Khan Academy in the Classroom

We’ve written before on the efforts of Khan Academy – a free, online classroom that is available to anyone with an Internet connection.  Khan Academy offers thousands of video lessons on everything from specific mathematical concepts to explanations of the mortgage loan crisis.  Because Khan’s videos are easily accessible, students (and parents) are able to take advantage of its ‘always-on’ access to review videos in their own time. 

Khan’s work has gotten the notice of educators across the US and a number of Foundations and educational organizations, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, are looking to capitalize on Khan’s approach to individualizing education:

Each student’s math journey shows up instantly on the laptop Mr. Roe carries as he wanders the room. He stops at each desk, cajoles, offers tips, reassures. For an hour, this crowded, dimly lighted classroom in the hardscrabble shadow of Silicon Valley hums with the sound of fingers clicking on keyboards, pencils scratching on paper and an occasional whoop when a student scores a streak of right answers.

The software program unleashed in this classroom is the brainchild of Salman Khan, an Ivy League-trained math whiz and the son of an immigrant single mother. Mr. Khan, 35, has become something of an online sensation with his Khan Academy math and science lessons on YouTube, which has attracted up to 3.5 million viewers a month.

Now he wants to weave those digital lessons into the fabric of the school curriculum — a more ambitious and as yet untested proposition.

This semester, at least 36 schools nationwide are trying out Mr. Khan’s experiment: splitting up the work of teaching between man and machine, and combining teacher-led lessons with computer-based lectures and exercises

The most promising aspect of Khan’s work is that it harnesses technology to promote individualized instruction.  We’ve written before on the importance of blending technology platforms with instructor interaction to promote differentiation, or even individualization for each student.  By providing a platform that monitors each student’s progress and then responds with more instruction for students who are not ready to move on or with new concepts for those that are, Khan is upending the more traditional assembly-line model of the classroom, allowing teachers to monitor student progress and respond to struggling learners, while allowing proficient students to move forward.

Not it appears that Khan is getting the chance to put his model to the test at larger sites and with more classrooms:

In the past, math class at the Summit schools was always hands-on: the class worked on a problem, usually in small groups, sometimes for days at a time. But getting an entire class of ninth graders to master the fundamentals of math was never easy. Without those, the higher-level conceptual exercises were impossible.

That is where the machine came in handy. The Khan software offered students a new, engaging way to learn the basics.

Ms. Tavenner says she believes that computers cannot replace teachers. But the computer, she recognizes, can do some things a teacher cannot. It can offer personal feedback to a whole room of students as they work. And it can give the teacher additional class time to do more creative and customized teaching.

“Combining Khan with that kind of teaching will produce the best kind of math,” she argued. “Teachers are more effective because they have a window into the student’s mind.”

Khan’s efforts are worth noting.  Khan’s work is inspiring and is likely just the beginning of the work that can be done with virtual classrooms.  We’ve incorporated Khan’s work into our own tools on the Quantile Framework for Mathematics website.  In Math at Home, for example, students can select textbook chapters and lessons and search for supplemental material by which to review their primary lessons.  In many cases, they will find a variety of Khan videos available to help review core skills and concepts.  If you haven’t already, be sure to take a look.

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