Tag Archives: math

Khan Academy: My Final Remarks

Many people aren’t getting the nuances of my recent Khan Academy arguments. I’ll make my final remarks and then put this thread to rest.

Khan Academy videos are nothing new. MIT OpenCourseWare has been around for TEN YEARS now. Walter Lewin’s awesome physics lectures have been available for most of those 10 years — despite the fact they are pseudoteaching, and his students emerged with no greater understanding of physics than those of professors before him.

And I didn’t have a problem with Khan Academy (as a collection of videos) until very recently.

For me, the problem is the way Khan Academy is being promoted. The way the media sees it as “revolutionizing education.” The way people with power and money view education as simply “sit-and-get.”

(c) tcoffey (via Flickr)

If your philosophy of education is sit-and-get, i.e., teaching is telling and learning is listening, then Khan Academy is way more efficient than classroom lecturing. Khan Academy does it better.

But TRUE progressive educators, TRUE education visionaries and revolutionaries don’t want to do these things better. We want to DO BETTER THINGS.

Ironically, everything that is wrong with Khan Academy has been addressed in two previous TED talks:

According to Dan, today’s math curriculum is teaching students to expect — and excel at — paint-by-numbers classwork, robbing kids of a skill more important than solving problems: formulating them. How does Khan Academy foster problem posing and creativity?

Rather than instructing students with Khan’s videos, we should be inspiring them to figure things out on their own and learn how to create their own knowledge by working together. For example, instead of relying on lectures and textbooks, the Modeling Instruction paradigm emphasizes active student construction of conceptual and mathematical models in an interactive learning community. Students are engaged with simple scenarios to learn to model the physical world. In comparison to traditional instruction, Modeling is extremely effective — under expert modeling instruction high school students average more than two standard deviations higher on a standard instrument for assessing conceptual understanding of physics.

Watch one Modeling class in action:

In the clip, the teacher says, “I don’t lecture at all. Instead, I create experiences for the students either in the lab or puzzles and problems for them to solve and it’s up to them to try to figure that out.” I’ve often wondered why this type of teaching hasn’t gotten more attention in the media. Maybe because the teacher is using simple things like whiteboards and bowling balls rather than shiny iPads and SmartBoards?

While Khan argues that his videos now eliminate “one-size-fits-all” education, his videos are exactly that. I tried finding Khan Academy videos for my students to use as references for studying, or to use as a tutorial when there’s a substitute teacher, but I haven’t found a good one. They either tackle problems that are too hard (college level) or they don’t use a lot of the multiple representations that are so fundamental to my teaching (kinematic graphs, interaction diagrams, energy pie graphs, momentum bar charts, color-coded circuit diagrams showing pressure and flow, etc.) Khan Academy videos do not align with proper Physics Education Research pedagogy.

I find it troublesome that the Khan Academy team is not spending time and energy on the pedagogy of teaching math and science, but rather on refining the gaming mechanics of Khan Academy in response to “good” and “bad” behavior of students working through the software exercises. The “gamification” of learning in Khan Academy has had disastrous consequences at the Los Altos school pilot.

There are some truly innovative learning technologies that have been
around for years. If Khan Academy wants to grow out of their infancy as electronic worksheet drills, I hope their team takes a look at these more transformative educational technologies, all of which have been researched and tested:

Khan Academy also promotes the “usefulness” of its dashboard for its exercise software. I find most of that information useless, like knowing how many times a student rewound the movie, how many times she paused it, or how long he spent on a module. Those times could be affected by distractions from family, self-imposed distractions like facebook and texting, etc.

Feedback I would find WAY MORE useful:

  • knowing how many times a student attempted the same problem
  • knowing the student’s answer history to each problem; i.e, what the student’s wrong answers were
  • knowing the type of mistake a student made when choosing a wrong answer; e.g., did he forget to square the distance, did she apply kinetic energy conservation instead of momentum conservation, did he disregard the fact that the forces where in opposite directions, did she confuse force of friction with coefficient of friction, did he assume constant velocity when in fact it was accelerating, etc.
  • software that anticipates and recognizes those common mistakes (like all great teachers do) and gives the students immediate, tailored feedback during the exercise

Finally, everyone is talking about using Khan Academy as a way to do more inquiry and more project-based learning. However, Bill Gates and Sal Khan are not showing any examples about what students and teachers are doing beyond Khan Academy. The news stories are not showing the open-ended problems the kids should be engaging with after mastering the basics — instead they show kids sitting in front of laptops working drills and watching videos. The focus is on the wrong things.

Khan Academy is just one tool in a teacher’s arsenal. (If it’s the only tool, that is a HUGE problem.) Khan Academy can be useful for some kids as vehicle (build skills) to help them get to better places (solving complex problems).

Now let’s please shift the focus (yours and mine) toward the destination.

Important Talks/Media about Khan Academy

More Blog Posts Critical of Khan Academy, from me and others

Khan Academy-Related Blogs

SETI Message

Can you decode the following extraterrestrial message? Is it real or fake? How can you tell?


My 2010 Edublog Award Nominations

For my 2010 Edublog Award Nominations, I want to recognize the people that have tremendously advanced my learning and thinking this past year.

Best individual blog – Science Teacher
Michael Doyle’s writing is insightful, beautiful, and humbling. He reminds me why what we do as teachers matters and why what we aren’t doing as teachers matters even more.

Best individual tweeter – Jerrid Kruse
Jerrid doesn’t tweet the lastest Web 2.0 tools or Top 10 lists. He engages his audience with thoughtful questions and frequent push back. The conversations we’ve had on Twitter have always stretched my mind, whether about shiny technology or science education.

Best new blog – Quantum Progress
John Burk blogs like nobody’s business. He reflects on his practice by posting videos of student discussions and samples of student work. He blogs about trying to change his students mindset about learning, grades, and getting into college. He wants his students to change the world and he is helping them get there.

Best teacher blog – Think Thank Thunk
Shawn Cornally’s got drive, passion, honesty, and a no-holds-barred attitude. His 3 separate series on Physics, Calculus, and SBG could easily standalone as separate outstanding blogs.

Best educational use of video / visual – Dan Meyer’s “What Can You Do With This?” series
From basketball parabolas to filling up a water tank, this series strives to make math more meaningful to students through carefully constructed videos and pictures.

Lifetime achievement – Dan Meyer
Dan’s was the first blog I read regularly. His “How Math Must Assess” manifesto is what put me and many others on the road to better grading practices. Follow that up with an appearance on Good Morning America for his WCYDWT-Groceries and  a TEDxNYED talk about a makeover for math curriculum, and you’ve got a math guy whose influence is being felt in all subject areas.