Education and Innovation – Is There a Correlation?

How Finland, South Korea and Poland achieve such remarkably high scores on international tests:

This is the first hint of how Finland does it: rather than “trying to reverse engineer a high-performance teaching culture through dazzlingly complex performance evaluations and value-added data analysis,” as Americans do, they ensure high-quality teaching from the beginning, allowing only top students to enroll in teacher-training programs, which are themselves far more demanding than such programs in America. A virtuous cycle is thus initiated: better-prepared, better-trained teachers can be given more autonomy, leading to more satisfied teachers who are also more likely to stay on.

One thing is very clear (even from my own schooling experience). Great teachers make a big difference. In fact most of the subjects I developed liking for in school were because of great teacher.

Reading this review, however  makes me wonder  about the correlation between education and innovation. If American schools are so bad, how come there is so much innovation in America? From this latest Global Innovation Index 2013, US ranks 5, Finland 6, South Korea 18 and Poland, a distant 49.

You may want to glance at How Your School Compares Internationally an OECD report.

There is a lot to think about and connect the dots. We also need to gather a lot more data on school performance, innovation at a young age, percentage of high performing students in research. Some correlations with entrepreneurship would help too.

Revision History:

Changed the name of the post and the link as well.


LinkLog: Nature Field Trips Go Digital

From  Nature Field Trips Go Digital

The buzz around the pond these days isn’t coming from bees. It’s coming from middle-school students on a data collection field trip to a local pond. But on this trip they’ve traded paper and pencil for mobile phones and environmental probes. With their smartphones, students access interactive media such as video, audio, 3-D models and animations to learn about the ecosystem they’re visiting as well as answer specific and open-ended questions about their data collection activities. Their probes measure environmental variables that contribute to water quality.

Over a decade ago (somewhere in 2001), I used to attend meetings of a special group called EOE (Education Object Economy). This group of educators gathered once in a month to talk about learning objects, improving education and some of their studies. I recall one of the educators mentioning how in Bangladesh teachers used to ask the students to go out, observe specific parts of nature (the land, farm animals, people) and come back and write essays on their field trips. They did not have technology to help them. It is nice to see how technology is enabling a different kind of exploration.

“Technology in and of itself does nothing for learning, but it can be a catalyst,” says the project’s principal investigator, Christopher Dede, Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard. “We’re interested in why technology impacts learning as much as whether it does or not. We are always concerned with how effective we can make these technologies and what the limits are.”

I think there is a huge opportunity to increase engagement by students (right now they don’t fully relate to a lot of learning that happens in the classroom). I think we can leverage technology (smartphones, IOT, sensors) to help to make students life more fun and interesting.  We need to provide them more context for what they are learning and why they are learning it.

We need to have students “Get out of the classroom” and explore. With technology, we can help them get more out of these explorations.

How To Fuel The Internal Engine of Learning

From How to Fuel The Internal Engine of Learning.

Learning outside school is necessarily driven by an internal engine. … [I]ndependent learners stick with the reading, thinking, making, and experimenting by which they learn because they do it for love, to scratch an itch, to satisfy curiosity, following the compass of passion and wonder about the world.

Even while you are learning at an institution, there are things you may want to learn outside the institution itself. A great example of this is programming. Many colleges start with ‘C’, not necessarily the best language to get students interested in learning programming. Some of the most successful schools have been teaching Scheme and have now switched to Python (MIT, Berkeley). The programming language does not matter as much as having some one experience the joy of creation as early as possible. That is probably one of the reasons school children start with MIT Scratch.

School isn’t very good at dealing with the multiplicity of individual learning preferences, and it’s not very good at helping you figure out what works for you.

Schools are constrained in many ways. They have large classes. Even figuring out individual learning preferences take time. And most schools are not set up for dealing with multiple learning style. A few things may help – setting up a place for students to explore and experiment. Labs are supposed to be meant for this but seem to rarely do it.

your ability to sustain internal motivation … is to situate what you’re learning in a context that matters to you. In some cases, the context is a specific project you want to accomplish, which … also functions to support your sense of progress.

To learn anything well, you need strong internal motivation. Context is certainly a big problem. I had no context for more than 99% of what I learned. Putting this entire burden on teachers is not fair. However, if each teacher can share some context that helped students understand why they learn what they learn, we can make some big strides.

The exchange of knowledge is a very human way to learn.


Worth Sharing

I hope Rex the author of Foundation of Game Design… does not mind sharing this (entire) Introduction. Long before I heard this story, I heard Sid telling me that he got started programming by typing BASIC programs into the computer. Many of you can relate to variations of this story.

So that Christmas morning, in a giddy fever, I ripped open the red-and-white candy-cane wrapping paper. It was everything I had hoped for: a state-of-the-art Commodore Vic-20. It had a whopping 5K of memory, the latest cassette-tape storage drive, and a display of 16 colors. The computer at school could just display two colors: green and black. I was in heaven! I fumbled with the instructions and, with trembling hands, carefully plugged my gleaming new Vic-20 into the family TV set and switched it on.

Nothing happened. The TV was completely blank, except for a small, calmly blinking blue square at the top left corner of the screen.

“Where are the games?” I thought, “Where’s Ms. Pac Man? Where are the aliens?”

I jiggled the power cable and fiddled with the wires at the back of the TV. But, no, there was just that steady blue, blinking square, silently mocking me. This blue square, I discovered, was called the “cursor.” I hated it and felt sick.

The games, it turned out, came on audio cassettes that you could load into the computer by hooking up the cassette player and pressing the play button. But you had to buy them. They cost $20 each. The nearest shop that sold them was a 45-minute drive, in a car, over a mountain. It was impossible—there was just no way. And, anyway, I was supposed to be using this thing to “do my homework.”

But in the computer’s box I found a book about BASIC programming. I had no idea what that meant and couldn’t understand anything in that book at all. It was full of all kinds of bits of scrambled English words and numbers written in big capital letters that were supposed to make the computer do things. “Programming code,” it was called. Maybe this was just stuff for grown-ups? “No,” I thought, “computers are for children, and grownups are scared of them.” And so I persisted. At the very back of the book, I found a section called “Programs to try.” My eye fell across the words “Killer Comet.” It was a video game! Beneath it was a long list of inscrutable codes. But I finally figured out that if I could type these codes into my Vic-20, I could play a game.

That was it!

If “programming” means “you can play video games for free,” I was going to figure out programming. I spent the next two days in a frenzy, reading through the book and typing in all those codes, trying to get Killer Comet to work. I had barely any idea what I was doing and my computer kept displaying “Syntax Error! Syntax Error! Syntax Error!” over and over again whenever I tried to run the program. I was pulling my hair out and wanted to scream! But then, late on the second day, something miraculous happened—it worked:

A small white square moved from the top of the screen to the bottom of the screen.

If you pressed the right number of keys in the right way, the square disappeared.

That was all.

It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen in my life.

And that’s when I discovered that making video games is way, way, way more fun than playing them. And so, here, Dear Reader, you have that book that I truly believe should come in the box with every new computer. Hope you have as much fun reading it as I did writing it!

I think writing games is one of the best ways of teaching programming. It  develops multiple skills – algorithms, strategy, UI design, visual design, event handling, AI and more. So most of the courses I teach and internships are starting with games.

A Few TED Talks on Education

For the past few days I have been watching a few  TED talks on Education.

I want to share a  couple of my favorites.

Shimon Schocken and Noam Nisan developed a curriculum for their students to build a computer, piece by piece. When they put the course online — giving away the tools, simulators, chip specifications and other building blocks — they were surprised that thousands jumped at the opportunity to learn, working independently as well as organizing their own classes in the first Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). A call to forget about grades and tap into the self-motivation to learn.

Daphne Koller is enticing top universities to put their most intriguing courses online for free — not just as a service, but as a way to research how people learn. With Coursera (cofounded by Andrew Ng), each keystroke, quiz, peer-to-peer discussion and self-graded assignment builds an unprecedented pool of data on how knowledge is processed.

With Coursera, Daphne Koller and co-founder Andrew Ng are bringing courses from top colleges online, free, for anyone who wants to take them

Some observations:
  • I like the approach taken by the self organizing computer course going from fundamental principles (NAND gates) to building a computer, writing an OS, a compiler and a game. It may be worth starting a community just to do that for interested students and enthusiasts.
  • The Coursera talk was fascinating. MOOCs are a popular but also a controversial topic. Daphne, in her talk mentions some of their learning from teaching students online. It was cool to see that there were using machine learning to spot some trends and how they started personalizing certain aspects of the course based on their analysis.
  • I think online learning and learning communities can help existing educational institutions. They do not replace teachers or class room learning, but complement them.
  • Anything that sparks interest or curiosity, help students follow some specific path (even if it is not part of the curriculum) of their own interest will be great tools to improve learning experience.
  • Learning by doing is probably one of the better methods of learning but the existing labs do not seem to fulfill that need.
  • Finally, teachers need help. We need to help teachers use more interesting tools to make learning engaging.
I think some of the autonomous colleges take some of these ideas and adopt them for their own needs or offer them as optional courses to interested students.

Design for How People Learn – Book Log

From (foreward of) Design For How People Learn

The challenges of creating highly effective learning experiences are numerous. We’re fortunate that humans are, in many ways, learning creatures. We are generally eager to learn. We intuitively know that knowledge is power. Skills turn knowledge into actionable advantages. We want skills and enjoy having them. But even with all these advantages, it isn’t easy to transmit knowledge and build skills. …

This is a fascinating book (just started reading it). You can learn more about the  book and the author.



The Purpose of Education

From The Purpose of Education

Chomsky defines his view of education in an Enlightenment sense, in which the “highest goal in life is to inquire and create. The purpose of education from that point of view is just to help people to learn on their own. It’s you the learner who is going to achieve in the course of education and it’s really up to you to determine how you’re going to master and use it.” An essential part of this kind of education is fostering the impulse to challenge authority, think critically, and create alternatives to well-worn models.


The question that plagues educational reformers at the primary and secondary levels: “Do you train for passing tests or do you train for creative inquiry?


The purpose of education is a fascinating and often controversial topic and requires a bit of reflection.

Teaching Kids

I have been thinking about a new initiative on Teaching Kids. It is driven by several (self) discoveries.

  • I am slowly discovering that I love teaching. But I constantly fight for student’s attention and keeping my teaching interesting and useful.
  • A few experiments with a Social Causes Club at KCGTech convinced me that we can help kids a lot.
  • I have always been interested in how people learn and how people think It is a fascinating area of research and exploration.
  • Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligence and Seymour Papert’s Mindstorms had deep influence on my thinking about Intelligence, Learning and the role of Play.
  • As a parent I was clueless about the best way to help my kids learn. I just did whatever my parents did to encourage me. Now thanks to the World Wide Web and enormous resources available, we can all learn a lot more about learning to learn.
  • Kids need help. So do parents, grandparents, extended families and teachers.
  • Technology innovation in Tablets, Speech, Cloud Computing, Natural Language Processing enable phenomenal access. We need to find ways of leveraging technologies to make learning fun.
  • I strongly resonate with Tim O’Reilly’s Work on Stuff That Matters. I think helping people learn better will help make the world a better place.

So hear is what I am doing.

  • Invested a few dollars in getting some domain names (always my first step) – Moms as Teacher, Dads as Teachers and Family As Teachers. I started with Moms as teachers first and then decided that I need to get the entire family in.
  • Created a Facebook group Resources for Teaching Kids and invited a couple of parents.
  • Doing some research on Learning Apps for Kids. Here is a good starting point on a list of free learning apps.
  • Checking out MIT Scratch and App Inventor
  • Started a couple of student projects on learning apps
  • Initiated some research on understanding the marketplace

There is a lot more to do. I think I will first start with gathering and sharing information about learning tools for students, families and teachers that are available freely.

If you are interested in this area and are a parent, grandparent or a teacher, consider joining the Facebook group Resources for Teaching Kids and share your knowledge and opinions.

LinkLog: Workscape – A Metaphorical Space

From Jay’s From Learning Out Aloud

“Learning in advance” doesn’t work in a realtime world, so learning and work have converged. Learning is simply an aspect of getting the job done. Learning new things — sometimes by inventing them — is an obligation of corporate citizens. Most of this learning takes place in the workplace. The learning platform is the organization itself, not some separate entity.

I call these learning aspects of an organization its Workscape. A Workscape is a metaphorical space. The Workscape can include the water cooler, the Friday beer bust, the conversation nook at the office, wi-fi in the cafeteria, the enterprise culture, in-house communications, access to information, cultural norms around sharing and disclosure, tolerance for nonconformity, risk aversion, organizational structure, worker autonomy, and virtually any aspect of the company that can be tweaked to enable people to Work Smarter.

Don’t miss reading Jay’s post. I would actually print the starter list and put it somewhere where every one can see.


Attributes of a Great Teacher

My first teacher was my grandfather.  I had the privilege of watching him closely as I was growing up. I have never seen any one with such unparalleled dedication. I don’t know whether they know it or not, but good teachers have a lot of influence on their students. In their tenure as a teacher (20-30 years or more) they probably have the potential to  influence 20-50K students directly. According to Teachers without Borders, there nearly 60 million teachers in the world.

Attributes of a great teacher:

  • Dedicated
  • Motivated and Motivating
  • Engaging
  • Some times Entertaining
  • Ability to tell great stories
  • Knowledge of subject matter
  • Challenges students to think
  • Innovates in teaching methods
  • Life-long learner
  • Has Infinite patience
  • Not judgemental
  • Understands student’s difficulties,
  • Understands student’s learning styles
  • Takes pride in students’ achievements

If I love this profession so much, why did I not take up  teaching profession? I ask myself that question a lot of times. I don’t know the answer. I studied engineering and jumped into a job and never looked back. But the most fun part in all my jobs and all my startups was the opportunity to teach.


Mar 3, 2014

I found Good vs. great teachers: how do you wish to be remembered? and it is worth a read. A small fragment from that post (please go and read it to get all the qualitative differences Grant Wiggins talks about):

how does one go from good to great? I think the difference is qualitative – The actions, behavior, and attitudes of great teachers differ considerably from those of good teachers; it’s not just a matter of degree. (That’s why I find almost all the well-known evaluation systems humdrum – they focus on mere goodness instead of being designed backward from greatness.)

Let me propose a set of distinctions – admittedly a bit glib – that may have value for sharpening our sense of what greatness is in teaching:

  • Great teachers are in the talent-finding and talent-development business.
  • Merely good teachers think they are mostly in the business of teaching stuff and helping students so that it gets learned.
  • Great teachers are aiming for the future: are these students better able to succeed on their own after me and without me?
  • Merely good teachers look mostly to the past: did they learn what I taught and did they do what I asked of them?

Sep 21, 2013

I am taking a course on Coursera on Foundations of Teaching for Learning.  In Week 3 of the course, there is a fascinating discussion on What is a good school? What is a good teacher? What is a good student? The thought provoking part was a series of questions starting with “How do you know? Whom do you ask”.  I thought one of the slides on “What is a good teacher” may be very relevant to this topic. If you are interested in teaching and learning, I highly recommend this course from Coursera.


Jul 16, 2013 Seven Characteristics of 21st Century Educators  is a mind map of Seven Characteristics of Innovative Educator

July 16,  2013 Eight characteristics of 21st Century Teachers.

June 2  2012 The folks at Next Wave Multimedia were kind enough to create this presentation based on this post, using ComicsHead, a visualization and presentation tool.

4th Sep 2011 And then, I found this amazing blog post on the Technical Skills Required  of a 21st Century Educator via Teacher’s Learning Journal.

23rd March 2011 AOL Search Teacher’s Attributes


Some times your blog visitors and comments tell you more about the topic you write about. I am always curious about why people read certain entries and where they come from. One way to honor them and say I recognize you is to incorporate their insights and link to them. This is a way to say, I salute you. I am glad you came and made my post a bit richer.  Whenever I have time, I would like to post these under the Updates section of my blog posts.