Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Khan Academy, Part Deux

(Preface to this entry...CST results are of minor importance to me.  That will be a topic for a not-so-distant future post.)

In response to Dan's inquiry...

Khan Academy, in my view, fills less of a need and more of a demand.  Some might find those words synonymous at first glance, but they're not.  My household has a need and a demand for food.  My household has a demand for a new Hyundai Sonata, but certainly not a need.  I do not feel that Khan Academy fills the NEED for instruction or skill practice but can be an excellent resource for the demand for both.

My affection and appreciation for Khan Academy and the value it provides comes from my own work.  Almost exactly two years ago I was at a different site serving as a full-time math teacher.  40% of my caseload was Algebra 1.  I did an analysis of the previous six years of CST results from Algebra 1 at my site.  The best in each category in the previous six years was as follows:

Advanced: 1% of students
Proficient: 16% of students
Basic: 35% of students
Below Basic: 39% of students
Far Below Basic: 9%

The averages for the previous six years:

Advanced: 0.4%
Proficient: 8.7%
Basic: 29.8%
Below Basic: 46.4%
Far Below Basic: 14.7%

I was disgusted.  In the previous six years my school was averaging 60% of our students scoring in the bottom two categories?!?!  I felt we were doing our kids a disservice.  I committed to making a difference in those scores for my Algebra 1 students.  I went all Jaime Escalante on them.  I brought them and their parents/guardians in one evening to show them the levels of (or lack of) achievement at the school in the previous six years.  I explained to them what it would take to change those numbers.  I gave them my cell phone number.  They could call or text at anytime and I would help them out.  We met in my classroom on Saturday mornings from 9-noon.  We did math.  We played.  We went outside or into the gym halfway through and ran around.  We ate (they had to eat a certain number of carrots and peanuts before they were allowed to touch the donuts).  But we worked and learned and had a blast.  The kids loved it.  I called it RISE...Radically Increase Student Excellence.

And then came winter break and two-and-a-half weeks without seeing them in class or at RISE.  I was nervous about losing the ground we had gained.  So I created videos and posted them online.  The kids had to watch the videos and email or text me their answers to a couple of problems.  It was a huge success.  Not only did we not lose ground but we gained ground.  We came back from break in January and picked up right where the videos left off.  I had 59 Algebra 1 students and 41 of them were RISE students (routinely attended on Saturday mornings).  Here's our results:

All 59 students:
Advanced: 0%
Proficient: 34%
Basic: 36%
Below Basic: 24%
Far Below Basic: 6%

41 RISE students:
Advanced: 0%
Proficient: 41%
Basic: 37%
Below Basic: 17%
Far Below Basic: 5%

I was ecstatic.  But it had nothing to do with the scores.  It was because the kids proved to themselves that they didn't have to settle for below average.  They demonstrated that with some hard work, with some extra work, they could do better than what had been previously expected of them.  My online videos were a part of that.  A small part, but a part nonetheless. 

So that's why I love Khan Academy.  From the website:

"The Khan Academy is an organization on a mission. We're a not-for-profit with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education to anyone anywhere."

Someone tell me what's wrong with that.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Khan Academy

I love Sal Khan.

I don't know the guy, but I love what he's doing and how he's doing it.  There's quite a bit of debate about it.  It's gaining some national attention.  And anytime you can share the stage with Bill Gates you've got something serious going on.  But I love it, and here's why...

Sal is probably about my age (36 as of today, actually), I'm guessing.  Which means he was sitting in a high school math class about the same time I was.  (on a side note, he was probably paying a lot more attention than I was.)  There was very little technology being used in math instruction at that time.  There were probably more than a few CHALKBOARDS in classrooms at that time.  So at some point along the way Sal recognized a demand and supplied the supply.

Most of the debate that I hear focuses on whether or not Sal's Khan Academy is the new wave, the best thing since the previous best thing.  Is the "flipped classroom" going to be how education is conducted?  Is Sal going to save America's education system.  My response?  Who cares.  And honestly, in spite of what he said at his TED talk, I don't think Sal cares.

"...we're on a mission to help you learn what you want, when you want, at your own pace."
             - KhanAcademy homepage

Every time Sal talks about how Khan Academy got started he brings up the fact that he did this for his cousins.  He was tutoring family members.  Very few people tutor family members with the ulterior motive of transforming a nation's educational system.  Sal tutored his cousins, recognized that it was working, probably enjoyed what he was doing, and off he goes.  He was a hedge fund analyst.  It's my guess he didn't go into distance tutoring for the cash.  But it picked up steam, people responded, and now he's got a good thing going on.  Of course when he speaks he's going to talk about the different ways the videos can be used.  Of course he's going to talk about how great his product is, and can be.  It is, however, pretty clear to me what his mission is, since it's right there on the homepage.

I'm a teacher, an (sort-of) administrator, and a father.  Is there really anymore we should want from our students and kids than to have them recognize a need in the world, find a way to fulfill that need, and do it in a way that helps people?

Keep it up Sal.  You've got one fan in me.