I have now completed a full year of transferring most of my students’ procedural practice and review to Khan Academy, and I want to share my 10 biggest takeaways. First I want to make absolutely clear that I do not believe classroom time should routinely consist of students working silently with headphones. Less than a fourth of my students’ online learning and practicing is done in the classroom. The rest is homework. I use CCSS-style modeling, 3-acts, dynamic notice-and-wonder whole-class discussions… I also still believe students need some quiet, focused, repetitive practice for understanding and retaining processes and process connections. So here’s what my students are getting through Khan.
- My students have developed the ability to learn online. This is a huge advantage going into college and also gives them an idea of what it is like to use MOOCS. They have learned to hit “pause,” and rewind when they need to think about what they are supposed to be learning. They have figured out that reading the text hints (and following directions carefully) is usually faster than watching a video.
- Learning Algebra has become a more level playing field for my students. There is plenty of research singling out fractions and long division as predictors of success in Algebra. It’s not that Algebra is difficult: gaps in prior learning confuse students. Algebra teachers typically don’t have time to reteach fourth grade math. Neither can we expect our slowest processsers to pick up all that during low-floor, high-ceiling activities. Khan identifies holes and gaps in students’ prior knowledge and provides access to the missing information and practice to develop foundational skills. As those learners catch up, they find themselves engaging at higher levels instead of getting bogged down trying to figure out what is on the lowest floor.
- My students are learning to focus and be accurate in their computations. They are learning multiple ways to cross-check their answers. Because Khan usually requires they get 5/5 correct, it is worthwhile to learn how to be sure an answer is correct.
Side note: Some sessions can’t be “cross checked” and we have a classroom rule that says if they get 4/5 twice, the can ask for credit. That has significantly lowered the stress level and 4/5-twice requests only occur about once a month with my total of 150 students.
- My students have learned to reach for learning instead of waiting for me to feed them. They send me pictures of their work or a problem online when they can’t figure out where they are going wrong outside of class. While students should not have to pursue lengthy hunting trips for information on a routine basis, they need to feel confident that such hunts are worthwhile and within reach.
- Many Khan sessions encourage critical thinking with always-sometimes-never questions. Khan’s sophistication rivals many standardized testing programs with drag-and-drop and interactive graphing tools.
- Students are automatically given spiral review problems based on their performance history. Khan can assign them more practice as forgotten skills are detected.
- We save class time for robust discussions and problem analysis instead of going over homework.
- I have more time for quality feedback because I collect far fewer papers. Khan grades for accuracy while I grade for completion in seconds.
- My students are learning to find work-arounds and deal with the frustrations inherent in technology: syntax must be exact and isn’t always intuitive. Sometimes we have to redo when it’s not entirely our fault. Khan rarely has technical issues; but in the few occasions when there are issues, the students know that is to be expected with technology. No whining.
- Students can systematically work ahead. This year I have a few upper classmen that are interested in College Level Examination Program (CLEP) credit. Working on Khan could facilitate that.
Meanwhile, I know what day and time my students are working, how long they were working, and what they were working on. I know who gets it and who does not. I know if they checked out the hints or the videos and which ones. I can see their learning patterns (red, red, blue, blue, blue, red…looks like an accuracy issue).
There is a learning curve for teachers using Khan. The interface is powerful in terms of the information provided about student mastery, and that means it takes awhile to be able to understand all the features. It is, however, very doable to start small. If we are serious about developing 21st Century Skills and freeing time for meaningful problem solving, using digital learning is a no-brainer.