Posts from hacking education

Volunteer At TEALS NYC

TEALS is a longstanding program supported by Microsoft where software engineers assist in computer science instruction in K12 schools. I have been blogging about and advocating TEALS for over eight years now. TEALS came to NYC in 2013 and has been helping kids learn computer science in NYC schools ever since.

For many of those years, the software engineers would have to travel to the school building to assist in classroom instruction. But that has changed and now TEALS volunteers can teach remotely. I think that is a huge unlock for everyone and I am encouraging software engineers in NYC to consider doing TEALS during the 2021/2022 school year.

You can learn more here.

If you are interested, you can apply here.

#hacking education

Ten Years And Just Getting Started

I remember meeting Zach Sims and his co-founder Ryan Bubinski back in 2011 when they started Codecademy. Zach was still in college and thinking of dropping out to focus on the Company. I just realized this morning that it has been ten years since then. Wow. Time does fly.

Like many great companies their idea was simple, but powerful.

build the easiest way to learn to code

They did that and they have gone on to build a large and profitable business helping anyone learn to code, get a job, and start a career.

But it isn’t as simple as that. In fact, when you look at the ten-year history of the Company that Zach lays out in this great tweetstorm, you see how hard it is to build something lasting, sustainable, and important.

What is more impressive is that when you read this blog post Zach wrote this week you see that he is just getting started. When building long-lasting companies, it helps to have a mission that really matters. This line from Zach’s post brings it home for me:

Times like these remind us that what we’re doing matters: hundreds of thousands of people around the world use Codecademy every single day to learn the skills they need to find jobs, upgrade their careers, and live better lives.

The world is changing quickly before our eyes, the job market is changing with it. Our educational institutions are trying to evolve to meet the needs of students and employers but it is hard to turn a battleship around. So companies like Codecademy are filling in the gaps, helping people learn the things they need to learn, and building some incredible businesses along the way.

To another ten years!

#entrepreneurship#hacking education

Remote Learning

I wrote this in yesterday’s post:

Remote learning is here to stay.

I got a bunch of emails and tweets from parents saying that they want their kids back in school. So do I!!! I think getting kids back in school is the single biggest thing we can do to put the pandemic in the rear view mirror.

I should have been more clear about what I meant by that line.

I meant that when kids are sick, they can stay home and still learn.

I meant that when there is a snow day, kids can stay home and still learn.

I meant that when kids have trouble with their homework, maybe there is a way they can log on and get help.

I meant that summer school could happen anywhere, maybe even at sleepaway camp.

What I meant by “remote learning is here to stay” is that we now understand that learning can move from the classroom to anywhere and back and does not need to be constrained by place and time. That’s a huge thing to learn and I think K12 education (and higher education) will benefit enormously from it.

But I am all for getting kids back into the classroom as soon as possible.

#hacking education

Computer Science Is For Everyone

Many/most of you know that a lot of my philanthropic time and energy is dedicated to making sure that all K12 students, but particularly young women and students of color, have access to a high quality computer science education.

When I started this work a decade or more ago, I would regularly run into well-meaning people in the education system who would say something like “oh, that’s not for my students” and it would piss me off and I would try to explain that anyone can learn to tell a machine what to do. Often, it fell on deaf ears.

So when my friend Hadi sent me this video that his organization, Code.org, made, it warmed my heart. The whole thing is great, but at 1:42 in, a woman named Amaya completely nails it when she says “Computer science is for everyone, literally everyone. Some people think you have to be a genius to get it, and that is so far from the truth.” Right on, Amaya.

Check out the video. It’s great.

#hacking education

The Work-Life Balance Revolution

Yesterday, I had a gap in the middle of the day. So the Gotham Gal and I took an hour-long walk with our dog Ollie. It cleared my head and when I got back to work, I was full of energy and clarity.

I’ve been working exclusively from home since the end of November 2019 when we left NYC to go to LA. It has been a stretch of incredible productivity for me.

I am not arguing against going back to the office. As I’ve said in many posts recently, I can’t wait to go back to the office. But I am sure that many of us have had the same experience that I have had working from home during the pandemic. It has its advantages.

And in that realization exists the possibility that we are on the cusp on a revolution in how many of us can find work life balance going forward.

My friend Tom wrote this post last week suggesting that a husband and wife can now work a total of 50 hours a week between them and have two full-time jobs and raise a family. This part sums up the idea pretty well:

Why do I think 25 hours/ week is the equivalent of a 50-hour week (counting commuting)?

Given a nine-to five schedule with an hour for lunch, the 40 hour work week was only 35 to begin with.

As an ex-CEO, I think that at least ten hours of each workweek go to socialization, surfing the internet, checking with the spouse or checking up on the children, chatting on smartphones etc. (Mary thinks only five).

Meetings and travel to meetings waste a huge amount of time and money. One reason that Zooming appears not to have reduced productivity is that many of the meetings weren’t productive to begin with.

Office space and often parking are expenses to the employer but they are not income to the worker. If office space and all its attendant costs can be drastically reduced, employers can afford to pay more dollars in salary for the same productivity.

Commuting expense including perhaps even the second car, daycare, clothing and dry-cleaning bills, and paid before and after school activities whose purpose is to supervise school age kids are all expenses which go away when parents can work from home. Even if the WFH employee has less gross taxable income, he or she will have more cash at the end of each month.

https://blog.tomevslin.com/2021/01/newnormal-the-50-hour-family-work-week.html

Even if Tom is off by a bit with his math, he makes a terrific point. Companies can ask for less of a family’s time, pay them more, and get the same amount of work done using the techniques we have perfected during the pandemic.

I realize that not all jobs lend themselves to this approach. But maybe more than you think. Take doctors. We used to have to go see doctors in their offices. Now with digital health services like those offered by our portfolio companies Brave and Nurx, the doctors are seeing the patients from their homes (or wherever they are).

Teaching is another occupation that presents a lot of opportunity to rethink time and location. Many teachers have been learning how to help their students master new things from their kitchen counters over the last year.

I want to say it again. I am not suggesting that we won’t be going to offices anymore. I am not saying doctors won’t have offices anymore. I am not saying teachers won’t be in classrooms anymore.

What I am saying is that we can and should be asking how much of our work time needs to be in person, face to face, and how much can be virtual. And I am certain that we will be asking that. In our year-end reviews at USV, we heard again and again from our team that they wanted to ask those questions. They should. Commuting and business travel are not the necessities they were last century.

And, naturally, this coming work-life balance revolution presents tremendous opportunities for new products, services, and companies. We have been seeing many of them crop up over the last year and have invested in a few of them.

From bad comes good. This pandemic and all of the things that have come with it has been awful. But I believe it will unleash all sorts of new behaviors and businesses that will be for the better. If you squint, you can see them coming.

#climate crisis#economics#employment#enterprise#entrepreneurship#Family#hacking education#health care#management#VC & Technology

Expand E-Rate To Low Income Households

E-Rate is a program put in place in the 1996 Telecommunications Act to expand Universal Service Fund fees to schools in order to help them upgrade their telecom infrastructure. Telcos charge customers Universal Service Fund fees so that they can provide “universal service”, originally aimed at rural and other locations that were/are not profitable to service otherwise.

E-Rate has largely been successful in helping schools move from no internet, to DSL and low bandwidth internet, to cable and fiber over the last twenty years.

But now we have the realization that remote, blended, and hybrid learning models, brought on by the pandemic and likely here to stay in some form, require something more. They require that EVERY child needs a reliable high bandwidth connection to the internet from their home.

School districts all over the country have been scrambling for the last nine months to raise money from charitable sources so that they can provide hot spots and other ways to get kids internet in their homes so they can attend school. I have participated in a number of these campaigns and they have been heroic in many ways, but it is still not enough.

The FCC can do something simple and powerful. They can do it now. They can expand E-Rate to include low income households who need reliable and high bandwidth internet so that their children can attend school.

I would like to see them do that asap.

#hacking education#hacking government#policy

Going Direct To Learners With Software

I was talking to a group of education entrepreneurs (on Zoom naturally) last week and was advocating for the “direct to learner” approach that defines our eduction investing strategy at USV. For the most part, we do not like to back companies that sell learning tools to educational institutions. We like to back companies that use software to go directly to learners, wherever they may be.

As an example of a powerful model that I like very much, I talked about Scratch, the visual programming environment built at MIT over the last twenty years. Anyone can use Scratch, from anywhere, as long as they have a computing device.

And between that talk and today, Scratch published their 2019 Annual Report. Scratch is a non-profit that the Gotham Gal and I have supported over the years. So I read that annual report with interest.

Here are some charts from that annual report:

Scratch is heavily used in schools all around the world. But it is not sold to schools. It is simply used by schools. It is also used by kids, parents, tutors, and anyone else who wants to help a child learn to instruct a machine to do something fun and rewarding.

That’s the power of using software to go direct to learners. You can reach so many learners and teach them so much.

#hacking education

Sora

My partner Rebecca wrote about our most recent education investment, Sora, on the USV blog today. We have been investing in learning for over a decade at USV and have built a terrific learning portfolio focusing on companies that are providing services direct to the learner (as opposed to selling “ed tech” to institutions).

What we had not done, until now, is backed a company providing an alternative learning “institution.” Sora does that. And so I thought it would be worth talking a bit about that.

Sora is a high school “built for you.” As Rebecca wrote in the USV blog post about Sora:

Through a combination of small social pods, self-directed projects, and student-run organizations, high schoolers shape their academic and extracurricular experience, as well as the governance of the school. Instead of tests and assessments, high schoolers prove what they know by what they can do –  code a video game, wire a miniature greenhouse, or produce a paid ad spot for a company.  Students are encouraged to lean into subjects that speak to them and build a project portfolio in the disciplines where they’re most excited.

and

Over time, Sora students hit all of the traditional curriculum milestones essential for high school graduation, in a more tactile, self-directed manner and without exams as a benchmark of their mastery or creativity. Even in these early days, Sora is wrapping up the final stages of accreditation and is part of the Mastery Transcript Consortium, meaning students graduate with a transcript easily understood by colleges if they choose to pursue that path.  

So if you or your child is/are not having a great high school experience and you want something else, check out Sora. Sora is not free, like your local public high school, but it is very affordable and we hope that it becomes even more affordable over time as it scales into a new, different, and possibly better way for some to go to high school.

#hacking education

Funding Friday: NextMaker Box

Regular readers will know that I am a huge fan and funder of teaching kids to code. I believe helping young people learn to think logically via coding exercises is helpful to their development in so many ways.

So when I came across the NextMaker project on Kickstarter, I backed it instantly.

NextMaker is a monthly box that comes with a project that your kids can do combining coding with making things. The programming is all block based (visual) so youngsters can do it easily and it is fun for them.

I’m embedding the video here on the web, but if you get this via email, click on this link and watch it.

#crowdfunding#hacking education