Posts from hacking education

Exploring An Investment Thesis

I remember back in the 2005/2006/2007 time frame when blogging and social media was coming of age, I used this blog as a petri dish to explore ideas like influencer marketing, social advertising, and virality that have become critical parts of a growth marketer’s playbook a decade later.

That “hacking around in social media” taught me so much that I could not have learned reading or talking to people. Of course, I did those things too, but getting my hands dirty with the technology and ideas helped me understand them and see the power of them and invest in them before others did.

So it is always great to see when other investors are doing the same thing.

Dani, one of our awesome analysts at USV, has been exploring the area of “free learning.” She has been writing about it. And she has been hacking around in it too.

Yesterday she launched a free learning game you play via text message.

She built it on “twilio/node/express/firebase.” I know she also built a version on the Kin Testnet to see how cryptocurrency rewards could impact how students stick with a game like this.

I just played a couple rounds of Numberline on my phone and thankfully I got the first two correct. I am quitting while I am ahead. If there was some Kin involved though…….

Teaching Geometry With Javascript

When I started my now ten-year journey down the “let’s teach computer science in our public schools” path, I knew that getting students to instruct machines would open up new methods of teaching and learning. But I did not understand just how powerful that would be.

It is good and necessary to offer dedicated classes in computer science to students. It is even better to use computer science to teach complex concepts in subjects like math, science, art, music, literature and more. When you do both, you can really impact student’s learning and comprehension.

I was in a high school class in the Tremont neighborhood of the Bronx yesterday. They were doing geometry lessons in Javascript.

They started with a lesson on the translation function and how it could be used to move objects around. This is a photo I took of the smartboard at the front of the classroom as the students discussed how this function works.

After this lesson, the students played a game of Battleship in Javascript with each other on their laptops.

This is a photo of the Bronx Borough President, Ruben Diaz Jr, playing Javascript Battleship with one of the students in the class.

Writing and editing code on a machine allows the student to see how geometric functions (and many other functions) work in a fun and interactive way and takes complex notions and makes them real and tangible to them. This is important and powerful.

I now believe that introducing computer science into the elementary, middle, and high school curriculum will not only help students master computational thinking but it will also help them master many other complex concepts and allow them to be better students and better adults.

Opting Out Of The Legacy Model

When you look at industries that continue to operate on old, outdated, and highly regulated models (education, health care, banking, brokerage, etc, etc), it is interesting to look at the numbers of consumers who are opting out of the legacy model.

In K12 education, many people think of charter schools as the disruptive model and there are something like 3.5mm to 4mm students attending charter schools in the US now (out of roughly 55mm K12 students in the US: 50mm public, 5mm private).

But if you really want to look at where the disruptive models exist, you need to look at consumers who are completely opting out and in K12 education, that is the homeschooling movement.

My partner Andy sent around this tweet this morning and it is quite interesting:

In the US, we have almost as many students being homeschooled as are in the charter schools.

And homeschooling, which has its roots in the religious communities, is increasingly breaking out of that and slowly moving into the mainstream:

It has gotten much easier to consider homeschooling over the last twenty years via a combination of technology and infrastructure that has largely been developed by the early adopters of homeschooling.

This is a trend to watch and, possibly, to invest in.

Video Of The Week: John von Neumann on K12 CS Education

As many of you know, I have spent a fair bit of my time over the last ten years on increasing the amount of CS Education in our K12 system in NYC and around the US.

My friend Rob sent me this short (2 1/2 min) clip of John von Neumann in the early 50s talking about how important CS Education and in particular K12 CS Education would be.

We largely ignored his advice for the last sixty years but I am optimistic that we are finally heeding it.

A Hackathon At NYC’s City Hall

I like going to hackathons. A number of USV portfolio companies have emerged out of hackathons, like our portfolio company Dapper which created its hit crypto-collectible game CryptoKitties at a Hackathon in late 2017.

So yesterday I headed down to NYC’s City Hall which was hosting the finals of a citywide hackathon competition (called The Hack League) among NYC schools to create the best software applications to make the city better.

The final projects were judged by people like the Chief Policy and Data Office (Comptroller’s office); the Chief Analytics Officer (City of NY); the Chief Technology Officer (Mayor’s office); the Executive Director of NYC311 (City of NY) and other folks in city government tasked with a similar mandate.

There were 28 finalist teams at City Hall yesterday competing to win the trophy. They were from all five boroughs, representing schools from all kinds of neighborhoods. It was as diverse as the city is and that is a wonderful thing.

I gave them a pep talk at the start of the day and encouraged them to “instrument their applications” so that they and others can determine how their users are getting value from them.

This is a photo I took of the students as I was about to address them:

The winning teams came from these schools with these applications:

Middle school Winners:
1st: Queens TWYLS – “Trash Go” game that incentivizes proper disposal of trash

2nd: Staten Island IS63 – “Oh Deer” app for residents to report on deer sightings and upload photos so the Dep’t of Environmental Conservation can track the deer

3rd: Brooklyn Parkside Prep – “Hero Foods” app that delivers nutritious lunches to students with special needs (financial or health)  

High school Winners:
1st: Brooklyn International HS at Lafayette – “Busted” app for students to report real-time data about buses (such as too full, never arrived)

2nd: Manhattan Bridges High School – “Heat track” app that tracks temperatures inside and outside of homes and communicates to landlords about issues.

3rd: Bronx Millennium Art Academy – “Safety 1st” bi-lingual alert system to keep students informed when they are without their phones during the school day.

I was super impressed by how focused and committed the students were on making their applications better yesterday:

Here is a photo of all of the students who competed yesterday in the City Hall Rotunda.

These are the employees of the future for NYC startups, larger tech companies, and, frankly, every company in NYC. And let me tell you something. They are going to be really good.

Funding Friday: Code Society

Code Society is like Schoolhouse Rock for Computer Science. They use hip hop music and videos to teach computer science concepts to diverse communities.

They are doing a $40k project on Kickstarter (and are about half way there) to create content and applications. I backed it earlier this week and you can back it here.

The Annual Computer Science Fair

Here in NYC, we are about halfway into a 10-year effort to get computer science classes into every public school building in NYC. We are already seeing significant impact and outcomes.

Most of the students taking CS classes at school live in neighborhoods in NYC where there are no tech companies and they can’t see the pathway that they are on if they want to be. That is where the Annual Computer Science Fair comes in.

This year was the sixth annual CS Fair. We invite high school students who are taking CS classes to take the morning off from school and come to the Armory in Washington Heights and meet tech companies that they could one day work for and colleges/universities that they could attend.

I spent much of yesterday at the Fair and had the honor of taking Mayor de Blasio, who has been funding CS4All since the early days of his administration, through the event. Here are some photos from what is always a fantastic day for me.

I hope these young women made it over to the Etsy booth
Where they could have learned how Etsy uses data science to personalize everyone’s shopping experiences
This young man from the Bronx made a multiplayer video game in javascript and told me and the Mayor that he wants to work for a tech company out of high school. I asked him to send me an email.
This teacher from Information Technology High School in Queens had two teams of students showing software projects in the student showcase. She and her students took a selfie with the Mayor.

The Annual CS Fair would not be possible without the financial support of tech companies who underwrite the expenses. I would like to thank the major sponsors for making this possible.

Equity Via Inclusion

We’ve been trying a big ambitious experiment in NYC over the last five years. We are training over 5,000 teachers to teach computer science classes in elementary school, middle school, and high school. We call it CS4All.

It sounds simple, but it is anything but simple. And it is expensive. We are funding it via public private partnership. I am leading the private part via a $40mm capital campaign. Talk to me about that if you are interested.

But here’s the thing. If you want to see engineering teams that are 50/50 male/female, and representative of our racial makeup (black, hispanic, etc, etc), if you want true equity and diversity in our workforces, then you simply have to do one thing:

Give the education/training/skills to EVERYONE.

And we are seeing the outcomes now that we are approaching our fifth year of this effort.

The NY Post (The NYC Mayor’s biggest critic) wrote this article about the performance and representation of young women in the AP Computer Science exams last spring.

Just 379 girls took the exam in 2016, compared with 2,155 last year, according to the department. That means that 42 percent of all city kids who took the AP exam were girls — compared with just 28 percent nationwide.


And the female students aren’t just sitting for the tests in far higher numbers — they’re conquering them at an accelerated rate as well.
In 2016, only 177 New York City girls passed an AP computer-science exam, officials said. In 2018, 1,266 earned the distinction.

https://nypost.com/2019/03/24/girls-are-acing-the-ap-computer-science-test-in-record-numbers-doe/

I am a huge fan of efforts directed at teaching young women to code, things like Girls Who Code. They are amazing resources for young women and they are part of why these numbers are moving in the right direction.

But I have always believed, and these numbers give me even more conviction, that the best way to get equity for everyone is to include everyone. Pretty simple really.

Funding Friday: Young Women Teaching Coding To Others

First of all, I’d like to say that I have a number of connections to this project that I am highlighting today. The young women who are behind this project are the same ones I mentioned at the tail end of the talk I posted last saturday. I have been inspired by these young women and their teacher since I met them at the Annual CS Fair a few years ago. And in this project, they are “modeling our curriculum and teaching practices on NYC’s Computer Science initiative (CS4ALL)”, which is a project that I helped start and am leading the fundraising effort for. So this project is very close to home and heart for me.

OK, on to the project. This summer six young women will travel to Mendoza Argentina to teach coding curriculum to teachers and students in an effort to get computer science classes into the schools in Mendoza.

Here is a video that explains the project:

This morning I helped launch their GoFundMe campaign with a $5000 donation. Their goal is to raise $15,600 to fund their summer trip to Mendoza. Hopefully some members of the AVC community will join me in backing this project on GoFundMe and help them make this trip a reality.