Computers in classrooms
The year is 1968. The place is just outside of Seattle. Teachers at Lakeside School have a firm belief that textbook materials fall far too short of the skills needed in the rapidly changing real world. Joined by Bill Gates, aged 13, and Paul Allen, aged 15, two of the top students at the school, they convince the Lakeside School Mothers Club to lease a Teletype Model 33 ASR terminal hooked up to the General Electric mainframe terminal for computer time-sharing. Lakeside School becomes one of the only high schools with access to computers during a time when even most universities did not have access to them. Gates, and Allen, let their imaginations fly fiddling with the computer late into the night and on the weekends. The rest is history.
Two decades pass and the year is 1981. Apple Computer donates Apple IIe computers to California schools, marking the beginning of widespread use of computers in K-12 classrooms . By the early 1990s, computers become commonplace in many schools, with computer labs and specialized classes on computer science becoming more widely available outside of California.
Fast-forward thirty years. Today, more than 99% of US public schools have access to computers for instructional purposes while about half of US high schools offer computer science courses . Said otherwise, more than half of high schools in the US do not offer any computer science courses. Forward-thinking educators have noticed and are taking action. 37 states have adopted five or more policies to make computer science part of the education system recommending computer science curriculum for public schools, while five states now require high school students to take computer science courses as a graduation requirement .
But alas, we live in an unprecedented time of progress where we have computers capable of helping engineers write lines of code! It seems like every day there are new tools or dramatic developments in key technologies we can leverage to build. As a result, computer science textbooks and other instructional materials get outdated quickly and proper teaching of computer science today requires teachers to constantly expose students to new, up-and-coming tools and technologies. Computer science’s breathtaking advancement is exciting but it can pose a heavy burden for many K-12 schools that have a limited number of teachers and resources to teach ambitious students who are hungry to learn more about cutting edge technologies.
According to our research, three concerns are evident:
1. No established pedagogy for computer science
Unlike algebra, which has been taught for thousands of years, computer science is a relatively new subject to teach. Therefore, what and how to teach it, especially at the K-12 level, remain as questions. In addition, numerous changes happening in breakneck speed make it especially difficult to teach well. Existing frameworks are also dated and poorly suited to first time teachers and learners - the AP CS A exam, for instance, is still taught in 1990s legacy programming language, Java.
2. Shortage of qualified teachers teaching computer science
There is a massive shortage of qualified teachers in the field. The qualifications required for computer science teachers vary depending on the state and district. In some states, teachers are required to hold a specific computer science endorsement or certification to teach the subject. In most states, computer science teachers possess a general teaching certificate and additional training or professional development in the subject area. Some computer science teachers have a traditional teaching certification in a related subject area such as mathematics, science, or technology education, and have received additional training in computer science. Others may have a background in computer science, software engineering, or other related fields, but do not have formal teaching certification in computer science education. Some schools hire adjunct teachers or industry professionals to teach computer science courses.
3. Computer science has until very recently been an elective subject with limited reach
Given the barrier to creating high-quality instructional tools and materials for the subject, there are very few high-quality incumbent suppliers in the space and most aren’t well-equipped for the rapid surge in demand. Many teachers have noticed that existing non-profit and for-profit tools don’t scale and tap out quite early in the teaching process. These tools don’t offer enough content and don’t provide flexibility to tailor the materials to custom curricula. Experienced teachers are left to create their own materials and inexperienced teachers are left not having enough resources to teach their classes beyond the ability of rudimentary materials available today. Furthermore, teachers lament the high cost of creating and maintaining content.
Enter Kira Learning
In the fall of 2021, NEA team members met with Andrea Pasinetti, the co-founder & CEO of Kira Learning, to discuss his ideas around building a STEM-focused edtech platform with a belief that learning should be relevant and aligned with up-to-date R&D. As the first step, Andrea talked about creating K-12 computer science content that empowers both teachers and students to progress and achieve mastery at their own pace while incorporating the latest industry developments in real-time. Teachers and administrators would have the option to introduce personalized solutions with their own recordings and coding problems. Individual and class level progress reports would help the teachers understand where they could provide extra support to students and around which topics. We quickly understood that Andrea was onto something.
Today, Kira Learning has built out key functionalities to address the biggest pain points in computer science education:
1. High-quality textbooks and exercises
Kira Learning provides high-quality lessons and class materials crafted by the industry’s thought leaders, such as Andrew Ng. Through Kira Learning, students and teachers have access to video content, interactive textbooks, in-browser exercises, homework suggestions, and homework grading tools. This encourages a more active learning experience compared to alternatives including slide-based notes, physical textbooks, and coding by hand.
2. Built-in editors and visualizers
To eliminate technical issues, increase engagement, and provide faster feedback, Kira Learning provides in-browser exercises and editors. Many experienced teachers know that trying to fix technical issues with local development environments could be a full-time job in itself, so Kira Learning completely eliminates this pain point.
3. Automated grading
Kira Learning is working to build automated grading functionality for assignments and quizzes. This provides leverage for instructors who are already struggling with demand to increase class sizes.
4. Classroom for teachers
Kira Learning provides teachers with development training. This allows teachers trained in computer science to quickly get up to speed on the topics and materials being taught and become more competent teachers.
Why we must educate our students on AI today
With the recent rapid progress in general AI and adaptation of consumer-facing AI tools such as Perplexity.ai, ChatGPT, Bard, Midjourney, Jasper, and Dall E, a lot of us have been able to taste the remarkable productivity and creativity AI unlocks for those who know how to harness these powerful tools. AI has already begun to transform how we live, work, and play and the change will only accelerate from here. The rapid development and power unlock also speaks volumes about the dire consequences for those who don’t understand how to leverage these tools. Just as early adopters of typewriters, computers, and smartphones enjoyed superpowers, we are confident that similar benefits will be available to the early users of these AI tools. Furthermore, as those who were able to build programs through coding were able to create trillions of dollars of value over the years, we see a similar parallel opportunity with AI programming. All of this points to the importance of educating today’s youth on AI programming. K-12 AI coding education is imperative in ensuring our next generation stays competitive in today’s ever-more globalized world. If our schools are ill-equipped to educate our students to meet the demands of future jobs that will require deep understanding of AI coding for value addition, productivity, and creativity, we will lose competitiveness to those who take the technology more seriously.
STEM education increases access to new opportunities
The Labor Market for Recent College Graduates, Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Feb 10, 2023
STEM, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Last updated Apr 23, 2020
According to a study from the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, STEM fields offer the highest-paying jobs which in turn give students from lower-income backgrounds the potential to greatly increase their social mobility. The study found that 65% of Bachelor’s degrees in STEM occupations earn more than Master’s degrees in non-STEM occupations. According to a report published by the New York Fed earlier this year, the top 10 highest paying entry level jobs all required STEM college majors. Furthermore, STEM fields often offer opportunities for career advancement and growth, which can help individuals increase their income and move up the social and economic ladder. Many STEM fields teach students hard skills and individuals with these skills are often highly sought after by employers in today’s technology-driven world–his can lead to greater job security and more opportunities for career advancement. STEM fields are often at the forefront of innovation and entrepreneurship, and individuals with these skills may be more likely to start their own businesses or contribute to the development of new technologies and industries.
Granted, social mobility concerns a number of other factors beyond earnings potential and career advancement opportunities. But, we believe acquiring hard skills through STEM education is certainly one of the most effective arrows in the quiver. By giving students access to education for skills highly in-demand, we believe we can give them access to far better opportunities in life. And we believe Kira Learning can provide this opportunity at scale.
Kira Learning’s Star-Studded Team
Prior to pursuing computer science MS and MBA degrees at Stanford, Kira Learning co-founder & CEO Andrea Pasinetti ran one of the largest and most impactful education non-profit organizations–Teach For China. Co-founder Andrew Ng is one of the world's most famous and influential computer scientists, being named one of Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People in 2012, and Fast Company's Most Creative People in 2014; he also co-founded and headed Google Brain, was a former chief scientist at Baidu, building Baidu's AI group into a team of several thousand people ande co-founded Coursera, where he currently serves as Chairman. Co-founder Jagriti Agarwal studied Computer Science at the California Institute of Technology. After graduating in 2017, she worked at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the Artificial Intelligence Group where she developed automation software for the Mars 2020 rover mission.
Notes and Sources
 Wired.com, How Apple’s Education Devices Changed Through the Years. Published March 27, 2018.
 Code.org, CSTA, & ECEP Alliance (2022). 2022 State of Computer Science Education: Understanding Our National Imperative. Retrieved from https://advocacy.code.org/stateofcs.
 Bruce Burgess, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Paul_Allen_and_Bill_Gates_at_Lakeside_School_in_1970.jpg.
 Bilby, CC BY 3.0 from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Apple_IIe.jpg
 Image from an eBay listing. Retrieved from https://www.ebay.com/itm/19569....
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