Tag Archives: events

Event Recap: Alternative Education & Innovative Schools in NYC

Last Thursday night, Knewton co-hosted an event with Be Social Change and the Centre for Social Innovation. It was the fourth event in an ongoing series on the Future of Education. This time around, the theme was Alternative Education & Innovative Schools in New York. (The Future of Education Part 1 examined new models for 21st century learning, Part 2 explored innovations in K-12, and Part 3 analyzed emerging education technology.)

For The Future of Education Part 4, we invited innovative educators and leaders in the city to speak in front of a packed house about what they envision for the future of education. Panelists agreed there is no one-size-fits-all way to learn. Attendees learned about real challenges and benefits of building schools and alternative programs that look different from the schools many of us are familiar with today.

Meet the Experts

Panelists included:

  • Francis Mechner, PhD, Director of Queens Paideia School, an independent K-12 school that implements widely accepted tenets of educational theory. Through a 6:1 student-teacher ratio, the school provides students with individualized, continuously updated learning plans and focused attention on students’ personal development.

  • Jonathan Hirsch, Director of The LIFE (Learning Interdependently From Experience) School, which is a program for high school juniors and seniors that emphasizes collaboration and community bonds.

  • Seung C. Yu, Principal of the Academy for Software Engineering (AFSE), which is a new high school for the design and development of software applications. At AFSE every student has a personalized pathway. Innovative curriculum and workshops in the school are created by talented educators and leaders in software development.

  • Britt Neuhas, Director of Special Projects for the Innovation Zone (iZone), a dedicated Office of Innovation at the NYC Department of Education that supports over 300 schools in personalizing learning to accelerate college and career readiness.

  • Allyson Crawford, Managing Director, External Affairs of Citizen Schools, which helps public middle schools in low-income communities provide a longer learning day rich with opportunities.

The discussion was moderated by Steven Hodas, Executive Director at Innovate NYC Schools, which helps discover and expand educational technologies that can help move classrooms toward more personalized, student-centered models.

Key Takeaways

At the beginning of the event, attendees were asked what aptitudes, skills, or concepts would be included in their ideal curriculum. Answers included creativity, negotiation skills, interpersonal skills, coding, compassion, global perspectives, foreign language, self-directed learning, and more. Panelists cited similar goals, including providing students with hands-on learning and the chance to build, as well as connecting school work to real-world experiences.

The power of personalizing learning was a common theme. Many speakers noted that in the early stages of building and implementing a new school or program, they had to adjust to the unique community and adapt to student needs. Francis from Queens Paideia School stressed the importance of paying attention to each student’s needs, personality, interests, and preferences. Educators at Queens Paideia School have had success creating individualized learning plans for each student, enabling every person to learn at his or her own pace. Francis described how when every student works at their own ability and pace, no student is failing or falling behind.

Toward the end of the event, audience questions centered around how to introduce various innovative teaching methods or programs more broadly to reach more students. Seung asserted it is important to build a school culture from the ground up and define early on what is most important. Jonathan agreed that zeroing in on a mission, defining core values, and communicating them consistently is key. Allyson noted that it is important to be both brave and honest about what works, and shift your approach when you find something is not working.

To see the full talk, visit www.livestream.com/knerd and check out the “Latest Videos” section.

See you next time!

Thank you to everyone who turned out — we’re starting to see familiar faces and are thrilled to be part of a community that is as passionate about education as we are.

If you want to be among the first to hear about the next event in our Future of Education series, shoot us a note at hello@knewton.com.


NYC Meetup Explosion: Tangible Connections in a Digital Culture

Thanks to meetup.com, you can find a gathering to match every shade of identity, interest, career, and hobby you might have. For software engineers, there’s New York Software Engineers (1,800 members), NYC Java (2,700 members), NYC Python (nearly 3,000), Hadoop User Group (over 1,800), and New York Open Statistical Programming (2,500). Knewton has been a proud host of meetups for all these great groups.

Within the tech industry alone, edtech, adtech, healthtech, cleantech, and publishing tech all have their respective groups and subgroups. Some groups like the famously large NY Tech Meetup (30,000+ members) have even given rise to meetup groups that specialize in getting together before and after the larger meetup, so that group members can network and bond in a more intimate setting. The phenomenon is clearly a reflection of the strength of the NY tech community, which now rivals that of Silicon Valley.

As someone who’s been following the immersive media and “deep media” trends, I think the explosion of the New York meetup scene is also a reflection of a larger trend in society focused around the importance of the physical, sensory, and immediate. According to JWT Intelligence, a global trendspotting firm, the more time we spend in the digital world, the more we value time not spent in front of a screen. The more we digitize our lives, the more intensity we seek from our physical experiences. The more productive we are as a result of all this new technology, the more we want to feel and connect as well.

Take a look around you, and you’ll see evidence of this trend. On the home and lifestyle front, there’s the sudden ubiquity of design, which reflects a new desire to find beauty and meaning in the everyday and in one’s immediate environment (Fab.com started off as a gay design site until it became clear there was much broader appeal). Consider, also, the craftsmanship movement fueled by the rise of Etsy, as well as the Do-It-Yourself ethos rippling across every industry from food to education.

Everywhere you look, you’ll find romanticization and fetishization of the physical and sensory. With flash sales saturating the market, sites like Thrillist which offer curated site-exclusive experiences are all the rage as companies look to differentiate themselves by offering rare and distinct experiences on top of good deals. Outrageous, uniquely packaged experiences can now be bought on sites like Gilt (you can drive around in a luxury car, with paparazzi racing behind you), leading me to think that the next big thing will be day- and weekend-long immersive events, fashioned for increasingly specific and discriminating tastes — think interactive theater, mystery dinners, and spartan mud runs kicked up a level.

As the “age of abundance” ushered in by the advent of big data brings basic goods and services to more and more, the fashionable and trendy will search for the rare and exclusive in crafted experiences they can “collect” and showcase (social energy which companies like Facebook and Pinterest will appreciate and encourage). Some pundits like William Bainbridge even say that LARPing (live action role play) and all its varieties may become mainstream: “With ubiquitous Internet connectivity, and mobile access through cellphones or PDAs, it is possible this genre could grow into a major industry, possibly integrated with traditional activities such as history-oriented tourism, nature trail hiking, or stock market trading.”

These trends and movements should allay some widespread fears about the concern with efficiency taking over our lives. Human beings are emotional and physical creatures who will seek to feel and connect no matter what — and who will use new technology to feel and connect in increasingly sophisticated ways.

All these cultural shifts have become so pronounced that renowned theorist, Daniel Pink goes as far to say in his fascinating book, A Whole New Mind, that right-brained people will rule the future. With the amount of knowledge and content proliferating (there have never been as many books, articles, sites, magazines, and blogs in existence), curation, aggregation, commentary, personalization, and context will start generating serious value since people will need some way to digest, absorb, and process the flood of content out there.

Back to meetups. Curious? Don’t know where to start? Check out the monthly meetups hosted by Knewton in our office near Union Square (our livestream provides a sense of what goes down during these happenings). A rundown of some of our recent events:

Check out our events calendar for the most up to date information on events. Mark your calendar! Next NYEdTech Meetup we’re hosting is April 16, 2013.

Knewton Hosts NY Tech Women Party

Last Monday, Knewton hosted the NY Tech Women holiday/birthday party.

Since its inception last December, NY Tech Women has grown to include nearly one thousand women. Through happy hours, mixers, pre-meetups and other informal social events, the group offers a number of ways for women to develop a real sense of community within the NY tech scene.

More than just the standard business networking hour, the group is an easy way for women to form lasting bonds and professional alliances. Their much-lauded and popular mentorship program pairs women throughout the tech community together for one-month-at-a-time mentorships (minimum commitment is 6 hours per month) which have helped many women product managers, data analysts, marketers, and software developers accelerate their careers or make an important transition.

Organized by Jennifer Shaw, Senior Data Analyst at comScore and Jovena Whatmoor, founder of Skillfer, the group includes Tara Chklovski, Founder & CEO of Iridescent Learning (known for its tech entrepreneurship program for high school girls) and our very own Stephanie Killian, a lead software engineer at Knewton.

Check out Knewton’s event calendar and make sure to stop by for the next meetup we host!

John Myles White, author of Machine Learning for Hackers, at the meetup.

NY Software Engineers Meetup: A Monster Machine Learning Event

This past Tuesday, Knewton hosted one of NY’s most intense machine learning/big data events of the year. Over 100 people came out to mingle and listen to an awesome lineup of speakers. If you have the time, check out the full recording:

Otherwise, here’s a quick look at what went down.

The evening was kicked off by one of Knewton’s lead data scientists, George Davis. George talked about how Knewton develops scalable statistical models of the learning process in order to inform recommendations around supplementary content and study groups.

George speaking at Tuesday’s meetup

Next up was John Myles White, author of Machine Learning for Hackers. He reviewed the basics of machine learning and showed us how simple methods developed by researchers can be treated as black-box function calls by using existing languages like R and Python. In his talk, John also worked through the intuitions behind linear regression, logistic regression, and k-nearest neighbors to show how they might be applied in common situations like spam classification.

Wiqar Chaudry, the Director of Product Management at NuoDB capped off the evening with a discussion of cloud computing, fast machines, and the proliferation of mathematics and programming in today’s society.

A big thanks to NY Software Engineers and organizer, Michael Latulippe for bringing everyone together for this memorable event.

Editing Videos with an iPhone, and NYEdTech Meetup at Knewton [VIDEO]

Wistia is an awesome startup that provides professional video hosting and analytics services to a number of companies — including Knewton. They recently featured a blog post by our own Jess Nepom with tips for editing video on an iPhone.

If you’re interested in Jess’ thoughts on editing apps, check out the original post. Here, we thought we’d feature her final, iPhone-edited product — a video of the first meetup at our new office: “Understanding Today’s LMS,” organized by NYEdTech. Enjoy!

How to Succeed in DevOps Without Really Trying

There’s been a lot of talk about the importance of hiring “T-shaped” people — employees with a breadth of experience across a variety of disciplines (the horizontal bar of the letter T), as well as deep knowledge and expertise in a particular field (the vertical bar).

Our Head of Infrastructure Dave Zwieback (aka DZ) has a different requirement when it comes time to find DevOps hires: he’s looking for comb-shaped people.

Watch DZ’s talk at this year’s Velocity Conference, “How to succeed in DevOps without really trying” to learn more about what this means and why it’s so important.

Photo courtesy NY Graph meetup

NY Graph Meetup: Big Data & Dr. Jim Webber

Knewton Knerds are big fans of NY Graph Meetup—a group devoted to the discussion of graph structures, graph theory, graph databases, and related topics. Why graphs? And why now? According to the group, graph structures and methods are becoming ubiquitous these days: “As the size of datasets being generated, processed, and presented continues to grow, the relative strengths and weaknesses of different data structures, including graphs, have become more and more significant in everyday applications.” Organized by developer Scott Bullard, the group aims to host technical presentations and lectures, product demos, lightning talks, seminars, town hall-style open forums and hands-on tutorials, in addition to less-structured monthly gatherings. The most recent gathering featured a presentation from Dr. Jim Webber (author of REST in practice, and Chief Scientist at Neo4j) and was well attended by several Knewton Knerds. The morning after, software engineers, Jordan Lewis and Urjit Bhatia shared their experience with us. CY: Why do you think the NY Graph Meetup is so popular in the NY startup community? Jordan: NY is establishing itself as the center for big data startups like Knewton, FourSquare and Spotify. For those who aren’t familiar with this stuff, “big data” refers to the tremendous volume, velocity, and variety of data generated by technology platforms these days, many of which involve the continuous or ubiquitous collection of data. A lot of the data involved with these new brand of startups is not simple data. In the old days, it used to be stuff like payroll data (social security numbers, salaries, etc, very simple to model). Now that the relationships between data points are growing more complex, we need to explore new ways of grappling with this stuff. With Knewton, for instance, we need to understand the proficiencies of each student in relation to the proficiencies of all other students in the network. This is how it works: in isolation, each student’s response to each question is only a tiny scrap of information, but when propagated through the entire system and understood in context, the value of that information is amplified tremendously. So yeah, I think the popularity of NY Graph Meetup reflects the fact that we’re at an inflection point as a community regarding graphs. Everyone is realizing how complex their data is and grappling with its complexity. It’s so intricate that it’s difficult to model in any conventional way. CY: What were some of the technical specifics of the talk? Urjit: With Neo4J, which is a popular and upcoming NoSQL graph database, there are limits to how much data can be held. The other aspect of Neo4J is that it doesn’t support data sharding yet. This means that we cannot have a setup in which multiple Neo4J servers divide the workload among themselves, but they are going to release a solution sometime next year. This is a major challenge in the big data paradigm. As the buzzword suggests, the data is very “big”—too big to be served and processed in entirety by a single server. Sharding is a clever solution to this problem. In the case of graph data for example, your graph can be chopped up into the number of underlying servers. This is all transparent to the consumers of the data but provides huge gains in terms of performance. Dr. Webber also talked about how the data model that is laid out on a whiteboard during brainstorming sessions translates more naturally into a graph-based data store than the conventional relational data model (which takes us through multiple normalization and de-normalization cycles) does. Normalization is the technique which minimizes duplication of data by grouping data in separate tables and linking them. In the real world, however, where the high traffic of users and services requires super-fast response times, normalized data is so divided that it leads to slower performance which then prompts people to de-normalize (and the cycle then distorts the original layout). The other interesting tidbit was the introduction of a language named Cypher, used for querying the graphs in the Neo4J database. I think this will prove to be a great tool in the graph-data toolbelt. Jim also talked about the concept of overlaying a search engine (Apache Lucene, a search index) on top of the graph data. It makes searching for nodes in your graph very easy. You can say to it: “give me a node in the graph that has this or that property…” CY: How will all this inform your work at Knewton going forward? Did you gain any insights which are immediately applicable? Urjit: A lot of these technologies have discrete math algorithms built into them. Dijkstra’s graph search, for example. So instead of every data scientist having to redo all the research that’s been done previously, one can leverage existing research in the field. Since Knewton works with very complex data models, many of the ideas discussed at this meetup are directly applicable to our work and we can leverage the learnings of other data scientists into making our product better and more robust. Cypher, a graph query language, is something that would be great to have at Knewton. It will make it easier to validate the data we have. We also learned about how people are dealing with things like super-nodes, sometimes called “Britney Spears Nodes” after her popular fan following on Twitter. Such nodes have millions of connections while others have only a couple hundred.

WalkAboutNYC: Knewton Office Tour

On Friday, we took part in WalkaboutNYC, a one day showcase of tech companies around the city. Though the Roots were booked, over 80 people came by our office to enjoy snacks and beer (nothing like a tech event to encourage day drinking!) and hear a bit about what makes all of us here at Knewton tick. No one even seemed to mind that we didn’t get to show off our new office (we’re saving that one for next year).

Here are a few photos from the event:

Touring the office
George, one of our Data Scientists, gave a short talk

Knewton at NY Tech Day (Come Get a Knerd shirt!)

We’ll be out on the exhibit floor at NY Tech Day tomorrow, Thursday, April 19, along with a whole bunch of other Silicon Alley startups — 160 in total. This year’s event is the first of its kind in NYC and we’re excited to be part of the action.

Two of our product managers, Sara and Paul, will be manning our booth throughout the day.  If you’re planning on attending NY Tech Day, swing by to check out what we’re building here at Knewton and to grab a free Knerd shirt (while supplies last!).

The expo is taking place at the Lexington Armory from 10am to 4pm, followed by an awards dinner. Get more info here (the event is full but there is a wait list), and be sure check out @nytechday and #NYTD on Twitter.

See you there!