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.

More on Khan Academy

Here’s Wired on the innovative work of Salman Khan:

Khan Academy is an educational website that, as its tagline puts it, aims to let anyone “learn almost anything—for free.” Students, or anyone interested enough to surf by, can watch some 2,400 videos in which the site’s founder, Salman Khan, chattily discusses principles of math, science, and economics (with a smattering of social science topics thrown in). The videos are decidedly lo-fi, even crude: Generally seven to 14 minutes long, they consist of a voice-over by Khan describing a mathematical concept or explaining how to solve a problem while his hand-scribbled formulas and diagrams appear onscreen. Like the Wizard of Oz, Khan never steps from behind the curtain to appear in a video himself; it’s just Khan’s voice and some scrawly equations. In addition to these videos, the website offers software that generates practice problems and rewards good performance with videogame-like badges—for answering a “streak” of questions correctly, say, or mastering a series of algebra levels.

We’ve written before on Khan’s work.  By offering a free, virtual classroom available to anyone with a few minutes and an Internet connection, Khan Academy provides students with easy access to information on their own terms.  And because the lessons are videos, students are free to review again and again, allowing them access to the content as often as needed.  This means that students can move at their own pace, moving ahead when ready or reviewing material where necessary.  Khan Academy stands in stark contrast to the assembly line model of traditional classrooms and represents individualized instruction where students are free to move ahead as they master prerequisite material.  And it appears to be paying off:

Initially, Thordarson thought Khan Academy would merely be a helpful supplement to her normal instruction. But it quickly become far more than that. She’s now on her way to “flipping” the way her class works. This involves replacing some of her lectures with Khan’s videos, which students can watch at home. Then, in class, they focus on working problem sets. The idea is to invert the normal rhythms of school, so that lectures are viewed on the kids’ own time and homework is done at school. It sounds weird, Thordarson admits, but this flipping makes sense when you think about it. It’s when they’re doing homework that students are really grappling with a subject and are most likely to need someone to talk to. And now Thordarson can tell just when this grappling occurs: Khan Academy provides teachers with a dashboard application that lets her see the instant a student gets stuck.

…The result is that Thordarson’s students move at their own pace. Those who are struggling get surgically targeted guidance, while advanced kids like Carpenter rocket far ahead; once they’re answering questions without making mistakes, Khan’s site automatically recommends new topics to move on to. Over half the class is now tackling subjects like algebra and geometric formulas. And even the less precocious kids are improving: Only 3 percent of her students were classified as average or lower in end-of-year tests, down from 13 percent at midyear.

Those results 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.

Rethinking Math Education: An Experiment with Video

We’ve written before on how organizations like Virtual Nerds or individuals like Salman Khan are capitalizing on easy access to video and then harnessing the Internets capability to rapidly disseminate short chunks of information through multiple channels.  The ability to access specific, targeted material – and repeatedly view on-demand content – means that many students are able to engage with the content in a setting of their choice, a setting hopefully free of other distractions.  Plus, accessing information on-demand means that students are able to free up valuable mental real estate; students don’t have to be distracted by monitoring social cues or focusing on facial expressions, or even worrying about the speaker’s perception.  Instead, the student is free to focus almost exclusively on the actual content.

Here’s Khan at a recent TED talk explaining what he thinks may account for the appeal of his math videos.

Khan is not alone.  Vi Hart has garnered recent acclaim for her ability to take high-level, abstract, mathematical concepts and render them both accessible and fun.  Hart offers her visual work and explanations through both YouTube and her own site.

Video formats – like the Khan Academy YouTube videos and those created by Virtual Nerds – offer math students a valuable way to reinforce their current lesson or access more in-depth explanations in a setting of their choice.  That sort of accessibility and ease of use were a part of our thinking in making both Virtual Nerds and Khan Academy videos available through our own Math at Home utility.   Math at Home allows parents and educators to link students to resources at a targeted level based on the Quantile Framework for Mathematics.

If you haven’t already checked out this valuable new resource, be sure to take a look.

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