absent out here in the suburbs of Texas. I have my kids do coding (via Hour of Code) to earn time to play Minecraft and other games. But this has not made it to Fort Bend ISD – one of the largest and most affluent districts in the state.Congratulations on your hard work and success in this area.

    1. Adam Sher

      I was shopping for presents for my nieces and nephews a couple of weeks ago and was surprised by how many kids coding products are available to physically purchase. I was at Best Buy. Awesome! The kids toys were not prominently displayed but weren’t placed too discretely either. Thinking back, Lego has been way ahead of this curve with its Kinetix and other mechanical toys.Are there other topics that you encourage your kids to pursue that are ignored by your school’s curriculum?

      1. DJL

        My kids are only in elementary school – but the school does an amazing job in most areas. The information is good, but the practical “hands on” is missing. For example, in science they study the tools for measurement (beakers, scales, microscopes) but don’t use them in practice.Not sure why. I believe the teachers would have to create those themselves and they are already overworked. In the end – I believe it is up to the parents to round out the edges.

        1. Adam Sher

          I believe it is up to the parents to round out the edges I think about this a lot and think its up to the parents to drive education and not round out the edges. Until my child attends school full-time my wife and I are his educators. Then in school, the time we can educate our kid decreases but the importance remains. It’s up to us to demonstrate the value of learning, period. Outside of a school requirement would fall under this category.

        2. LE

          I kind of get the impression that most people who choose teaching are not doing it for the right reasons. And that right reason is they inherently like teaching and the process. Like both of us like making comments here. We receive nothing for doing so. Sometimes not even upvotes. But we like saying things (so do others who regularly comment) so we do so. And it’s effortless, right? We enjoy it. Nobody makes us do it either. It’s not a job or a requirement. But it’s fun.But even if you like teaching over time it must get tedious. Especially since there is no feedback going forward. If you help someone you don’t even know what happens typically to them down the line. So you are not reinforced. And my guess is it’s rare when a student comes back and thanks you (must happen but probably rare, right?)I know nothing about this but the entire ‘teacher as lifer in the same spot’ seems to be part of the problem. Teachers should rotate to other schools. Teachers should be able to retain tenure (or get rid of it actually) and work in other locations around the country.None of this will happen of course. My guess is most teachers kind of like the way it is or the majority are just punching a clock.

        3. sigmaalgebra

          John Dewey, Democracy and Education has for the definition of education IIRCEducation is the passing down from the older generation to the younger.So, education is essentially teaching what was, both good and bad, and is not necessarily teaching what is new, should, according to some values, be more highly valued, is of higher quality (e.g.. in history, fewer lies!), will be useful for my usual list, emotional, verbal, psychological, social, creative, artistic, empathetic, moral, ethical, religious, athletic, academic, mechanical, rational, quantitative, scientific, technical, romantic, entrepreneurial, etc. development, etc.And some parents don’t like to have the kids learning things the parents didn’t learn, or, broadly, some parents just want their kids being like they (the parents) are.So, in nearly all school districts, the content of the K-12 teaching is tied strongly to the past and changes slowly and, thus, (i) carries along some excess baggage and (ii) is very slow to add new content, goals, etc.So, for an education that is broad, has content that promises to be advantageous for the futures of the kids, the parents have to do or at least direct such efforts.Net, for a reality check, most of advantageous education, i.e., nearly everything on my list, is up to the parents. Sorry ’bout that!In this education, the parents have to, sure, sufficiently inspire, motivate, guide the kids.E.g., there’s my story about violin and a niece: Her parents had tried hard to get her to take up piano. But one year at Christmas at my wife’s farm, I was upstairs practicing the Bach Chaconne on violin. I was having fun with the central D major section and starting on the challenging (try to play chords on all four strings at once) last few bars, IMHO the climax of the piece. Then the niece, about 10, came up and watched. I put my violin under her left chin, had her hold the bow, and make a sound. The next day her father asked me: “How much will a violin cost me?”.So, her parents had tried for years with no success, and I’d been successful in a few minutes without trying. What was the difference? Likely my efforts with violin were convincing evidence that violin was both interesting and fun, e.g., as in the Chaconne can fill the house with an astounding blizzard of sounds, notes, and passion. So, that was an example of successful “inspiration, motivation, and guidance”.Apparently where the parents failed is that the child didn’t see their parents having fun playing piano.I believe that that lesson would generalize, actually that it does generalize — quite broadly kids are eager to copy what their parents are doing, e.g., if only in the kids’ efforts to achieve the powers and control of adulthood, outgrow childhood.E.g., if the parents are doing things that are new, interesting, exciting, productive, powerful, etc. then right away there is a good chance their kids can get plenty of “inspiration, motivation, and guidance” to learn those things.Or, that’s (i) why kids in K-12, even in the best schools, don’t get much in a good, real education and (ii) how capable parents can have their kids get a good education whatever the K-12 school is doing or not doing.In particular, for K-12, one important objective, in practice in present reality, one of the most important, is, just to borrow from an old lesson learned from civilization long paying “full tuition” in medicine, “First, do no harm.”. This lesson is important if only because in a long list of ways far too commonly K-12 does a lot of kids a lot of harm. Some of the harm? Some of the girls become Queen Bees, that is, “most popular”, and make lots of the other girls feel inferior and discouraged. Some of the boys become BMOC, big men on campus, e.g., sports heroes, and, sure, thus, make lots of the other boys feel inferior and discouraged. There can be various cases of bullying. And commonly a lot of the teachers do a lot of harm, too. Competition and high performance are good, but K-12 is far too early to pick winners/losers for life. E.g., high school queen bee or BMOC is not by itself very good preparation for life.Here’s a blunt but nearly necessarily true “inconvenient truth” and fact of life in the hard knocks school of getting educated: I’ll start with three examples that illustrate the point: (A) In my high school, the math teachers were adamant that the students were not ready for calculus. Nope: Instead the teachers didn’t know calculus at all well or at all and were just making excuses. Sometimes in practice, and quite broadly in principle, kids 12 can learn calculus. (B) Once I looked at some materials from a North Carolina school that was trying to teach linear programming. I know a lot about linear programming, from some of the best people in that subject in the world. The North Carolina materials were junk. In fact there is a lot of highly polished material on linear programming; they just picked bad materials. (C) The time I looked at the calculus materials on Khan Academy, they were junk. Excellent, highly polished materials on calculus have long been readily available.From these examples and many more, the “fact of life” is that in most subjects there is considerable depth; maybe necessarily only a small fraction of people teaching such subjects have deep expertise; at the lower levels of education the expertise of the teachers and what gets taught are not very good — too much of the stuff taught should not be, and too much of the good stuff is not taught. Also what is taught is not a clear as it can be and is in some of the best sources.There is a solution: The first step is to understand the situation. The next step is to work hard to find the highest quality materials from the best experts. How? Mostly just from the usual means of asking people who the best people are, in turn, asking them who the best people are, …, using solid evidence of real expertise, and, then, sure, avoiding the degenerate mainstream media and pop culture. Uh, parents can do this, too.A parent? Okay, a few days ago I saw something about the “hour of code”, followed some links, and got to a Google page with a problem on finding the volume of some lakes. So, are given a positive integer n and an array of non-negative integers a(i), i = 1, 2, .., n (right away we see that the Google problem description was not nearly this clear or explicit), we regard each a(i) as a water proof vertical wall 1 integer long and 1 integer wide in a pool n integers long and 1 integer wide (Google was not clear on these points). At the two ends of the pool the only walls are at 1 with height a(1) and at n with height a(n) (Google was not clear on this point). From high above the pool, we pour water in over all the positions i = 1 2, …, n (Google was not clear on this point) until the pool can hold no more water. Now we want to know the volume of the water where we measure volume in units of cubes each 1 unit (the integer 1 is one unit) on an edge (Google was not clear on this point).So, Google wanted an algorithm, with attention to computational time complexity, to find the volume of the water.Okay, for a first cut solution (the ideas may be right but some of the details may be wrong!), find a positive integer k = 1, 2, …, n so that for all i a(i) <= a(k). That is, a(k) is the largest wall height. If there are ties for the largest, then pick any of the ties. The computational time complexity here is O(n).Then divide the problem into two parts, p = 1, 2, …, k and q = k, k + 1, …, n.For the part p = 1. 2, …, k – 1, if k = 1 there is nothing to do. Otherwise sort the pairs (p, a(p)) into descending order on the second components, that is, the a(p). The computational time complexity here is O(k ln(k)) (from sort merge or heap sort or, depending on the size of n, likely maybe a little better from radix sort). Let the sorted results be (j, b(j)) for j = 1, 2, … (k – 1). We will likely use this sorted list several times, possibly k – 2 times. Let m = 1 for the first time we use this sorted list. Consider (m, b(m)) = (j, a(j)): Then we have a lake with walls at k and j. The volume is, with some TeX notation, v(m) = a(j) (k – j – 1) – sum_{l = j + 1}^{k – 1} a(l). Here the complexity is just O(k – j – 1). Now, as in an algorithm, set m = m + 1 and k = j and continue. That finds the lakes, their volumes, and the computational complexity on one side of the starting highest wall, and the other side is similar.Point: Some children could figure this out, and some parents, maybe with some help, could guide their children in this and similar work.So, this would be a case of education better than just Dewey’s “passing down”.

    2. fredwilson

      I see this all the time. In the fundraising work I do for CS4All, I regularly pitch wealthy donors and often their first reaction. Is “how do I get this in my kids school?” .I don’t understand why wealthy school districts csntc/don’t do thisBut my desire to leave this world a better place when I go leads me to focus on the poorest schools and the neediest kids

      1. Adam Sher

        I’m going to totally speculate but there is probably a hierarchy of needs that schools have and CS is on it but not near the top. So the competing interests of other supplies, wages, etc… often crowd out adding CS to the curriculum. The wealth of the school district is irrelevant in the face of these other forces, including administrative incompetence.To wit, my son attends a private pre-school and I receive lists of things the school wants which aid learning and enrichment. Most of the items are materials we would otherwise throw out but the school will recycle (e.g. art projects).Maybe schools can request recycled computer materials and obtain them from parents for free. That’s probably the easy part. In my companies, implementation is at least 50% responsible for the success of my products. It often involves a lot of hand holding and teaching. The natural reaction is for my customers, and likely our teachers, is to guard their time.

      2. Adam Sher

        It is impressive and that you are able to change the curriculum of even 1 public school. You write about your efforts in a way that somewhat minimizes your and your organizations efforts. Your consistent efforts over time create the blueprint that will hopefully make it too painful for other school districts to ignore.

      3. LE

        I don’t understand why wealthy school districts csntc/don’t do thisThe reason it works in NYC metro is that there is a large enough quantity statistically of high capacity, intelligent, and motivated people so that someone grabs the ball and is able to make something happen.It’s not a money issue. If things were a money issue then all it would take to run a great business would be money. And that is not the case, right?You really should see what happens in the suburbs. There are people with money and people with intelligence. And there is access to resources. But there is not enough of them to honestly get things done without a super human effort. It’s just this overall mediocrity. It’s the reason you are in NYC the energy and the high caliber of many people. Even if the majority of people (in NY Metro) aren’t the movers and like this, the sheer number of people who are means someone (such as you) will step forward and do something which is great.

        1. Richard

          inner city teachers and staff are better than those in suburban schools. Why? They are younger, newer to their professions and more enthusiastic. And as the pay is essentially the same across PS systems, working in a lower income school vs a middle income school is likely much more rewarding.

          1. LE

            working in a lower income school vs a middle income school is likely much more rewardingHeard already from multiple NYC teachers (dated a girl years ago that worked in a school on the Lower East side; her parents were both teachers, my in laws are both teachers; their friends (who I have spoken to are teachers)) one of the reasons teachers work in lower income schools is that the parents are not demanding. That’s right. If you go work in a ‘good’ district with upscale parents your feet are much more held to the flame. For that matter my sister in law works as a teacher in a low income district. Same from her. Parents involvement is non existent. Nobody challenges the teacher (many of them didn’t even graduate high school.Compare that to parents in a middle class or upper class school district. They are all over you.Guess what? Many teachers (I have heard) don’t want that pressure.FYI it’s the same for Physicians. Many don’t want higher class and more demanding patients.Back to teachers. With my ex girlfriend her mother bragged to me that her last year (she was teaching at high school in Brooklyn) she just played films and wasted the time. ‘It’s my last year I can’t get fired’. (This is where I learned about the ‘rubber room’. Same for her friend. She was a teacher and told me the same thing. And yes they bragged about it. Think that would happen in a higher class school? Probably not. Parents would be all over that. Ditto for a private school.

          2. Richard

            Im referring to teachers entering the profession over the last 5 years or so.

        2. DJL

          Agreed. To be fair (and will all due respect) the Parent-School interface is the PTA. The PTA is made up of Mom’s that are already overloaded. They are focused on traditional fundraising – and not the education process. Few of them would want to lead this type of effort.

          1. LE

            To boil it down and generalize a bit (which is what I do; it has always worked for me) Mom’s on PTA want to be liked by other moms. So they are not going to go to the mat on an idea. Once again generally. They don’t roll like that at least not for something like this. [1] And yes they are in 30 different places at once. Probably overextended.[1] Kid’s safety? Well that’s different then it’s ‘mom as bear’ time.

      4. DJL

        If there is an “opportunity gap” then your efforts will certainly help close it.

      5. Rob Underwood

        In NYC the most resistance to CS4All has (edit: that I have seen) absolutely come wealthy white self-described progressive parents. In Brooklyn, where my work has been focused and where I know best, that’s places like Park Slope, Cobble Hill, etc. The reasons I have heard from affluent progressive parents is one or some of the following (not agreeing, just coveying) are: 1. My kids have too much screen time already2. Coding jobs are being outsourced 3. CS4All will mean less time for foreign language, art, music, etc. — zerosum game of school time 4. CS4All means more testing and curriculum standards5. CS4All is vocationalAnd I think that last thing is really it. These are public school parents who themselves might not work, or might no longer, and will leave their kids trust funds such that their kids need not work if they don’t choose. Computer science and coding are just not seen as essential if your kid’s “job” is just going to be sitting on a few non profit boards admidst stints at an arts collective as part time ED.

  6. jason wright

    duplicate post. ignore.

  7. jason wright

    so anyone of an age that puts them beyond the benefit of this worthy initiative is very likely in future to find themselves to be a member of a new illiterate class.

  8. Judi Bruns

    Me gusta esto!

  9. Lawrence Brass

    Una de las cosas que mas me impresiona de su actividad es que se de el tiempo de participar en este tipo de actividades. Aportar capital ya es un mérito, pero creo que aportar tiempo y dediciación personal es el sello de excelencia.Felicitaciones!

  10. kidmercury

    fred, if you are ever inclined, it would be great to hear how you go about allocating your charitable contributions, and how you evaluate the effectiveness of your contributions. that is something i struggle with on my small-time scale and if i had a methodology i felt more confident in i would probably give more.

  11. Vasudev Ram

    Congrats to all concerned.Since it’s related, and for those not in the US (or even for those – for all, worldwide, really), who are interested in learning these subjects – I conduct courses on Python programming, Linux commands & shell scripting, & SQL programming and database design. I have a lot of experience in these areas as both a developer and a trainer. Here are the course outlines & some testimonials, including from a corporate and an individual client:…I can be contacted via:https://vasudevram.github.i