Re-engineering Summer Camp

The most exciting (and challenging) aspect of flipping the classroom is figuring out how to bring real hands-on learning activities back into the school day. Khan Academy, often at the center of the flipped classroom conversation, is exploring some interesting project-based learning efforts during their Discovery Lab Summer Camp. A few members of the team are in the middle of running 3 2-week long sessions at the International School of the Peninsula for middle school students and I got a chance to stop by for a bit this week and observe their lesson on reverse engineering.

The ~20 students in the group were asked to bring in pretty mundane household items, ranging from an old-school telephone to a toaster (one student even attempted to take apart an iPhone), to reverse engineer. One of the newest KA team members, Karl Wendt, shared his example of deconstructing a hair dryer and identifying the various parts, their functions and the materials used to construct the object.

While it is difficult to draw too many conclusions from a brief observation session, it was clear to see the students were engaged in the work and doing some interesting research to understand the mechanics and history of their products. Creating this experience in a 2 week summer camp environment reaching ~ 100 kids is great. Integrating these projects into classrooms across diverse schools and communities during the school year is a massive challenge.

People have strong feelings about Khan Academy, and even the assumptions behind the flipped classroom model. (I think we should acknowledge that people often have strong feelings about a lot of things and move on to what really matters.) To appropriately address this massive challenge of making learning engaging and relevant for all students, we need to continue to attract all forms of energy and talent to create solutions.

I think the best ideas often come from diverse teams bringing new and creative ways of approaching the problem. This is what excites me most about the recent surge in energy and attention focused on the education space, which has brought more people into the conversation who typically wouldn’t want to take on the massive challenge of fixing what’s not working in schools right now.

Personally, I am drawn to solutions that come from entrepreneurial teachers, however I believe we should embrace that diversity of perspective, focusing more on the solutions and their potential for future impact, rather than rejecting approaches that come from ‘non-traditional’ sources. I think that’s the best way for us to collectively re-engineer the future of education.

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Envisioning the Future of Learning

School’s out for the Summer! I had the pleasure of advising a class in the Learning, Design and Technology (LDT) program through the School of Ed at Stanford this spring quarter, Ed 333B: Envisioning the Future of Learning. The course was co-taught by two of my favorite LDT Alumni, Dan Gilbert and Ami Mehta, who framed the class around two key questions “What should every 11-year-old girl in the world know?  How might we make that happen?” taking into consideration how technology will evolve over the next ten years.

To provide real world context for applying business, design and learning approaches to these questions, we conducted three 2-week long design challenges with real clients from Castilleja Girls School, Khan Academy and TeachAIDS. I was excited to bring some of my experiences from Khan Academy into this class, leading a challenge focused on rethinking how to distribute digital content to empower learners all over the world. The students came up with some creative yet practical approaches and I’m looking forward to piloting this project in partnership with Teach-A-Class and Living Values in Nigeria in the coming months. (Stay tuned for a future post on the launch of my next endeavor.)

The last class held this past Thursday night was a true culmination of the previous exercises exploring business, design and learning approaches, where the students lead the group in their own unique design challenges. What made the process even more special was the presence of some inspiring LDT alumni like Kim Jacobsen, co-founder of Junyo and local edtech community members, like Neeru Khosla, founder of CK12. However, the guests who really contributed the most were Shivali and Sahil, two Bay Area teenagers who not only provided useful perspective on teens going through the education system today but were energetic and vocal participants in the challenges.

I would love to see more classes like this in the School of Ed that are applying learning & design theories to real-world problems and engaging alumni and community members in the process. I’m glad I was able to be a part of this course and hope to stay connected to these students and projects in the future.

Early Stages of Disrupting Higher Ed

On my morning run today I had a chance to listen to this recent KQED Forum session with Sebastian Thrun (Udacity), Sal Khan (Khan Academy) and Anant Agarawal (MITx) sharing their thoughts and contributions to online learning.

The conversation opened with Ben Nelson sharing his plans for the Minerva Project, to offer an elite level university education fully online. He recently raised $25M in seed funding to address the issue that the demand for an ivy league style education vastly outstrips the supply and I wish he would’ve shared more of his perspective since he plans to charge students while the other 3 panelists offer their services for free.

It was an interesting discussion where the panelists clearly acknowledged that while their online courses have made a significant impact we are just in the beginning stages of figuring out the best way to deliver and measure online learning where the role of community and 1:1 interaction is still vitally important. In response to how the cost of a higher ed degree is rapidly increasing while its value as a signal of quality and ability to provide job security is decreasing, I appreciated Sal’s comment that we must deconstruct the key aspects of college: learning, credentialing and socializing in order to control quality and costs. There is huge value in each and we must optimize the delivery methods accordingly. Sebastian and Anant shared some valuable examples of how their students have organized both physical and virtual communities to support each other’s learning and how these new models for study groups reflect the teamwork and collaboration we should expect to see more of in the future workforce.

I am so pleased to see conversations like this taking place that go beyond simply bringing content online and are addressing the more complex issue of how to facilitate learning, maintain student engagement and foster community and peer interactions in an online environment. While the discussion was focused on higher education I think, as Khan Academy has demonstrated, this work has broader implications for learning at all levels.

A Deeper Look- Blended Learning at DCP

Last fall I was fortunate to meet Greg Klein, Director of Blended Learning at Downtown College Prep in San Jose, and got a chance to see one of the few truly blended learning schools in the Bay Area. Greg manages his lab as a startup, piloting a variety of software programs giving himself and his students a chance to test it all out before integrating it fully into their workflow. As the first guest speaker at my Teacher Tech Talk event, Greg gave us all a deeper look into the tools he uses and some of the key decisions he’s made to cultivate an engaging and highly academic blended learning environment.

It helps to start with a deeper understanding of the student population. Downtown College Prep (DCP) in Alum Rock is located in one of the lowest income communities in San Jose. Greg’s campus serves 180 students (6th and 7th graders) of which 89% are on free/reduced lunch, however, 2/3 of the students d0 have access to internet at home. 60 students at a time spend 90 min/day in the learning lab going through 3 30-min rotations. The computers are setup in rows with a simple system of using red/green plastic cups to identify student progress and who may need some additional support.  Greg went on to share the pretty comprehensive list of tools he uses to structure the content and delivery during those rotation sessions.

Greg and the DCP Team are currently experimenting with these products in the following areas, although many of them can be used in other content areas, too.

Communication: Edmodo***, Goalbook*, Google Docs***
(* indicate Greg’s enthusiasm for these different products)

A student and instructor favorite, Quizlet, is in the process of launching a beta version of  a new product, Sentencer, that allows kids to collaboratively create sentences and then vote up/down their writings. One of the obvious gaps was software tools to support science instruction and project-based learning (PBL,) and DCP currently uses Google Docs through Edmodo to deliver lesson plans that the teachers themselves created.

In generating this list during the discussion, a teacher made an interesting point wondering if students then had 11 different logins to manage these systems? While a Google Apps login is shared across a few of the tools, there are still several different logins that students have to remember and enter on a daily basis. This tied directly into an early suggestion on the need for unification of tools/systems to make it easier for students and teachers to use and access data from these different platforms.

Special thanks to Greg for being our first guest speaker and sharing these insights from the blended learning environment he’s creating at DCP. Keep an eye out for similar deep-dives as I plan to connect with the blended learning folks at SF Flex Academy and Rocketship sometime soon.

Teacher Tech Talk

During my exploration deeper into the world of edtech, meeting with countless entrepreneurs & investors and attending numerous conferences & events, I feel a very important perspective is missing from this growing movement… the voice and participation of educators. Can we really redesign and distribute new innovations in teaching and learning without active involvement from the teacher community? I’ve been to several edtech meetups, Startup Weekend EDU events and conferences and it’s rare to find attendees that are actually current teachers, working directly with students and trying out the new tools that seem to pop up weekly.

So, what can we do about that? Last night I hosted the first Teacher Tech Talk event to help identify and build a community of educators that are interested in playing a more vocal and active role  in this growing edtech movement. It’s been hard to miss all the buzz around the ‘edtech’ world lately, however, people who have been thinking about ed reform for a while recognize that technology is merely a tool and the larger disruptions and improvements to current teaching and learning practices depend on when/how those tools are used, which is  largely driven by educators.

My goal for this community is to collectively figure out how best to bridge the educator and education startup worlds. How can we get more perspective from what is happening in classrooms and schools into the product development process of startups, rather than when it’s time to find beta testers or product evangelists? The group consisted of current and former educators, entrepreneurs, school/district tech leads and even an investor. The diversity of perspectives lead to a very insightful discussion session, and as this community grows I imagine it will attract more entrepreneurs and investors, however, I’m extremely focused on keeping the content and conversation centered on educators.

After some networking, we settled into a brainstorming and discussion session around what the educators think would make their teaching lives easier. The responses ranged from predictable need for more time, access to devices, actionable data to more collective impact approaches, engaging parents, inter/intra district collaboration and thinking how to bring more relevancy and real-world application to the current standards-based curriculum. Greg Klein was our first guest speaker, invited to share his perspective as a former principal in Oakland and current teacher, leading the blended learning initiatives at Downtown College Prep. He shared an in-depth look into the tools (Khan Academy, Manga High and long list of others) and process he’s piloting at DCP and stay tuned for a follow-up post that goes into more detail. Brett Kopf, co-founder of Remind101, then shared his experience incubating his startup through Imaginek12 and speaking with hundreds of teachers before starting to build his product that aims to power communication between teachers, parents and students.

This pilot event was a success and surfaced some extremely useful feedback on how to grow and shape this community going forward. Look out for an invite to next month’s event and if you’re interested in getting involved in anyway, let me know. As with most startups, I’m figuring this out as I go and can use all the feedback I can get!

Khan Academy welcomes Vi Hart

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

Blended Learning Lab- Downtown College Prep (Alum Rock)

Khan Academy exercise dashboard

Red and green cup system

Blended Learning Lab- Downtown College Prep (Alum Rock)

Blended Learning- In Real Life

I’ve watched the videos, read the blogs and spent a full day in SF last month at a conference that championed the future of blended learning…and today I got to see it in real life (IRL.)

A friend of mine, Justin Su, invited me to check out the learning lab that he helped set up at Downtown College Prep(DCP) who just launched their Alum Rock campus with 180 6th and 7th graders this fall. DCP is one of the few schools in the Bay Area that has implemented a truly blended learning approach where each student spends 90 minutes a day in the learning lab with Greg Klein, a certified teacher and self-proclaimed tech geek, who is clearly optimistic about the potential for this model. The lab contains 60 computers, configured with help from a Cisco volunteer, that provide a variety of offerings for the students, including; Khan Academy (math), TeenBiz/Achieve3000 (ELA), MangaHigh (math), ALEKS (math) and GoalBook. Klein utilizes Edmodo as a tool to communicate and collaborate with students to guide their learning by creating individualized playlists for different groups of students.

A couple of the students walked me through their daily math routine. Choose a station->log into Khan Academy (via Google account)-> load Edmodo to see their playlists-> begin working. I quickly learned that many of the students skip the videos and jump right into the exercises, applying lessons learned from their math teacher, in real life, to figure out the right answer. If they get stuck, they request a hint through the system, select an answer and move on. As a fan of Sal Khan’s videos, I couldn’t help but feel the kids were missing out, but having worked with middle schoolers for years I understand their perspective— “I get it. I know the answer. Let’s move on.” And Greg gets it too, sharing his view that the goal is not for the kids to watch the videos but rather for them to understand the content and be engaged in their learning process. The beauty of this just-in-time content delivery, where the videos are there for review if/when students need them, is the backbone of a self-paced learning environment. These content tools blended together with guidance from educators like Greg, as well as the ELA and Math teachers IRL, create an effective and interactive learning environment for these students.

Greg’s simple ‘red cup/green cup’ system builds on this view, where once a student has completed their assigned work they are given a green cup (can you see them in the picture?) which means they are free to work on whatever area they choose. This simple system empowers students to take ownership over their time and learning progress, which is the hallmark of a successful blended learning model.  Tools such as Goalbook further enhance this process, allowing students to create personal learning plans where they can write their own goals and easily track/share progress with teachers and parents.

I’m very optimistic about blended learning and feel that when implemented effectively, it can really improve the learning experience for students and teaching experience for educators. I’m grateful for the time I got to spend observing blended learning IRL and my experience reminded me that while online content is great, you still need real life interaction to solidify and reinforce your knowledge and beliefs. Next up on my list is to check out the learning lab at Rocketship.

Design Thinking for 5 year olds

Last Friday I attended the Innovative Learning Conference, hosted by the Nueva School every other year, and the whole experience just blew me away. The school itself is a beautiful collection of older and newer buildings sprinkled on lush hill side in Hillsborough. Choosing the highlight of the day was almost as difficult as choosing which individual sessions to attend. I started off with listening to Dr. Dean Ornish share his thoughts on wellness and the motivation needed to make sustainable lifestyle changes. From there I moved on to Prasad Ram’s presentation of Gooru Learning and his vision for making a tool for teachers to easily incorporate online resources into their lesson plans and share them with others. The day continued to get better as I had the pleasure of meeting Sal Khan and hearing him share a more intimate version of how the Khan Academy sprouted from his first videos into the rapidly growing library it is today. I ended the day with a brief guided meditation from Shauna Shapiro and then a conversation with Neeru Khosla on how CK-12 has quietly and consistently been working to disrupt the textbook industry. And these were just the speakers that I got a chance to see!

However, my favorite part of the day was learning about the iLab, which is a product of collaboration between Nueva and The Institute of Design at Stanford, and very closely resembles some d.school workspaces. Through sessions with Kim Saxe and Susie Wise I learned how kids as young as 5 are introduced to the basics of design-thinking, by brainstorming needs statements and then applying the 3e’s: Empathy, Experiment, Environment to come up with solutions that address those needs. The open space itself as well as the practices of the iLab illustrate the shift from STEM->STEAM, bringing the much-needed focus on arts and creative thinking back into the classroom.

One of the most important messages (especially to the educators in the audience) is that these practices don’t require significant resources but rather a shift in how problems and the brainstorming processes are presented to kids. Grab some post-its, put wheels on the bottom of a few Ikea desks and you are ready to build a design-thinking workshop at any school!  You can read more about explicitly teaching design-thinking to students (and teachers through Stanford’s K-12 Lab) in this recent WSJ piece on David Kelly, founder of IDEO.

Susie shared her experiences in creating a ‘culture of design’ and how they are applying learnings from the iLab to the Urban Montessori School they are establishing in Oakland (Fall 2012,) of which she is a founding team member. I’d love to visit this school soon and am sure I won’t be able to wait 2 years for the next ILC before visiting Nueva again too!

Khan Academy expands their faculty

Khan Academy launched a partnership today with SmartHistory which not only expands their content library but introduces new instructional voices and perspectives to the popular site. The new Art History section contains 100+ videos discussing a variety of historic pieces from Ancient to Modern times and begins with this message: “Spontaneous conversations about works of art where the speakers are not afraid to disagree with each other or art history orthodoxy. Videos are made by Dr. Beth Harris and Dr. Steven Zucker along with other contributors.”

Clicking on one of the videos directs you to the SmartHistory site which is visibly labeled as ‘presented by Khan Academy.’ I think this partnership is a great step in the right direction to increase the content offering and perspectives that are guiding and ‘instructing’ viewers on this incredibly popular site, which has tripled its unique users to 3.5 million over the past year. I was especially intrigued to see that some of the ‘other contributors’ include Second Life correspondents, such as the two avatars who guide us through this recreation of Michelangelo’s Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, providing historical and physical context in their explanation.

I’m thrilled to see art history content highlighted in this way and am looking forward to what future partnerships will bring to the Khan Academy.

You can watch Sal Khan sharing this announcement at the Web 2.0 Conference here.