Parents and students in China – impressions from our summer trip | 中国家长和学生- 暑期中国行印象

We always knew that Chinese parents and teachers are dedicated to education.   Even so, we were still amazed by how Chinese teachers and parents are working hand-in-hand pushing the boundaries of education.

We don’t necessarily agree with everything they do, such as the bias towards solving test problems in classes.  But there are a great deal more things we agree or appreciate, such as relentless hard work and practice than ones we don’t appreciate.

Below is a snapshot of a first-day summer class for seven year old children.   Just look at how intently the parents are.   Some parents sat through the entire class to take notes, and some sat in the lounge in the corridor chatting about schools or doing various things while waiting for their kids.    The temperature was about 100 degrees outside.

Magic Math Mandarin

The level of dedication is astonishing. 

From time investment perspective, at least one family member, whether mother, father or a grandparent, spends as much as 20 hours and up each week on their children’s education.   

From the money side, summer/winter break, weekend, or after-hour schoolings are privately run, which aren’t cheap.   Some well-to-do ones have spent hundreds of thousands (measured in US dollars) before high school.  Some bold ones even send their kids, sometimes as young as eight or nine years old, to overseas private boarding schools in exclusive locations in Switzerland, the UK and other places.    Poorer families still pay for various lessons to make sure their kids are as nourished as possible in education.   For those very constraint in resources, such as those parents who must work 7 days a week, we saw their kids studying with video lessons on mobile phones in cram corners instead of hanging out loose.  

The primary motivation is the quality of survival for the next generation: to get into top middle schools, top high schools, top universities, great social network and ultimately great jobs in adulthood.   Parents start count down of the number of days till college entrance exam even at primary schools.   Kids routinely study until mid-night since third grade, and don’t get a day off until winter/summer break.

On the contrary, in United States, students and parents are heard asking for less homework and more free time to play.    Over the last two decades, the quality of education, as measured by test scores, have steadily declined in the US.   Less work is a key factor.  However, a deeper question is: why do American parents and kids want less work from schools?   These questions need to be answered by representative data, not ideaologies.

Learning Swift | 学习Swift

This weekend we started our first lesson on Swift. Swift is the language used by Apple across its products.

The class first tried using XCode, which is Apple’s IDE for Swift. But not every child is familiar with the Mac. So we switched to a learn Swift phone app, which worked well. But the class really love Swift Playground.  It is like Scratch to them.  The difference is that: we are going to make an app in two months using Swift.

The kids enjoyed programming a lot!  They didn’t want to stop.

The only minor issue is that it only works on iPads.

Coronavirus flu and how to prevent it | 预防感冒和病毒

Today in class we talked about a virus😷 that was discovered in China about a month ago. The virus is very contagious and harmful so be very careful not to get anyone’s germs when you go to a place with lots of people🚶‍♀️🚶‍♂️. China said that there are at least 305 confirmed deaths☠ from this virus and about 14,628 people are infected worldwide🌎.

This virus started in a big city in China🏳 called Wuhan. We heard that this virus might have been caused by eating wild animals such as rabbits🐰, peacocks🦚, and reptiles like snakes🐍, and most likely bats🦇. This virus is very bad because it can cause death or pneumonia which is also very harmful.

Some cities in China like Wuhan are in a lockdown. The US has also now banned flights✈ from China. The virus has already made it’s way to many other countries. Scientists👩‍🔬👨‍🔬 still don’t know how contagious it is and how harmful it can be.

Besides this virus, there are flu viruses that make lots of people sick or even kill them every year.

You can avoid getting flu virus by having good hygiene, washing your hands✋ very often, and staying away from places that are crowded with people.

Also, avoid touching your mouth, eyes, and nose with your hands or with anything that isn’t sanitized.

Try not to eat foods that aren’t wrapped and completely sealed.

Stay away from people that are coughing or sneezing.

Last but not least, clean and disinfect often-used surfaces and places with a product that kills viruses such as bleach, daily.

Last but not least, eat healthy, have enough sleep, and be strong 🤗, and don’t get the virus🤒!!

Our cofounder’s new book release

We are really proud of our co-founder(联合创始人 lián hé chuàng shǐ rén), Sarah Chen, for her new book release, which is now public.   Congratulations!

Her book is available in various outlets:

Here is her pre-release announcement on LinkedIn in July this year.



Notebook of mistakes | 错题本

We learned the phrase 错题本 this past summer in China attending two-week XDF summer classes.   It means “wrong solution notes” or “error management book”, meant for you to keep  track of where your mistakes are and to make sure they do not happen again.   This is used in all classes we attended: math, Chinese and English.   They are all formatted in similar templates for documenting: date, problem, error, why it happen, and what is the correct answer.    Doing this systematically helps focus on the target areas and improves efficiency.   Basically you are customizing the learning for yourself.   Those so-called artificial intelligence guided learning will not do better than this.

To dedicate a specific notebook to your mistakes is quite a good idea.    It may seem unusual for those who like to move fast and break things.   But this is definitely indispensable when we are building a skill.

Who says that error management book or notebook of mistakes should only be applicable to school kids?   Could we also expand that concept to life and work?  Probably.

Let’s go get a 错题本 and get it started today!


Cosmic distance ladder | 宇宙距离

The class has no homework today.  We watched the video lecture by Terence Tao (see link below).   The name of the video is “Cosmic Distance Ladder”.  Quite a mystifying name.

The stories, which Terence Tao told in the lecture, were about philosophers and astronomers from ancient times, such as Aristotle and others, and those who were closer to us in history.  What all of them have in common is that they were able to use good observations and ingenious reasonings to indirectly measure the distance between the Earth and the Moon, and the Sun, and the distance of the galaxies, without any technology (the earliest did not even know the number Pi), with amazing accuracy (as verified by what we know today).

You should definitely watch the video a few times.  Think about this: compare with human observation and reasonings, what computers can do is still just technology and tools.  The computers can’t do indirect reasonings that connect the dots from disparate information. It makes zero sense to believe computers (including phones) are smarter than you are.

So, use your great mind. Let your mind observe and reason, and make computers help you along the way.




Dedication to innovation in education | 为教育创新

In Kaggle machine learning competition discussions, teams spent huge effort in order to have 0.00001 gain in performance working with masked datasets to try to predict something real or hypothetical.   Have any teams tried anywhere half as hard trying to have 0.01 gain on education?   What if they do? That ratio of 0.01 and 0.00001 is 1000. When you multiple the ratio of 1000 to the number of children you want to help, it becomes your calling.

To make that 1% change, 10% or more in improvement need to proved and shown.   That means to get kids better jobs that make more money than their peers in shorter time along with equipping them with essential surviving skills: money management, basic life sciences, social skills, and a set of strong guiding principles.   These are our focuses in education.

Chinese style education & empty basketball courts |中国式教育和空荡荡的蓝球场

I was in China this November to conduct surveys on education.  I had a few chances of sitting in some after school education programs and cram school classes, including XDF新东方, and was shocked by the amount of work Chinese kids have to do and was saddened by the way they are learning.

Let’s talk about the amount of work first.   I saw very few kids out and about any time of day except commuting hours.   Basketball courts are empty, even on weekends.   Where are all the kids?  They are in endless cram school 补习班 classes.

A middle school child routinely gets up before 7 am and does not go to sleep until midnight or after.   Middle school students stay in school until 8 pm, and work on additional homework from 8 pm till midnight.   Younger students are often working similar hours.

Innovation in education | 教育创新

We don’t hear about startups in education in America as we hear about them in other industries. Why? There are multiple reasons. One is the belief that superior education and profit making are conflicting.  Are they?

Superior customer service in other industries seems to lead to higher profit. People don’t have any issues with that. Then why with education?

It shouldn’t.

So why?

Geometry and machine learning

Geometry helps us see clearly without cluttering our minds with jargon and notations.  We will begin with something everyone in machine learning does.

Linear Regression= ” linear regression is a linear approach for modeling the relationship between a scalar dependent variable y and one or more explanatory variables (or independent variables) denoted X.”

What does it mean? Let’s think about it from geometry.  If we don’t know how tall Emma is (dependent variable y, or “label”) since we haven’t met her. But we can guess her height by other numbers, such as the length of her shadow (independent variable X, or “feature”). Our guess can be quite accurate if we are in same city where she lives and we are measuring everything at the same time of day.

That was easy.   Now we are going to guess the height of many different people, based on the the length of their shadows.  Again, our guess can be quite accurate if we all live in same city  and we are measuring everything at the same time of day.   But this is usually not the case.    Say if we live in northeast America and the measures are taken during early afternoon in autumn, our predictions may not be perfect but are still in the ball park.  Otherwise we really cannot make a good prediction.

What are we to do with measures that are not taken under perfect conditions? If we know the location and time when the measures are taken, then we can make adjustments to the numbers before using them. But there still can be lots of problems if we made mistakes in taking down the numbers or locations or time. Like a trades person, we have different tools to fix problems. One is called “least squares method”. Some other methods are “weighted least squares”, “maximum likelihood”, “gradient descent” and etc.