Posts Tagged ‘marin education’

Sync or Swim Blog Series #3

Spotlighting the Best Marinnovations™ in Education
By Michael Leifer, CEO Guerilla PR / Ecodads

One of the Bay Area’s fastest Ed-tech startups is the MV (Mill Valley) Code Club (, a social venture founded by programmer and entrepreneur Doug Tarr.

Prior to founding the club, Doug had been up in Seattle working at a successful startup called PayScale (a Human Capital Platform) serving as the VP of Consumer Product and Chief Architect. As the company sold and Doug was transitioning to an Advisory role, he and his wife decided to move back to her home town of Mill Valley.

Cut to October in 2013, his son was 14 and on a local soccer team, and while practice was ending one day, several other parents (whose kids were all passionately interested in coding and MineCraft), encouraged Doug to teach the kids how to code. So, all of a sudden there were 12 kids sitting around his dining room table and he was teaching them to use a simple coding program called Scratch, as well as some Javascript. Eight weeks later, all 12 of those kids wanted to keep going. And, by that time, many other families had heard about his intimate Mill Valley Coding Club and the membership spiked from a dozen kids to 40. At that point, Doug’s wife told him he had to find a new space — LOL!

So, he rented a location in downtown Mill Valley with the intention of helping create a space for tweens and young teens vs high school kids, which would be safe, exciting and social, and would create a fun environment to learn how to code. His vision was to make MV Coders into a digital guild in which high school students could be paid staff and share their skills as journeyman, with the members being the apprentices, and where Doug and other coding professionals from Stanford, Google and other places would serve as the “sort of” masters.

Doug hired the high schoolers with the intention of keeping a balanced 4:1 apprentice to journeyman ratio so that each child could get the attention that they needed to succeed. Doug offered, “So much of our real estate and time is dedicated to sports, but so little is given to technology, and that so many kids love tech, games and robotics. These were the kids that ended to work at home with headphones on, away from their friends. I wanted to create a physical space for those kids who loved coding and tech, and wanted to be around other kids just like themselves, and also to have instructors guiding them shoulder to shoulder vs being the sage on the stage. This type of project-based learning of code enabled it to be driven by the students vs being dictated and broadcast at them from the teacher, which takes the fun out of it.”

Today, MV Code Club has expanded to 300 apprentice members, with 3 locations in Mill Valley, Greenbrae and San Francisco. Members can learn to program, develop a game, make a website, or build a robot. The club houses teach: Scratch for understanding the logic of coding using simple digital blocks; HTML5 and Javascript to learn how to create websites and user interfaces; Arduino to learn how to code to make robots; Java for backend database creation; Unity to make apps which can be sold in the Apple or Google Play Stores; Wix to quickly make websites from templates, and much more.

Doug’s larger plan is to have clubs in each town within Marin, so that members can walk to the local MV Code Club in their community vs having to get in a car. “We drive far too much in California and need to find ways of easing the stress on parents,” Doug stated with a thoughtful smile. The Club allows kids to learn with their friends, side by side, in collaboration, share together to build deeper more developed relationships vs just individually watching a screen and trying to learn on your own. In terms of expansion, the two of us discussed potentially having an office in one of the old 5th grade classrooms at the School Street location in Fairfax, which have 9 schools within walking distance.

MV Code Club also has been producing after-school programs at Mark Day and MPMS(Marin Primary Middle School) private middle schools within Marin. Last year, he also opened a SF location as here was such a demand from many schools for such an after-school coding program and is now working with Berkeley School, Finbar, SF Day and a few others.

The Club also provides members exclusive field trips into the large tech companies of SF such as IGN (San Francisco-based games and entertainment media company); so that members can, first hand, see and learn about the types of jobs and cultures that type of places have, igniting their curiosity and interest in what a future job in the tech industry might look like.

Now, MV Code Club is not a boys-only club. In terms of girls, the staff quickly realized that some girls learned and shared in a different manner than the young lads, so they decided to also offer girls-only sessions at the 3 locations. Girls seeing coding and technology as part of their identity at a young age is really important to help them succeed in our quickly evolving techno-communication world. They hope that they will grow up, and continue to pursue a passion for technology, and serve as role models for younger kid entering the tech field.

Many of the students are creating robots, and apps, which they are selling in the app store, building websites and much more. So, these projects also fuel their entrepreneurship zeal. Indeed, many students’ apps are selling on the Apple and Google App store already and several of the students have formed companies with their parents.

In grammar and middle-school, students learn math, reading and writing but they don’t learn how to code. In the coming year, MV Code Club will also be offering teacher-based professional development services, as many teachers have requested that they provide such.

Currently, MV Code Club is looking for Title local Marin Sponsors to fund membership scholarships for more kids to join and have the opportunity to learn this new language and to create pathways for entrepreneurship.

Sync or Swim Blog Series #2

Spotlighting the Best Marinnovations in Education
By Michael Leifer, CEO Guerilla PR / Ecodads

On October 18th and 19th, Google will be coming to town with the Ed Tech Team for the Marin County Ed Tech Summit hosted by Mt. Tamalpais High School.

Google is by no means the ONLY player in the space, BUT they are a very important one.

This two day high-intensity program features Google in Education Experts, Innovative Educators, Certified Trainers, practicing administrators, teachers, and solution providers as well as access to world-class education technology leaders.  These groups will share their best practices, success stories, classroom management learnings and experiences using Google Apps.  They will also discuss and demonstrate how these apps and tools can be easily integrated into any school’s learning management system, and show how they can be accessed by any student computer, laptop or mobile device (like an iPad) through Wi-Fi.

Sync or Swim Blog Series #1

Spotlighting the Best Marinnovations™ in Education
By Michael Leifer, CEO Guerilla PR / Ecodads
Continuation next month

Back in 2012, California State Superintendent of Instruction Tom Torlakson decreed, “Technology is changing nearly every aspect of our lives. But in California-home to Silicon Valley and the world’s leading technology companies-many schools have been all but left out of the technology revolution. If we’re serious about providing our students a world-class education, we need a plan that leaves no school and no child offline.”

It’s taken quite some time, and a lot of friction-filled evolution, for the public school system to integrate technology into the classroom, but the EduTech mandate has finally arrived in Marin and become a reality. Every school in the County either offers Wifi and/or has a computer lab or a cart of tablets. That’s quite remarkable when compared to the fact that only 1/3 of all public schools in California have Wifi.

But, let me put this into more of a visceral parent perspective…

Last year, in September, my wife (a High School English teacher in Marin), and I attended the Sir Francis Drake High School Back to School Night excited to meet our daughter’s new teachers, to sit with fellow parents in her classroom cohorts, and to find out what she was going to learn during the year.

However, to our surprise, the teachers spent over 50% of the evening discussing the new Learning Management System. All teachers and students were to now use this digital engine as their ONLY assignment center, homework delivery mechanism, the place for giving and getting grades, to receive feedback and where ALL projects would be posted.

So, rather than clarifying the new common core curriculum standards, arcs, themes, and experiential projects that the students would be undertaking, the educators explained the user interface windows, the features and functionalities, providing an overview of the various platform modules, and how this digital-locker interfaced with other tools like YouTube, Google Docs, Microsoft Office and much more.

This twist of expectations had caused many parental attendees to glaze over at the projection screen, while others reacted more overtly with fear-based platitudes over this apparent whirlwind shift from the days of pen, paper and the ability to say, “The labradoodle ate my homework.”

And, amongst this growing din, one parent at our table remarked discerningly, “Guess it’s time for them to either Sync or Swim their way to college.”

Over the past year it’s made me think: do students, parents, tutors and teachers have the best practices, training or tools to easily sync with this transition? Marin has quite an amazing talent pool of technologists, programmers and start-up businesses. And, with Dominican University graduating teachers right in our backyard, along with the Marin Educational Office of Technology, it seems there may be some phenomenal resources. But, how many are offering innovative ways to easily plug-in and sync with education? For students after school? For parents to aid? And, why aren’t people in my circles talking about them? Plus, what schools are using which resources and devices, and how are they working and being assessed?

These questions lead me down a discovery pathway to want to identify, conduct interviews with, and write articles about the most revolutionary Marin EduTech companies, non-profits, clubs, associations and participants, as well as the social impact and benefits that they are trying to create for Marin. I look forward to sharing with you what I learn from this exploration across future issues of this MEF Newsletter.


Michael Leifer
Cultural Anthropologist & CEO
guerilla PR, Inc.
mobile: 213.725.3037