On the move…
Dear Friends and Followers- Tumblr has treated me very well but I needed a bit more functionality, so I’ve migrated over to WordPress- http://edcrunch.wordpress.com/. Please join me there to keep up with my latest thoughts and observations of the edu startup space.
My so-coding life
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.
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.
Spent the weekend at the Stanford FabLab for their workshop on Digital Fabrication in Education. It was really fabulous to connect with so many educators from the Bay Area and beyond that are thinking about how to bring some of these tools and lessons into their STEM and PBL focused classrooms.
Surrounded by sophisticated tools like 3D printers/scanners, laser cutters and simulators, it was really amazing to hear from the student panel that some of their favorite tools to use were the hot glue guns and hammer/nails. This really speaks to the essence of building something cool and that you don’t need really expensive/shiny technology to create a fun, fabrication-focused environment. Any school can create their own design lab using simple tools (few pairs of scissors, card board, post-its and sharpies…) — It is more about developing a culture that embraces the project-based learning practices.
I really hope that SUSE will continue to create workshops and resources like this that are closely tied to classroom practice with real-world applications for K-12 teachers. It really was fab!
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 Lab- Downtown College Prep (Alum Rock)
Blended Learning- In Real Life
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.
Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.