In the past few weeks I’ve been reading what others have been saying about Khan Academy and decided to watch some of the videos. Since I had forgotten about limits in calculus, I watched a video about that. I promptly fell asleep. His voice is pleasant enough, but I’m a visual person I need more stimulation than having a lesson scratched out on a blackboard. But I didn’t give up. I tried a video where I knew the subject well. On Monday we ran a blog post on the Pythagorean Theorem so I decided to see what Khan had done on this subject. Here is Khan’s version where he proves the theorem. And here is the Elevated Math version. (We just put this up on YouTube.) Khan’s proof takes around eight minutes while Elevated Math’s takes only a minute. You be the judge which is better. The big difference, besides the proof itself, is in production value. Along with the one minute explanation Elevated Math has another 19 minutes of instruction on right triangles, animated graphics, problem-solving, practice and immediate feedback. The Khan video is free while the Elevated Math lesson costs less than the price of a Starbucks cup of coffee.
What I find interesting is Khan’s “flipped” classroom idea where he proposes that lectures are used as homework and the classroom is used for problem solving. When I think of the millions of kids who have not understood classroom instruction and then were sent home to solve homework problems that they could not figure out…. Oh, the suffering! Fortunately, when I was in school I had a father who was an analytical engineer, who knew the math, and who could help me when I got stuck. And I remember feeling sorry for my peers who did not have someone like him to help them. Why are we torturing our kids who we profess to love and why are we destroying their confidence? I suppose it’s better to bore them for 45 minutes at home with a Khan lecture than torture them for two hours on homework they don’t understand.
However, my educator-colleague says she can think of at least 10 reasons why the “flipped” classroom will not work for the majority of middle and high school students. Number one reason: a student must be self-motivated and an independent learner to learn in this proposed setting. The Khan Academy thinks this is the way all students should learn? Really? she asks.
I found a lot of criticism of Khan Academy. Here are a few excerpts:
“The Khan Academy is focused on mathematics as an activity where you learn how to do computational mathematics. In my opinion, this is a dead-end in mathematics instruction. If you consider computational mathematics to be similar to learning grammar in English, and the vocabulary of mathematics to be similar to learning spelling, where in mathematics class do you learn the equivalent of writing? Your answer is, you don’t. In the vast majority of mathematics classes, virtually no synthesis, or higher order thinking skills are required. It is almost all drill & kill. You memorize a procedure for solving a problem, and that’s it, you are done … Where is the actual application of real math to solving messy problems?” David Wees
“Education will only truly be transformed when we stop trying to jam content into our kids’ heads and start allowing them to explore and learn in contexts that feed their desire to keep learning. To that end, I don’t think Khan Academy does or can change much at all.” Will Richardson
“Khan’s method is not teaching, Khan’s method is showing you the answers, or rather, the one answer, and the one way to achieve it. You will not be required to think, you will not be asked to reflect, you will receive lecture, and you will be assimilated.” Ben Rimes
But I think there are some good things to say about the Khan videos. For one, they are free. Two, the scope of his lessons is extensive. And three, my hat is off to a man who has taken the time to create so many videos that could possibly help a struggling kid and allay the frustration when he or she doesn’t understand a math concept.
So to answer the question in the title of this blog: Yes, Salman Khan can teach math to the extent that he shows one way to achieve an answer. Khan Academy could definitely be a tool in a teacher’s arsenal. But if it’s the only tool, that is a problem.