Monthly Archives: February 2012

a students speaks about about Khan Academy

Today I had the pleasure of sitting down with an old student of mine. He was spending some time in the Learning Center working on math and I asked him about his experience using Khan Academy. We had a great conversation, some of which is captured here:

I really appreciated this conversation because he was so thoughtful about his learning style and how Khan uses strategies that support his learning. I also thought his suggestions for improvements made a lot of sense. It is a good teaching strategy to break ideas down into smaller, more manageable parts so that the learner and integrate each new schema. Also, if the videos were made into visual chapters or sections it would be easier for the viewer to skim through and find specific information. This would address George’s concern that he has a hard time finding small bits of information in the longer explanation.

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Voice of the masses

Last week I had the pleasure of spending time with some student from EA. I stopped by the campus to check in on the project and found that they were in the middle of taking on of our network wide benchmark assessments, serious business. I was able to talk to a couple of students who had already finished their tests and who were interested in giving me the update on how Upside Down Exhibition was going.

I began the conversation by reminding them of who I am:

me: My name is Kiera, I have been working with your teachers to design your upcoming Exhibition.

girl: Cool

me: So what can you tell me about you upcoming Exhibition?

boy: Its going to be all about Math. I think I am teaching graphing. Anyways I think it is going to be easier than the last Exhibition because we wont have to stand up on stage. I get nervous presenting on stage.

girl: Yeah. I picked something that, I can’t remember what it is right now, but I kinda know it. I think I will be able to teach it.

me: So your going to be teaching lessons in Math…

girl: Well we also learned about our learning styles, like I am a visual learner. We took some surveys in John’s class and I learned that.

boy: Yeah. I am a Kinesthetic learner.

me: So are you going to teach your lesson using Kinesthetic strategies.

boy: I don’t know. That would be hard, but I could do something outside on the playground.

girl: I want to use visual strategies. Like when my teachers use their hands a lot to describe things that is really helpful for me.

me: So have you started making your videos yet?

girl: No

boy: We are supposed to write our story-boards over break and then we will film when we get back.

me: I am looking forward to seeing your work.

It seems that the project has been rolled out and the students are beginning to make progress with some of the concepts. They are excited to make their videos as it gives them a sense of agency and engages them in their own learning. I am hoping that this process of building instruction will help students reflect on the cycle of teaching and learning and teaching in a way that deepens their understanding of content.

What Khan and Khan’t

About 10 days ago Mathalicious published an interesting post that asked readers to take a critical look at Khan Academy. This is not the first pundit publication that asks those who have consumed the Khan kool-aid to step back and look at the larger picture.

One aspect of this post that I really enjoyed was the reference to some of the collective knowledge that we have accumulated over the years on exactly these issues. For example, the writer cited the work of:

researcher S.H. Erlwanger [that] studied the effectiveness of the Individually Prescribed Instruction, a step-by-step curriculum in which students “proceed through sequences of objectives that are arranged in hierarchical order” (i.e. first this, then this). According to his description,

Because a large segment of the material in IPI is presented in programmed form, the questions often require filling in blanks or selecting a correct answer. Therefore, this mode of instruction places and emphasis on answers rather than on the mathematical processes involved.

In other words, students who used IPI may have identified that 1 + 1 = 2 on a multiple choice test, even without understanding the concept of addition.

This provides a nice foundation upon which to make the claim that Khan khan’t be pronounced the fix all in our current math crisis. There is one small flaw in this claim, however, and that is the distinction between what IPI referred to as ‘Instruction’ and what appears in Khan Academy as ‘Practice’. The argument that student’s khan’t learn through procedure alone is heavily support by research in the field (Arcavi 1994, Kooji 2002, Mayer 2010,).

Khan Academy’s video tutorials, as I have mentioned in previous posts, do not serve as instruction. In the context I am testing this, an urban high school, the students have indicated that they need a teacher or a peer to explain the problem and procedure to them in order for them to be able to ‘Practice’ independently.

Khan Academy khan provide practice. The question remains whether students get more practice on Khan Academy than they would in a paper and pencil environment? Practice is an important part of becoming proficient. Indeed the process of learning to play an instrument, Judo, writing an essay, reading, playing scrabble, all require practice. I can safely say that there is little objection to the motto “practice makes perfect.”

The Mathalicious author proceeded with the claim that the mere presence of Khan Academy was making it impossible for other options to be funded, developed, and consequently used. Because of Khan, we khan’t get anything else. I don’t want to stick my foot in my mouth but this seems like a stretch. I know Khan has received a lot of funding, and probably will continue to get funding, but in all fairness much of the work Sal Khan did on the videos and his ideas occurred prior to significant funding. As is usually the case with entrepreneurial work, a project may or may not get to the point where it can pick up funding and in the meantime one just figures it out.

While we are sitting around waiting for computer programmers to create the next thing that is going to convince us that it is going to fix all our problems in math education, let us save our pennies so we can purchase this future panacea. This is something we khan do. Our students khan access free software on the terribly slow computer at the local library. Our students khan be assigned to complete a module for homework rather than a page in the textbook. We khan assign specific tutorials and modules to struggling students and those students who advance quickly. We khan even completely individualized our classroom so that students are working to their own pace. We khan do all these things because Khan Academy is  cost-effective, requires limited tech support, and utilizes common technology.

Let us address one of the other thoughts that has been raised in response to this article. I have a personal commitment to better understanding why America, one of the most advanced countries on the globe by some measures, performs in a less than advanced fashion on mathematics assessments. There are other curriculum that seem to provide better foundations for mathematical constructs so that their students can progress in ways that further reenforce a deep understanding of math concepts. Curriculum such as the Dutch Realistic Mathematic Education (RME) and the consequent Mathematics in Context (MiC) are specifically designed to develop algebraic understanding using applied problem solving strategies and approaches. The results of these experiments have been positive. Why then are we not integrating and capitalizing on all that the world knows about how to best teach mathematics?
I regret to state the obvious but it is not because Khan Academy has taken all the funding for other viable options. My best guess, and I am by no means an expert in the matter, is that curriculum and resource producing companies and school districts are in business. Not always the business of teaching and learning, but business none the less.
What Khan Academy khan provide is an alternative to the costly partnership, which in the long run will dissolve the rigid alliance that currently dictates what we khan and khan’t do.

Thank You Karim and Mathalicious for instigating a thoughtful and exciting conversation. I have really appreciated the food for the brain.

I want to leave you with these questions, I can’t take credit for them, but I do feel inspired to engage in further conversations that seek to address them.

3 emergent questions:

1. What are we trying to achieve in these environments? How do we measure that success?

2. What tools seem to be working? Which ones may seem glamorous but aren’t effective?

3. What kind of support do teachers and students need–not just professional development, but functionality built into the tools themselves–to create a promising flipped or blended program?

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Envision Participates in Digital Learning

As part of a national project in Digital Learning, Envision is rolling out the Spring Exhibition project that focuses on inquiry in teaching and learning within a digital environment. In efforts to innovate within the current educational structure, teachers around the nation are committing to thinking critically about teaching and learning, with a dedication to finding deliberate and relevant ways to integrate new media tools.

Our path towards understanding how to design meaningful and useful changes to classroom practices began with the introduction of the Chromebook. Some specifics about implementation are discussed in this article, which addresses many of the issues and successes found working with the Chromebooks in the classroom. Just to highlight some of the expereinces that are common between the authors experience and ours are:

  •  Students quickly adjust to working in the cloud, they appreciate being able to have constant and almost immediate access to their work.
  • The ease of set-up, security, monitoring, ‘back end’ type stuff is by and large appreciated by all.
  • Lack of Java is problematic.

The Chromebook has allowed us to envision a new way of engaging our students. We have been prototyping different ways to structure our Algebra I class. The foundation for our design is a model for blended learning. We have developed classroom practices in which students are working individually on modules in Khan Academy. We have reduced direct instruction and emphasized small group instruction to allow students to move more independently through the curriculum thus enabling the teacher to provide more targeted instruction.

The students have adjusted to these methods and I spent some time with them in class today. While sitting at one of the small tables, trying to muster all the knowledge I once had about Algebra in order to offer assistance, some salient points came out in conversation.

  1. Students get frustrated when Khan Academy takes away their streak because they got one wrong answer.

I had a chance to talk to three students about this issue. Two of the students spoke about it as though it happened to others in the class more than it happened to them. They both expressed that in the beginning, when working on concepts that were more familiar, they had used this feature as an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. However, now that they were progressing to more complicated math, they found that they were frustrated that they were not getting feedback. The third student I spoke with simply indicated that it annoyed him and the when he did his work on paper, he could go back and fix his answers.

I asked all three students why they thought Khan Academy was designed in this way? If they were creating this platform what would be a reason to make it so that you had to go back to the beginning? Only one student was able to articulate a hypothesis that extended beyond their own experience. This student proposed that it could be a way to make sure students really know the math.

I was struck by how deeply this frustration impacts the students, even the high performers. It seems to me that there are many ways to address this: some of the student suggestions include,

  • Only take away part of the streak
  • Have the student show their process and identify inaccuracy
  • Give one wrong answer free
  • Have them do 10, identify wrong answers, reassign problems
  1. Students struggle to learn or feel confident getting answers to their questions from the video tutorials.

The students are more likely to ask a peer or stand in line to ask the teacher. In an effort to avoid ruining their streak, they will get the next 10 problems, solve them on paper, ask for answers to be corrected, then input them into Khan Academy. This creates a backlog of students who need work checked, so much so that the teacher struggles to deliver small group instruction. It seems there are two ways to address this.

  • Build confidence in learning independently, asking peers for help first, checking ones work
  • Creating our own video sources

The first of these is a longer process that will take years and a village. The second of these is the focus of our Exhibition project.

The Upside Down Exhibition Roll-out

In today’s classes students got the first glimpse of the project overview. They learned about the Essential Questions, the process, the major benchmarks, and the final product. I sat in class and was able to capture their responses:

Two students talked to each other about how cool it is going to be to test their audience members after teaching, especially if it is their parents. One student asked if it is going to be hard. One student asked if she was going to be able to choose the concept she will be teaching. Another student asked if they would be working in a group or working independently.

In general there is a sense of excitement and anticipation.

Stay tuned for more details on how students progress through the learning trajectory.

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