Friday, February 24, 2012

Day 24 -- Khan Academy: A Free Virtual Education

Today's guest Blogger is Jason Roseberry.  Jason is assistant principal at Scottsburg Middle School, District 1:1 Coordinator, and a member of the IDOE eLearning Leadership Cadre.  You can follow him on Twitter @Mr_Roseberry3b or at his blog, 3 Bee Brothers.

If you are a math teacher looking for a way to supplement your instruction, differentiate your curriculum, "flip" your classroom, or move to a digital curriculum and you haven't heard of Khan Academy, then just what have you been doing this past year?  This TED Talk from 2011 featuring Salman Khan is required viewing for those who have been living under a rock.

Khan Academy is the creation of Salman Khan, who wanted to find a better way to help his cousins with their math homework. What started off as a video on Youtube has expanded to 2,800 videos covering topics such as math, physics, finance, and even history. In addition, there are 300 practice exercises which students can move through at their own pace. Using a Google or Facebook username/password, Khan will keep track of a student's progress and report this information back to their teacher. If your students are under 13, you can apply to get a Google App account for your school.

How much does it cost? Nothing. Zilch. Zero. Khan Academy is a non-profit company with the goal of creating the world's first free virtual school. There are networks of volunteers working to subtitle and translate videos. As of this moment, there are four million students using Khan in 16 different languages.

Check out this informative video from The Gates Notes on how some teachers at the original pilot school in the Los Altos School District in California feel about their Khan Academy experience.

There are at least four different ways I have seen Khan used in classrooms:

Supplementing Current Instruction
There are Khan videos for almost every Common Core Standard. We have teachers who are posting the Khan video for the standard they are covering each day to their website or digital learning environment (My Big Campus). If the student gets home and can't remember how to do that problem, they have a place to go and find the answer.  When I was in school, the best I could hope for was to check the answers for the odds in the back of the book.  Students today can take a teacher home with them.  Posting Khan videos is a great "first step" for teachers just getting started with technology and wanting to experiment with their curriculum. It requires no student login, as the videos are freely available on youtube,, etc. In addition, there are many other ways to download the videos offline for student consumption so that you can get around internet filtering.

Differentiating Your Curriculum
I know that the word differentiation has almost become a dirty word. It is what we know we need to do to affect student learning, but the one thing we have the greatest problem actually implementing in a classroom setting. If you have the ability to get your students on devices (1:1 program, laptop carts, iPads, computer lab) even once a week, then you can have each student working at their specific level at the same time. My teachers gets their students logged in, and then monitor their progress on the coach's dashboard. All students start with basic addition, and move quickly depending on their current knowledge-base. After one or two sessions, each student will be covering concepts at their specific level until they show mastery.

Khan defines mastery as seven correct in a row. It does accommodate a miss on question seven, by only asking the student to answer three or four more correctly. Through the coach's panel, teachers can see which students are flying (blue), struggling (orange), or stagnant (red). Students struggling or stagnant can be pulled aside in small groups for remediation on that specific concept while the other students are working on Khan at their own level. Eureka! True differentiation!

The "Khan Way"
After writing the blog, "Khan Academy for Two-year-olds? I Guinea-Pig My Own Kids," I was contacted by a representative from Khan about becoming a Khan school. Working with an original pilot school in the Los Altos School District in California, the Khan team developed a plan for how they would like to have schools use Khan. While I won't go into the specific details, it involved the student spending about 30 minutes a day on Khan (at home or at school) watching videos and taking assessments. Khan became the primary source for the teaching, which freed the teacher to look at more "real-life" applications or projects. While this isn't an option we were interested in at the time, it will be very interesting to look at the data once this pilot has been completed.

Assessment Only
We have teachers who completely ignore the videos and just have their students work through the assessment. It gives teachers and students an amazing amount of data about what they really know and where they need help. This is also an easy option if YouTube videos are blocked in your building and you don't want to have to bother the IT department to get the offline videos working. As a teacher, you can set this up yourself and have complete control. I hear that teachers like control.

Wrath of Khan
I wouldn't be presenting the entire picture if I didn't mention that there are some naysayers and critics when it comes to Salman Khan's Academy.  You can find many blogs like the one at Mathalicious which go beyond basic criticism, and label Khan Academy as "dangerous."  Why the worries?  For starters, Salman Khan doesn't have an education degree.  With the Gates money invested in the non-profit, Khan chose to hire scientists before educators, which ignites the argument of content knowledge vs. instructional skills.  Finally, critics acknowledge Khan is likely to get a lot of use because it is free, but, without a research base to back it up, what cost will this be to our children?

Final Thoughts
Our kids deserve to learn using the "tools of their time."  I have seen our students' eyes light up as they have gotten started on Khan Academy and taken control of their own education.  I have also seen these same eyes look bleary and bored after several days of exercises and videos.  What's my verdict?  Khan Academy is one more great tool to use with our students.  Our kids need variety, and the only definite for instruction in any academic area is that the instructional tools must vary.

All math teachers need to get on Khan Academy at some point.  My teachers have used it as a "gateway instructional tool" in that they now film and post their own math videos.  There is no doubt in my mind that video and education will go hand in hand even more as we move more technology into the classroom and our private lives.  

I spent a large chunk of my day talking with kids about their math grades, and kid after kid told me that they feel "stupid" asking teachers to demonstrate a problem more than once.  Imagine the power of putting that instruction at their fingertips with the ability to scrub back and forth through specific steps or watch the entire sequence over and over again without judgement from a peer.  

Self-empowered learning without peer judgement?  

Where do I sign up?

The Challenge

Visit the Khan Academy website. Considering what you see there and what Jason has shared in this post, how do you think you can use Khan Academy in your classroom? If you're already using Khan Academy, share how you use it.

No comments:

Post a Comment