A Lesson

Khan Academy Pilot Program a Success in California

Last month we profiled the Khan Academy, a database of free videos that make learning subjects like math fun. Well, these videos are now being piloted in a school in California. Two grade five and seven classes in the district of Los Altos have chosen to heavily supplement their current methods with the Khan Academy. Their test run has so far yielded nothing short of colossal success, with both students and teachers alike more engaged and fulfilled.

Khan believes that video teaching can help “flip” the classroom by having kids watch videos at home and doing what used to be homework in the classroom. This way, students can pause, repeat and re-watch any material that they need – a concept that will solve what fear and embarrassment may prevent in the live classroom. Since students have access to all the videos in the database, they can fill in what Khan calls “Swiss cheese gaps” in their education, by studying troublesome topics as much as they need to. Students can spend some extra time with concepts like fractions, derivatives or cell biology, making the next level of information be received on solid ground.

In addition, by doing what used to be homework in the classroom, Khan hopes to “humanize” education by providing students and teachers with the opportunity to spend some meaningful time together. Students can ask specific questions and get direct, personalized help from the teacher when it matters most. In addition, students better at one subject can tutor their peers who are struggling with the same concept, thereby creating a mutual exchange of information and interdependence. This meaningful classroom time will do more, Khan hopes, than the ritual of silent students meant to absorb information within one minimally-interactive session.

The software uniquely tracks all students’ performance, showing which problems the student struggled on, including which videos they’ve completed and where they paused. Such a system is surely revolutionary, showing teachers all the problem areas – and strengths  – at a bird’s eye view.

The Khan Academy interface allows students to practice a concept as much as they need to, generating new exercises, complete with hints and answers, on demand. A full, personal stats chart is also a part of the software. Students and educators can zoom out to see where a learner is putting their time, and can also zoom in to see every single problem the student has ever worked on – showing “real, hard data” of their mastery of a subject.

In addition to this personalized tracking, the Khan Academy software also shows a detailed knowledge map with all the interconnections of concepts that lead from one to another. A student can start anywhere on the map and track their progress, clearly knowing where they are headed; this also helps solidify concept links in their mind, making content more relevant.

The Khan Academy software also shows the performance of a whole classroom, so educators can get a real glimpse of how students are working and thinking, allowing them to better tailor their teaching time. Teachers can also delve into an individual student’s profile, knowing for certain which areas they are struggling with. A student marked as accomplished – in green – would be a good choice to help out a student who is struggling – marked in red.

And to top it all off, the Khan Academy knows how to motivate their students; the Academy has recently introduced badges, which range from ones that are easy to get, providing simple recognition, to badges that are said to take years of work to achieve. The pilot project has seen 5th graders tackle college-level math in order to get a certain badge, as well as watch hours of physics videos; in short, nothing to scoff at. The badges have cool names like Sun and Black Hole.

During a TED talk, Khan says that when students are allowed to learn at their own pace, what can sometimes be branded as gifted or slow during one session will often reverse at another time – suggesting that those who have been granted the labels can be nothing more than victims of the right, or wrong, timing. By allowing all students to learn at their own pace for a protracted period of time, true and stable patterns can be better spotted.

Students are raving about the Khan Academy’s videos, learning more from these 10-minute chunks of information than they do in a regular classroom setting. By allowing each learner to progress at their own speed, monitoring real progress with real data, and motivating students in more ways than one, the Khan Academy is poised to flip the way we currently run our educational system. Bill Gates makes an appearance at the end of the TED video, applauding Khan’s program – a program Khan feels can be started around the country, anytime we’re ready. Khan sees this flip as what will allow classrooms the time to finally spend on those fun educational projects – like building a robot or measuring the height of a hill from its shadow.

Profiled in Bill Gates’ personal blog, videos of the participants show what they’re thinking about the new curriculum. Here, students talk of watching videos on rainy days to get their “energy” up and earn more points; they list badges they want to get, and speak of math being a necessary tool for life, not just a subject to get through.

Students also love that the program supports individual learning styles – like daydreamers; and that students at any level can work at a difficulty they want, producing an extremely personalized result. As one teacher points out, teaching to the average level of understanding leaves out two-thirds of the class; the Khan Academy overcomes this, providing students with appropriate challenges and enhanced opportunity.

Teachers also talk about how they love the program because their kids are having fun – they’re telling their parents of what they learned in class, and are also able to show them. They say the majority of their class now loves math, instead of just a couple kids. Most importantly, the teachers love how the program allows them to visualize the kids’ success, and how they can give the students themselves this information to look over. Apparently, it would take the teachers hours to compile the amount of data the software gathers and displays. The Khan Academy shows personal and group data very coherently, allowing in-depth analysis of progress as well as where each student spends their time; this way, teachers know exactly how to help each student.

After such raving reviews of the Khan Academy, it’s only a matter of time before our educational methods are transformed, and technology figures larger in the classroom with optimal results.

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All images: TED talk, The Gates Notes, visit EduBlogs for Los Altos’ blog about their adventure with the Khan Academy.

59 thoughts on “Khan Academy Pilot Program a Success in California

  1. My thought on school for a long time has been that it’s not very organic in its approach. Allowing student to choose their own pace seems more in line with the holistic path I’d follow, but I still don’t seen the utility of studying college level math. How often do you have to write out and solve a derivative? It seems very esoteric. I’d suggest focusing on critical thinking skills, conflict resolution skills, dealing with life, practical skills, learning how to learn, and exploring those things that one has interest in as well as honing one’s talents.

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