Google Edu Efforts

Google recently relaunched its site targeted for educators and MindShift wrote a great overview of all the new changes and features. My favorite aspect of Google’s education efforts is their Computer Science for High School Program (c4hs), that provides grants for universities around the world to help “promote Computer Science and Computational Thinking in high school and middle school curriculum.” They are currently accepting applications until March 3 for their 2012 grants, so if you know anyone who might be interested, please encourage them to apply.

Connecting Stanford Community

I always enjoy going back to the Stanford School of Ed (SUSE) and this afternoon I found myself chatting with fellow alumni in the CERAS Lobby as part of our kick-off event for SUSE Alumni Community Connect. The goal of this initiative is to help build community among SUSE Alumni across the world, beginning with virtual connections in the Facebook group which we hope will foster offline interactions around the Bay Area and beyond. Tonight’s event was made more special by hearing directly from the new SUSE Dean, Claude Steele on his views of the current education environment and how SUSE can contribute to the modern ed reform movement. I look forward to seeing how this community grows and deepens over the coming months and years. If you’re a SUSE Alum, please join the FB group and the conversation.

NSVF- Planting the seed

Last night I had the opportunity to attend the launch event for New Schools Venture Fund SeedFund, the most recent endeavor of dynamic duo Wayee Chu and Jennifer Carolan, who also spearheaded the EdTech Lab at Stanford this time last year. With the team at NSVF, these two have spent years encouraging and investing in entrepreneurs passionate about building tools and systems to help all kids have access to a high quality public education. Jennifer’s most recent blog post shares the thought process behind creating this seed stage funding opportunity and how supporting these entrepreneurs early on has the real potential to improve the struggling K-12 education system. The event attracted an impressive audience of VCs, angels, entrepreneurs and members of the community that have devoted their lives to improving education outcomes for all kids.  The highlight for me was Jennifer and Alan Louie, from Imagine K-12, kicking off the event with some compelling reasons why the timing is right to truly change education now. The stars have aligned in the following ways:

  • Technology: Current infrastructure (ie. AWS, Rackspace) makes it easier than ever to build a startup and pc/tablet penetration is increasing ( there is a 3:1 ratio of kids to computers (on avg))
  • Talent: 40% of teachers are under 30 years old and feel very comfortable using technology in the classroom
  • Common Core is laying the framework to consolidate learning goals/standards across the country (adopted by 43 states already)
  • Budget constraints: strapped districts, now more than ever, are looking for tools/systems to help them do more with less

I think another big point related to technology that was not mentioned is the availability and ability to use data in a meaningful and actionable way to drive personalized, self-paced learning to meet kids where they are and help each of them succeed on their own timeline.

Overall, I love the optimism and forward-looking tone of the evening, especially when it’s so easy to get dragged down by the history of education reform and all the strategies that have been unsuccessful in the past. The night continued with presentations from the first three companies in the SeedFund; Goalbook, Engrade and LearnZillion.

Efforts like these, that are seeking to improve education outcomes for kids and communities that need it the most, are what fuel my own passion for this work. They push us all to rethink the role of schools, what teaching and learning can and should look like in a student-centered world. We can get there, together, and NSVF is helping to plant those seeds.

Blended Learning in the Bay

Last Friday, KQED Forum discussed some of the blended learning programs in the Bay Area and in CA more broadly. While the conversation focused heavily on Rocketship‘s current model and ambitious growth plans, Tina Barseghian, editor of MindShift, also shares some feedback from students, teachers and other districts.  It’s a quick 30min discussion and worth it if you’re curious to hear current sentiment around blended/hybrid learning and some of the arguments for/against the role of teachers in a technology and data rich teaching environment.

My so-coding life

Just over the past few weeks I’ve read about several initiatives to help teach anyone basic coding skills.  As I work on my second lesson from Code Year (Week 2: functions in javascript), my mind wanders back to the few CS classes I took in undergrad almost 10 years ago and I’m seriously impressed by how much easier and accessible this content is for anyone who wants to learn to code. (The desire to learn is a big part and I’ll come back to this.) In just about a week, over 350,000 people signed up for the CodeYear program, designed by the Codecademy team (the darling of the most recent YC batch) that raised $2.5M just a couple months after launching last August. (Those growth numbers are amazing and Fred Wilson does a great job outlining some of the factors that contributed to those sign-ups.)

Adding to that buzz, Codecademy announced an abbreviated version of Code Year, CodeSummer+, in partnership with the White House and their Summer Jobs+ Program to “ provide pathways to employment for low-income and disconnected youth in the summer of 2012.” It is wonderful to see the various startups and government officials that are coming together to build off this momentum and create resources & programs that are needed in schools & communities across the country. However, I think the more important points of this announcement are the offline meetups and Q&A forums. While delivering content online is efficient, scalable and allows for self-paced learning, learning is inherently social so these 2 aspects of their program are crucial to reaching the goal of actually teaching people to code. Combining their online content with offline interactions to create a blended learning model is a smart approach that other hot digital learning startups, such as Khan Academy, are developing as well to reach key learning goals.

And speaking of learning goals, I’m curious to see some of the assessments that go along with Code Year to help confirm that I am, in fact, becoming a hacker. (Of course I’m also relying on several other online resources as well as direct instruction from my sometimes not-so-patient hacker husband.)

Back to an earlier point…One of the key drivers to learning anything is interest, so in order for these types of programs to be successful the first step is actually to foster the desire for people to want to code. Coming from the Silicon Valley, it’s fairly obvious to many of us, but convincing a middle/high school student from another environment is slightly more challenging. That is what excites me most about The Academy for Software Engineering, NY’s first public high school that will actually train kids to develop software. Beyond being open to any student that is interested and focusing on diversity in STEM fields, the school is focusing on 9th graders and helping plant the seed of why coding is an important and necessary skill. I believe igniting that interest in 14 year olds is what will truly lead to a world of coders.

And in contributing to that larger teach-the-world-to-code vision and my own personal goals, I should get back to my lesson.

Khan Academy welcomes Vi Hart

Vi Hart, newest faculty member of Khan Academy, brings some whimsy (and elephants) to math education. Enjoy!

SF Flex Academy

A friend of mine recently joined the team at SF Flex Academy, one of a handful of truly blended learning schools in the Bay Area. What I love most about this video is the diversity of the students and how they all have found a passion for learning and building community in this school environment. I hope to check out their blended learning lab very soon. SF Flex is a free, public (charter) high school that is currently accepting applications and looking for a history teacher, so please help spread the word.