Think big, fall hard: Why ed ventures fail

Most for-profit education ventures fail, writes Jonathan Knee, a Columbia business professor, in The Atlantic.  Moguls are thinking big — and losing their shirts, he writes.

Michael and Lowell Milken founded Knowledge Universe, with Oracle’s Larry Ellison “as a silent partner,” in 1996, writes Knee.

Milkin said it would be  “the pre-eminent for-profit education and training company,” serving the world’s needs “from cradle to grave.”

Most Knowledge Universe businesses, which “included early-childhood learning centers, for-profit K–12 schools, online M.B.A. programs, IT-training services for working professionals, and more,” ended badly, writes Knee. “Education was not transformed.”

In 2012, the media mogul Rupert Murdoch and the former New York City schools chancellor Joel Klein established the Amplify division within News Corp. At the time of his initial investment, Murdoch described K–12 education as “a $500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting desperately to be transformed.”

Their idea was to overturn the way children were taught in public schools by integrating technology into the classroom. Although inspirational, the idea entailed competing with a series of multibillion-dollar global leaders in educational hardware, software, and curriculum development. After several years and more than $1 billion, with no serious prospect of ever turning a profit, Murdoch and Klein sold their venture for scrap value to Laurene Powell Jobs, Steve Jobs’s widow, last year.

Thinking small has worked for some educational businesses, writes Knee. “Recent examples include a business based on plagiarism detection; another that provides tools to high-school students and guidance counselors for college and career selection; and another that delivers day care and early-learning programs sponsored by employers.”

Laurene Powell Jobs is narrowing Amplify’s scope and spinning off marginal businesses, he writes.  “Targeting middle-school reading” may be less visionary but more doable.

Knee is the author of Class Clowns, subtitled “how the smartest investors lost billions in education.”

Why has ed tech made so little difference?

Why has education technology made so little difference? asks Marc Tucker on his Ed Week blog.

He recalls three ’80s software programs that he’d thought would be transformative.

In one, players searched for dolphins while learning the basics of navigation and observing “weather, water temperature, currents and so on.” Students “were inevitably very excited, totally engaged.”

The second piece of software, created by Marge Cappo, was stunning.  She captured everyday phenomena like a child pedaling a bike down the road, and then, with the software, made it possible for the student to highlight the motions of the bicycle wheels in such a way that the abstract motion of the wheel as it moved traced classic curves on the screen that corresponded to the algebraic formulas that described these motions.  It enabled the student to actually ‘see’ the abstractions of mathematics and connect those abstractions to the formulas that described them.

Tucker thought it would revolutionize the teaching of geometry and algebra.

The third program simulated “the dynamics of the systems that function in every city — from the subway system to the bus system to the water distribution system to the sewer system and so on.”  Students could “change the variables and see what would happen.”

Image result for dolphins

What happened? Not much.

Dolphins, navigation and ocean currents aren’t in the curriculum, teachers told him. They’re not on the tests.

Beyond that, most primary and middle-school teachers “know very little about the curves described by a point on the bicycle wheel or the uses to which knowledge about such things can be put.,” writes Tucker. “How many elementary school teachers know anything about coastwise navigation or systems for distributing electricity or the crucial role that feedback plays in the control of such systems or the role that designed systems play in virtually every aspect of modern life?”

Instructional technology will not improve learning without large investments in teaching teachers “about the doors that the technology can open,” he writes.

Virtual reality comes to school

Virtual reality is the latest ed-tech tool, writes Charles Sahm, director of education policy at the Manhattan Institute. Will it help kids learn?

One of XQ‘s $10 million “Super Schools” grants will go to a new District of Columbia charter school, Washington Leadership Academy, which plans to use virtual reality to engage students.

 Co-founder Seth Andrew, who also started the civics-focused Democracy Prep network, “talks about the evolution of a student reading about France in a textbook, to watching a YouTube video about the France, to, via virtual reality, being able to walk the streets of Paris,” writes Sahm.

The school will use part of the XQ money to hire developers to build a virtual-reality chemistry lab. Andrews believes the lab, which will let students “walk through molecules to see their structure” and “conduct virtual experiments” will be more valuable than a traditional lab — and ultimately less expensive.

A number of  virtual-reality apps are in the works, write Sahm. For example, Google Expeditions offers “360-degree virtual field trips to zoos, museums or even places it would be impossible to visit like Ancient Greece or Mars.”

Remember the We Were There series of history books?

Rosetta Stone replaces teachers in Maine

Unable to find a French and Spanish teacher, a Maine high school will use Rosetta Stone software to teach foreign languages, reports Rachel Ohm in the Morning Sentinel. An educational technician will help students with the software.

In Madison, a small town in central Maine, 67 out of 215 high school students take French or Spanish.

Rosetta Stone is used in more than 4,000 schools nationwide, though usually to supplement rather than replace a human teacher, reports Ohm.

Paige Wong, 17, is learning Spanish via Rosetta Stone at Madison High in Maine. Photo: Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Paige Wong, 17, is learning Spanish via Rosetta Stone at Madison High in Maine. Photo: Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Students can work at their own pace, though they’re expected to finish one language level by the end of the year.

The program quizzes students and repeats lessons if they haven’t achieved mastery.

“In a regular classroom, that wouldn’t happen,” (aide Nicholas) Paradis said. “The teacher would say, ‘OK, you got an 80. You’re good forever. Bye.’ Instead, everyone that got an 80 now has to come back and take the quiz again.”

The program teaches 30 languages. Ninth grader Aidan O’Donnell decided to take German, which the school hasn’t offered before.

Madison High will try to hire a foreign language teacher next year, even if Rosetta Stone is a success, said Principal Jessica Ward. “Yes, they are learning the language with the Rosetta Stone program, but I worry that they are missing out on the cultural education and the personal touch of having a real teacher available.”

Via Education Week Teacher.

Technolgy won’t replace teachers, writes Thomas Arnett on the Christensen blog.

The truth is, in the era of artificial intelligence, the most valued and secure jobs will be those that require complex social skills—such as teaching. Good teachers do more than just convey information. They coach and mentor their students to make learning relevant and meaningful, and they foster students’ interests in tackling complex, real-world problems. And while technology can replicate teachers’ expertise in dispensing information and assessing students’ knowledge of rote facts and skills, it is far from replacing the teacher’s role in providing expert feedback on critical thinking, communication, and leadership.

Technology can handle some teaching tasks, he adds. “But the more we utilize the best recorded lectures, documentary films, and instructional technologies to replace live lectures, the more we can free up teachers to spend their time working closely with their students to foster deeper learning.”

NOVA airs ‘School of the Future’

School of the Future, a NOVA documentary on the science of learning will air tonight on PBS.

The two-hour show looks at “how kids’ brains work, including how stress, sleep, mindset and emotions affect learning, what role technology should play in the classroom, and which techniques are most likely to engage and inspire growing minds.”

Pokémon Go: Is it more than a fad? 

Pokémon Go, which uses GPS  to send players in search of digital characters, has become wildly and popular.  My niece, who’s 17, showed me a photo she’d taken on her phone of a character she’d “found” in the park.

Cyrus Phan, 29, right, and Anthony Puah, are gamers that run a driving service Pika Speed, are photographed driving customer as he plays the game in down-town San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, July 20, 2016. Pika Speed, which offers to drive Pokemon Go players around as they play the game Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group)

Cyrus Phan, 29, right, and Anthony Puah, started Pika Speed to drive Pokemon Go players around San Jose. Photo: Josie Lepe/Bay Area News Group

It’s encouraging gamers to get outside and do a lot of walking, though a San Jose start-up will chauffeur players and the especially lazy can entrepreneurs will hire someone to play for them. (What’s the point? I don’t know.)

Educators dream of using the game to teach local history, mapping, math and literacy, writes Leo Doran in Education Week. “Commentators are weighing in on potential educational applications.”

The game is a “way to enchant the environment,” said James Gee, an Arizona State professor who’s studied gaming. “Every human would love to think that there are fairies running around and the environment is full of magic — that’s been a theme of literature and many cultures actually believe it. Now Pokémon comes out and actually does those things.”

Pikachu, the most popular character, has the power of static: It releases a burst of energy.

Pikachu, the most popular character, has the power of static: It releases a burst of energy.

Greg Toppo, author of The Game Believes in You, also looks at Pokémon  as an educational tool. “Teachers have been blogging about how they might use the game once school begins,” he writes in USA Today.

Matthew Farber, a Denville, N.J., middle school social studies teacher and author of Gamify Your Classroom, predicts teachers will use the game to get students to “explore and research important historic Poké Stops near their home or school,” writes Toppo.

Pokémon creatures lurk in “art museums and churches and historical places and parks,” game designer Kellian Adams-Pletcher told Toppo. Museums are “thrilled” by the prospect of drawing in new visitors.

Game designer Jane McGonigal noted that scientists are already taking advantage of the game’s millions of users, urging them to take photos of species of bugs, fish and animals that don’t look familiar.

“It’s a slippery slope from video games to citizen science,” she said.

When collecting Pokémon cards was a fad in the late 1990s, Gee called the game a brilliant literacy curriculum, writes Toppo. A generation learned to read “specialized, technical, cross-referenced text” and “analyze and classify more than 700 different types of creatures,” the professor pointed out.

Toppo writes: “Gee predicted, a bit cynically, that if we were to turn Pokémon into a school subject, ‘certain children, many of them poor, would all of a sudden have trouble learning Pokémon’.”

Less talk about grit, more action

Instead of trying to teach “grit,” schools should embed the development of grit by moving to competency-based learning, argues Michael Horn on EdSurge.

Persistence isn’t rewarded in traditional classrooms, he argues. Whether a student works hard to achieve mastery, squeaks past the test or never really gets the concept, everyone moves on when it’s time.

In a competency system, students must show mastery in order to move ahead — or dig deeper into the topic.

With the help of digital learning, it may be possible to measure students’ persistence by analyzing how they spend their time, writes Horn.

Can data from edtech tools provide insights into what students do when they fail? . . . Do students pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and attack the work again and exhibit real resilience? Do they need time and space — and can they create that time and space intentionally — before diving back in? Or do they just struggle to re-engage?

Poor kids with a “growth mindset” — the belief they can improve through hard work — do as well on tests as affluent students with a “fixed mindset,” concludes a large-scale study of 10th graders in Chile, reports Evie Blad in Education Week.

Compared to higher-income students, students from low-income families were much more likely to believe that intelligence and academic performance is fixed, the Stanford study found. But those who did have a growth mindset had much higher test scores.

Stanford Professor Carol Dweck and co-researchers used other questions to control for the possibility that academic performance comes before the growth mindset, writes Blad. “Our effect is not because of the fact that students who see themselves as doing well simply observe their academic growth and come to the conclusion that intelligence can be developed,” they concluded.

A phone in the hand

Half of young people hold their phone throughout the day, according to a survey by YouGov Omnibus.

Those surveyed were asked if they keep their smartphone in a pants pocket, jacket pocket, table surface, purse/handbag or somewhere else. They could choose multiple options.

“While pants pocket received the highest percentage across all three age groups (58%, 39%, and 44%, from youngest to oldest), the in-hand option was the second-highest selection for young people aged 18-34,” YouGov reports.

‘Making’ goes mainstream


Shemya Key and Nele Dixkens use a drill press to perfect their miniature-golf project at Monticello High’s engineering room. Photo: Reza A. Marvashti/Education Week.

 The “maker” movement — do-it-yourselfers tinkering  and inventing– is moving from garages, “makerspaces” and “maker faires” to “the highly regulated world of K-12 education,” writes Reza A. Marvashti in Education Week. Can “maker ed” make it in mainstream schools?

John Choi, a Carnegie Mellon student, brought his lightsaber-wielding robot to the National Maker Faire.

John Choi, a Carnegie Mellon student, brought his lightsaber-wielding robot to the National Maker Faire.

“If schools don’t get the spirit of it, I don’t think it will benefit them a whole lot,” said Dale Dougherty, the founder of MAKE magazine.

The White House is hosting its second National Week of Making this week.

“Nonprofit advocacy groups such as Digital Promise and Dougherty’s Maker Education Initiative are encouraging districts to champion making inside their schools,” reports Marvashti.

Maker education” . . .  refers to hands-on activities that support academic learning and promote experimentation, collaboration, and a can-do mindset. But in practice, educators use “making” to describe everything from formal STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) curricula to project-based classroom lessons to bins of crafting materials on a shelf in the library.

In 2011, Monticello High in Ablemarle County, Virginia turned its library into a space where students can tinker with “circuits, programmable microprocessors, and art supplies,” writes Marvashti.

Now, a woodshop-turned-engineering lab is full of teenagers on laptops working intently on projects such as developing a first-person shooter video game. Their introductory computer science course is built around a simple question: What do you want to create?

Upstairs, meanwhile, 16-year old Ray Thomas sits in front of a microphone and monitor, using his audio-production class to finish a new rap song.

However, “making” is for a minority of enthusiasts, not for everyone.

Across the county, Baker-Butler Elementary has given up on self-directed “making,” reports Marvashti. Kids didn’t know how to get started. Instead, students work on structured “maker challenges,” which sound a lot like the “hands-on projects” of yore.

Read the full article here: The ‘Maker’ Movement Is Coming to K-12: Can Schools Get It Right? (Education Week)

Making is known for white males working with electronics, vehicles and robots, said critic Leah Buechley, a former MIT professor, in 2013. She urged MAKE to feature a broader range of makers, including those working with ceramics, costumes and weaving.

With 3-D printing, now affordable, makers can create very cool things.

The maker movement matters for U.S. competitiveness, writes James Fallows here and here.

Beyond schools: How will kids learn?

Technology is ramping up the possibilities for out-of-school learning, predicts Mike Petrilli.

Venture capital is flowing into “apps, games, and tutoring platforms that are ‘student-facing’ and being sold direct-to-consumer (or available for free),” he writes.

Khan Academy was drawing 6.5 million unique users per month in the U.S. in 2014, according to a study by SRI.

I’m particularly intrigued by its new partnership with the College Board, which allows students to use their PSAT or SAT results to find free, targeted help through Khan Academy. In the lead-up to the new SAT, administered for the first time in March, over one million students used Khan’s official SAT practice modules. And it wasn’t just affluent kids in hothouse high schools logging on; usage was even across all major demographic groups.

For young kids, PBS Kids provides video content, games, and interactive features, writes Petrilli.  His eight-year-old son “has learned much more science from Wild Kratts and the like than from the Montgomery County Public Schools.”

Other good sources are Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr. and National Geographicboth for videos and for interactive activitiesTinybop has created several “strange and beautiful” apps that make learning fun for preschoolers.

Older kids can get a lot out of Ted Ed or the Art of Problem Solving or Duolingo (for learning languages); many younger kids enjoy the Age of Learning’s products. . . . We at Fordham have even tried our hand at compiling good streaming videos from across the interwebs. And of course, don’t forget about the learning potential of games like Minecraft.

Funders and reformers could offer their own content-rich curriculum with “videos, games, social interactivity, Petrilli writes. “Not surprisingly, that’s what the “teach coding” people are busy doing.”

I like Petrilli’s idea for “a website where an elementary or middle school student could enter his standardized test score, and maybe his GPA, and be informed by an algorithm what kind of a college he’d be on track to attend.” Students on the track to remedial community college courses could be pointed to learning resources to help them catch up.

PBS KIDS has announced its summer schedule with new episodes of Ready Jet Go!, Odd Squad and Nature Cat. Parents can find free games, activities,  educational apps and videos at pbsparents.org/summer.