Posts from hacking education

Video Of The Week: My Talk At Yext Onward 2018

Last fall, the folks at Yext offered to let me have some stage time at their Onward Conference to talk about the K12 CS Education work that I’ve been doing for the last ten years.

I didn’t realize that the talk was online until I saw it today.

So here it is. It’s just under ten minutes.

Funding Friday: Pigzbe

A friend sent me this Kickstarter project earlier this week. I took a look and thought “wow, that’s so great. a digital piggybank for kids with its own cryptocurrency, a mobile app, and educational games teaching them to earn and save.” I backed it this morning and though I don’t normally take the rewards on Kickstarter, I did this time. I can’t wait to give this to a kid when I get it this summer.

Scratch 3

As many of you know, I have been spending a fair bit of my time on K12 Computer Science Education over the last decade. The good news is that over that time period, there has been massive progress in getting computer science into our K12 schools in the US.

And if I had to pick one single thing that has been the biggest catalyst for that, I’d point to Scratch, the brainchild of Mitchel Resnick and his Lifelong Kindergarten lab at MIT’s Media Lab.

Yesterday was a big day for Scratch, and therefore, for K12 CS Education around the world. The Scratch team launched Scratch 3, a major release which brings a number of important new features and functions to Scratch. Here is the Scratch Team’s blog post on Scratch 3.

The three big improvements to Scratch in this new release are:

1/ Scratch everywhere. It used to be that you could only run Scratch in a browser. Now you can run it on touch devices like tablets. This is a big deal as many early elementary school classrooms tend to use tablets not computers.

2/ Extensions. The Scratch team has made Scratch extensible via a new element called Extensions. Examples of Extensions are the Lego Mindstorms Extension, or the Google Translate Extension, or the Amazon Text to Speech Extension. I am excited to see all of the amazing Extensions that will get built using this new feature.

3/ New characters, sounds, and backgrounds. Most kids use Scratch to build games, animations, and other fun experiences. Scratch is fun!!! So Scratch 3 brings a massive expansion of creative elements that kids can use to create the things they want to make.

Obviously Scratch can’t and won’t be used to make things like operating systems, machine learning models, transaction processing systems, etc, etc. But the people who will be building those things in the next ten years will have likely gotten into programming via Scratch.

Scratch is the on-ramp to computational thinking, coding, programming, and whatever word you want to describe the essence of computer science education. It makes something that seems so daunting really fun and approachable. And that is why I think it is the single biggest catalyst for K12 Computer Science Education.

And it just got a lot more fun and a lot more powerful.

Quizlet Premium Content

Our portfolio company Quizlet is one of the top mobile apps out there with over 50 million people a month using it to learn something.

Quizlet has existed for over a decade as a wikipedia style learning community with its users creating and sharing study sets on pretty much everything and anything. There are over 300 million of these study sets on Quizlet and that number grows larger every day as more people join Quizlet and create and share their study sets.

This week Quizlet announced that premium content creators are now joining the Quizlet community to share, and sell, study sets that they have created. Premium content creators include publishers like Kaplan and Pearson, digital learning platforms like Babbel and Kenhub, and individual experts like Rob Swatski and Miriam Gutierrez.  

If you want to become a Quizlet Verified Creator and publish your premium learning content as a Quizlet Study Set, you can go here and do that.

None of this changes the basic Quizlet experience that 50 million people experience every month.  As Quizlet wrote in the blog post announcing Premium Content:

You can continue to create study sets and study user generated content to practice and master what you’re learning for free — just like you always have. Quizlet Premium Content doesn’t replace the parts of Quizlet you know and love; it’s adding to it, giving you new ways to use the games and activities on Quizlet to study content you don’t have to create yourself (or rely on other users to create!).

I am excited to see Quizlet add premium content to its massive library of learning material. It allows learners to find new content that may meet their learning needs better than the content they or others have created. It allows teachers and other professional learning content creators to get compensated for their premium content on Quizlet. And, of course, it creates a third revenue stream, in addition to advertising and subscriptions, to diversify Quizlet’s business model.

Quizlet is an amazing learning community. Now professionals can join it and add value while getting compensated for that. I am confident that this new premium content will make Quizlet even better.

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.

Creating Surplus

Consumer surplus is the delta between what consumers expect to pay or are willing to pay for an item and what they actually have to pay given market dynamics. A good example of where we are generating a lot of consumer surplus is technology. I would be happy to pay for my email (and do) but I can get it for free from Gmail. A 49″ smart TV sells for about $300 on Amazon. A Samsung Chromebook is $200 on Amazon.

I like to think of all of this “found money” that consumers are getting from technology as the dividend we are getting from the technology revolution. It is also true that technology takes jobs out of the market, and adds them too, and that it may be a zero sum game or worse.

But the truth is many things have gotten a LOT less expensive over the last twenty years and that has made managing the household budget a fair bit easier.

My colleague Nick sent me this chart yesterday. I don’t know where he got it so I can’t identify the source.

What you see from the chart is that wages have increased about 70% over the last twenty years and many things, including housing, food, clothing, and most dramatically technology, have increased less, or have actually gone down in price, creating room/surplus in the household budget.

But not everything has gone down. Health care and education, most notably have increased dramatically.

So it is time to take aim at those sectors. We can do the same with education that we have done with other services. And we will. I feel that healthcare will be a harder lift, but I do think it can be tackled too.

In fact, our current thesis at USV compels us to go after these sectors. So we will.

I am excited about the potential to bring consumer surplus to these sectors and make more room in the household budget in doing so.

CSforAll Summit

There has been a movement growing in K12 public education around the US over the last decade to get computer science into the K12 curriculum and into all schools and in front of all students. The name this movement has taken on is CSforAll and this week in Detroit Michigan, educators from all around the country are meeting to move the CSforAll effort forward. This meeting is called the CSforAll Summit.

Today is the big day and there will be a livestream of the main stage from 8:45am ET to 7pm ET. This blog post explains most of what will go on today.

I am particularly excited that Luis von Ahn, founder of our portfolio company Duolingo, will speak at the Summit about human computation, invention and entrepreneurship, and why all students need to learn computing. He goes on at 1:30pm ET.

When educators sign up to participate in the CSforAll Summit, they are asked to make a commitment to expand CS education in their schools and this year those commitments have increased as follows:

– 47mm CS learning opportunities for K-12 Students (nearly a 400 percent increase from 12mm in 2017)
– 246,000 CS educator opportunities (compared to 77,416 in 2017)

These are big numbers, both in absolute numbers and in the rate of growth. It speaks to how seriously the public education sector is taking computer science and related tech skills and the understanding that they are becoming required skills for work and adult life. I am very pleased so see this happening.

Consumer Learning

I listened to this IBM podcast with Matt Glotzbach, CEO of our portfolio company Quizlet, this morning.

Matt explains that edtech, a long-standing term for the market for software and technology sold to the education market, is fundamentally different from the newer and exciting market for consumer learning.

We agree with Matt and our approach to investing in education, a core part of our thesis 3.0, is about delivering learning tools directly to the student and bypassing the traditional education system.

That does not mean that consumer learning is in opposition to the traditional education system, though.

We see students and teachers adopting tools like Quizlet, Duolingo, Codecademy and many others to improve learning outcomes in the classroom and at home.

But consumer learning starts with the learner and is focused on serving them as the customer, not institutions, districts, schools or other “enterprises.”

I think a learner-centric model will produce better learning outcomes than an enterprise-centric model and I also think these consumer learning companies will be better businesses too.

Reinventing Education

Alibaba founder Jack Ma has announced that he plans to retire at age 54 and turn his attention back to education. He started his career as an English teacher.

It seems, from reading the piece I linked to and a few other news reports, that Jack Ma is inspired by what Bill and Melinda Gates have done.

So am I.

Bill Gates attended AFSE, a school that the Gotham Gal and I helped to start seven years ago, this spring and he wrote this recently about that experience.

Many have criticized the work that the Gates Foundation has done in education over the years.

But my view is different.

Bill and Melinda are investing, learning, evolving, and adapting their efforts.

Just like we all do in life.

Bill’s visit to AFSE showed him something he liked. He was inspired by it, wrote about it, and I suspect it will influence the way he thinks a bit.

Like Jack Ma, Bill and Melinda are relatively young and have so much capital to invest in education and their other target areas.

The impact people like Bill, Melinda, and Jack can and will have on education around the world is immense.

And we need it.

Education is provided very unevenly on planet earth.

A high-quality education is easy to come by if you are wealthy and/or live in a wealthy country.

But even in the US, a very wealthy country, we have much of our population receiving a poor or uneven education at best.

I see this in the NYC public school system where I do most of my education philanthropy.

We have 1.1 million public school students here in NYC and many of them are not getting the education they need and deserve.

The reasons for this are many and the solutions are hard.

But I see amazing things happen in the middle of this mess and I know that we can help more kids get a better education and we are doing that.

Reinventing education requires not just working inside the established systems, it means working outside of them and ultimately rethinking them and replacing them.

But all of this has to happen in parallel. We cannot let the existing systems falter and fail our children while we are busy finding better ways.

At USV, we have a number of exciting portfolio companies that are rethinking how education should work. Companies like DuoLingo, Quizlet, Codecademy, Skillshare, and Top Hat.

Part of the answer is backing entrepreneurs like the ones behind these companies to come up with better, less expensive, and more available education solutions for our globe.

And part of the answer is changing the way employers think about education. At USV, we do not require any sort of degree to work for us. But we require skills, knowledge, and curiosity. Many larger companies are starting to do the same.

The internet and technology writ large are making it a lot easier for someone to learn something. But we have barely scratched the surface of what is possible. Twenty-five years after the emergence of the web browser and the commercial internet, education still works largely like it did back then.

That is going to change, is changing, and I am very excited for it to happen.

And I am happy that massively successful people like Bill and Melinda Gates and Jack Ma are focusing their capital and productive energy in this area.

I am too.