Bill Gates

I have a crush on Bill Gates. Here he is – a relentless innovator who changed the world of technology, a passionate philanthropist already responsible for saving over five million people from malaria, and the wealthiest man in America – at the NAIS conference in Seattle presenting on teaching and learning. Of all the things he could do with his time and money…luxury boats and dream vacations come to mind…he chooses to be in a room with over 4000 educators talking about what he cares about the most: “kids learning the stuff that counts”.

He joked that he is the world’s greatest supporter of independent schools and showed a photo of himself in grade 12 with the caption: “the last time I graduated.” He and Melinda both attended independent schools, but once he graduated from an NAIS high school, he said he didn’t need another diploma. And so he attended but never graduated from Harvard.

So without visible security and with a very down-to-earth approach, he spoke about the ideal learning environment: Yoda and Luke Skywalker engaging in one-on-one tutoring. He spoke about the need for metrics – how to measure, give feedback, and help teachers get better – but he also said that measuring can plague education. He defined education as creating a respectful culture where kids are engaged. (Okay, admittedly, nothing earth-shattering on that last point, but – just like that! – one of the most famous people in the world doesn’t skip a beat in stating a philosophy of education.) The fact is, he’s irresistible.

He mainly focused on one big question: How much can technology help us teach and learn? I want to share the resources he featured in four areas:

  1. Reimagining textbooks: CK-12inklinggooru
  2. Scaling our best teachers: UdemyiTunesUteachers pay teachers
  3. Connecting through social networks: epalsedmodo
  4. Personalizing: manga highkhan academy

Bill Gates thinks these links are worth checking out, and, therefore, so do I. I can’t remember who said it, but I have repeated the wise advice before: when in doubt, do as smart rich people do.

So please try something on his list, and let me know if you, too, develop a greater respect for (or even a little crush on) Bill Gates.

Last week at NAIS

I always come away from the NAIS Annual Conference with at least a couple of good ideas; this year, there were three:

1. Sal Khan is the Founder and Executive Director of Khan Academy, a not-for-profit on-line ‘school’ with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere. In 2004, while working as a hedge fund analyst, his cousins asked him to tutor him and when he couldn’t meet them in person one day, he created a tutorial and posted it on YouTube. I laughed out loud when he told his humble story, ‘My cousins admitted that while they appreciated my help, they actually preferred my lessons on the internet to my teaching in person’. And so he began posting his lessons, and people all over the world started writing to thank him. Today he has over 2,000 videos and each has been viewed over 20,000 times.

2. Wendy Mogul is the best speaker on parenting, and I bought her bookBlessings of a B Minus. Known for her common-sense approach and wit, she had the over-packed room laughing with her tales of parents and kids. My favorite advice was this: “Wait is actually an acronym for parents; it stands for Why Am I Talking?” She advises parents to ‘WAIT’ whenever they want to start solving their child’s problems.

3. Geoffrey Canada, who is featured in the documentary Waiting for Superman, was the final speaker for the conference, and he had the audience of over 4000 people laughing and yet also deeply moved. Since 1990, Mr. Canada has been the President and Chief Executive Officer for Harlem Children’s Zone, which The New York Times Magazine called “one of the most ambitious social experiments of our time.” The numbers he quoted are alarming: there are more black people in prison today than there were slaves in America; it is cheaper to send a child to an independent school than it is to keep him/​her in prison for a year. One line that made me laugh was his advice to the kids in Harlem: ‘I live by a simple mantra… and I recommend it to others…. When in doubt, do what rich people do’. His point was that rich people go to college – they don’t think Harvard, Yale or hair-dressing school. He advises his 10,000 Harlem kids to work hard and assume that they will go to college.

Let’s see if I can quickly capture the impact these three speakers had on me this week in three lessons.

Lesson One: Two nights ago, I showed my son, who struggles with math homework, the Khan Academy website. On the home page is a video of Bill Gates praising Khan Academy: “Everybody should check it out”. Jacob was clearly impressed and clicked on a ‘Division 3’ video. 15 seconds into the lesson, he hit pause and went and got a pencil and paper to try the question. Clearly the internet lesson was engaging him.

Lesson Two: Rather than spoil the moment with my selfish enthusiasm, I thought WAIT. I watched him pause and restart the video and work on math for 30 uninterrupted minutes. This is not usual for my boy.

Lesson Three: Bill Gates as advocate for Khan Academy was certainly a hook for my son, making me want to suggest that Mr. Canada alter his advice to kids: Do as rich people do AND do as they say.