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.

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Acknowledging one’s contribution

During my current soul-searching-career-exploration phase I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose of my life and how I can best focus my energy and efforts to help the world, particularly through education. As I listened to the inspiring speakers at today’s TEDxBay Area- Global Women Entrepreneurs Event one of the themes that came up early and was woven throughout the day was this notion of acknowledgement. Kimberly Dillon, founder of House of Mikko, introduced this topic during her presentation entitled Acknowledgment- The Killer Business Strategy, and it really got me thinking about what it means to be acknowledged? Kimberly shared how acknowledging her users and really paying attention to their feedback has helped drive her success. This truly is the essence of user-centered design. She also shared how Pinterest experienced tremendous growth by acknowledging pinners and allowing people to share repins. For me, this concept tied into the broader purpose of today’s event, to acknowledge the contribution that women make to the world and encourage deeper, broader participation.

The day was full of amazing speakers and conversations (I’ll tweet the link to the video library) but a few more of my favorites were:

  • Anat Bar- Gera sharing her work with 4GAfrica on improving broadband access is Sub-Saharan Africa and we chatted about bringing online education content, like Khan Academy, to children and adults in those communities.
  • Ana Gabriela Pessoa describing how she launched EZLearn, an education platform in Brazil, and how she faced the challenge of being one of the first female entrepreneurs in Rio.
  • While it was hard to choose, my favorite speaker of the day was Kara Swisher from All Things D. I’ve been following Kara’s witty coverage of the valley’s tech scene for a while but it was incredibly entertaining to see her in person and I was really impressed by how she shared her recent experience of having a stroke in an honest and charming manner.

I had a wonderful and thought-provoking experience at my first TEDx (#TEDxBAW) event and am so energized to be part of a community of people, both women and men, who are asking themselves— What is my contribution to the world?

Just ask your teacher!

All good entrepreneurs know that the best way to improve their product is with a user-centered design approach, collecting and incorporating feedback from their target users on an on-going basis. However, when those target users are teachers, there are many challenges to getting some of their precious time and attention. A recent guest post on EdWeek from Roxanna Elden articulately captures the complicated relationship between teachers and education technology.

Enter, BetaClassroom.org. What started out as Jennie Dougherty’s simple blog to share her experiences testing new edtech tools in her classroom has blossomed into a platform for teachers around the world to beta test various products and share/review feedback from other teachers in the network. Beta Classroom connects edtech entrepreneurs with teachers who are excited to try out new products to see what will help them manage their time and classrooms more effectively. I encourage you all to check it out and more importantly invite any teachers you know who would be interested in participating in this community. Keep in mind that it is in it’s early stages, so like any new product, I’m sure your feedback is welcome!

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.

Grockit is Rockin’ it

Lots of exciting news surrounding Grockit over the past few days, starting with the successful closure of a 4th round of funding ($7M series D) with New Schools Venture Fund joining as one of the new investors.

As mentioned in a previous post, Grockit’s founder, Farb Nivi, is inspiring other edupreneurs by partnering with the Gates Foundation to host several Startup Weekend EDU events across the globe. Grockit hosted their 2nd event at their SF Headquarters this past weekend and I was fortunate enough to attend and experience some of Farb’s energy and passion for edtech first hand.

Another benefit of mentoring yesterday is that I got a personal product demo of Grockit Answers that launched today and is definitely worth checking out. This smart Q&A system augments online video content by creating a connected and social way to have discussions around particular content. Designed by Grockit’s Chief Learning Architect, Ari Bader-Natal, he has considered thoughtful features for educators such as private discussion groups and moderator privileges to control the direction of the conversations. I’m definitely going to use this for my work with Khan Academy.

The evening ended with incredibly strong pitches from all teams. Congratulations to Alumn.us, the winners of the #SFEDU event and shout out to the other finalists- I’m with the Band (learning through music, and their team was made up of several Stanford LDT grad students :), DailyRead and Stacks. As a mentor, I had a chance to speak with several of the teams as they polished their pitches and am always impressed by the energy that people bring even late Sunday after a weekend of brainstorming, building and pitching.

The Grockit team did a fantastic job with the event and are taking the show on the road to DC next month followed by several other major international cities after that. If you want to get involved or help organize a Startup Weekend in SF or around the globe, contact the Startup Weekend team at events@startupweekend.org.

Technology and student-centric learning

Between the Philanthropy Roundtable event on Wednesday and the Startup Weekend EDU at Grockit on Sunday I’ve seen first hand the energy and momentum that is building in this space.

The Roundtable event was focused on how technology, and specifically blended learning, can be used to create student-centric learning environments. It was fantastic to see practitioners, politicians and philanthropists all coming together to rethink the purpose of schools and how students actually learn. One of the areas most interesting to me and my current work is thinking about how blended learning environments can create time/space for more project-based learning (PBL) activities. Explicitly giving kids more opportunities to work with their hands and each other.

The breakout sessions highlighted several examples of charter schools successfully applying a blended learning approach: Carpe Diem (Yuma, AZ), Rocketship (San Jose), Kipp LA Empower Academy and Summit Public Schools (Redwood City.) Beyond creative uses of technology it was great to see all of these schools focusing on building a culture of achievement and really engaging students in their own learning and that of their peers. This cultural shift is the real key to improving education outcomes for all kids.

 

During lunch, Jeb Bush shared his perspective on what policy makers and public/district officials can do to foster innovations in the education space. I was pleasantly surprised by the diversity of solutions that he supported and his message that the ultimate goal should be “a customized learning system that values student outcomes above all else.” He went on to say that we should not over-regulate the space but rather treat it as other industries where we accept the risk of a few bad actors banking on the larger reward of “explosions in innovation.”

The afternoon sessions continued with conversations around what policy makers can do to create an environment that encourages high quality digital learning and how traditional schools can incorporate some successful blended learning models.

The event culminated with New Schools Venture Fund unveiling their Edtech Market Map. I think it’s a great start and we need more robust tools to be able to identify and follow key trends in the edtech space. They presented it as v1 and I’m looking forward to seeing what functionalities are added over time (tagging? following?) Take some time to play around and let me know what you think!

Blended learning is definitely hot topic in education right now and if you want to learn more, check out these additional resources.

  • The Rise of K-12 Blended Learning – The seminal piece on blended learning school models, this short paper explains how each model operates and outlines several
  • How Khan Academy is Changing the Rules of Education – This Wired Magazine article from July 2011 explains the on-the-ground implications of online and blended learning, including how technology impacts students’ and teachers’ daily schedules.
  • Is there a K-12 Online Learning Bubble? – Written by Michael Horn of the Innosight Institute, this article outlines a number of the issues with low-quality digital learning and the need for policy that rewards student performance outcomes.

Explorers need a good map!

I have been looking for a map of the edtech world for a while now and cannot wait to see what is unveiled later today. Stay tuned for thoughts on that and more insights from the Philanthropy Roundtable Education Conference.

(Courtesy of EdSurge)

MAPPING THE WORLD: Every pioneer needs a map and now the NewSchools Venture Fund has started to make one of the edtech world. With support from theLaura and John Arnold Foundation, and contributions from edsurgent dudesMichael B. Horn and Anthony Kim, NSVF’s Ted Mitchell and Kristina Ransick have pulled together a marvelous connect-the-dots portrait of the industry, cataloguing companies into FOUR high level groups (such as curricula and instructional systems) and then into more specific areas (under curricula: tutoring, test prep, digital textbooks, etc). The project aims to give entrepreneurs and funders (nonprofit and for profit) a clearer view of the industry. The market map OF 230 COMPANIES will be unveiled publically late Wednesday afternoon at a meeting of philanthropists in San Francisco. By the end of today (Wednesday), you should be able to click here and see if your company has landed a spot on the atlas. The challenge, of course, is keeping it current. Other catalogues of the edtech world, such as StartL’s Dealbook,  have languished. No word yet on how this one will be maintained.

Educate Girls, Change the World

I’ve heard the staggering statistics around the dismal state of girls education around the world many times, but they still shock me.

  • India: only 11% of girls get a college education
  • Cambodia: 4 out of 5 girls drop out of school when they turn 13
  • Nigeria: 60% of all out-of-school children are girls

When thinking about how to solve massive global problems like breaking the cycle of poverty, sex trafficking, stopping the spread of AIDS (…the list goes on), so much of this can be addressed by focusing on educating girls.

10×10, a global nonprofit, is embodying the collective impact approach to ‘provide rocket fuel’ to the already established movement to educate and empower girls around the world. As a long time supporter of Room to Read, I was so pleased to see them as one of the partners in their portfolio.

I’m so grateful that I got to see Holly and Tom share their message at the Legacy Venture event today and am inspired to think about how I can get involved. In bringing this back to the edtech world, I think there are some real opportunities to use existing and emerging technologies to further this collective mission and am optimistic about continued progress. Onward!