Category Archives: Khan Academy

Chromebook Roll-Out


Last week the students at Impact Academy were introduced to their Chromebooks.

The teacher put together a little prezi that ensured students were using them safely and that the routines for starting and ending class were crystal clear.


It is Friday

The time is 1:30 pm

The location is hot and sunny Hayward

I hear the soft beep that accompanies a gchat. It is Denise (algebra I teacher)

Imagine my surprise when I read the below message.

Apparently each block spent the day:


1. logging in to Chromebook,

2. getting on Khan Academy,

3. setting up their profile with their Algebra I teacher as their coach, and

4. Participating in a little friendly competition.


The Challenge:

Which block can get the most energy point!!! Nothing like a little competition between blocks to get students excited. Needless to say, I am excited that the students are happily working away on math problems late on a Friday afternoon, and this makes me hopeful for the success of our blended learning project.





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Kick off for 2012-2013 school year

The new school year is officially underway and, despite a delayed start, the Blended Learning programs and my coaching schedule is up and running. I spent the first two weeks of school helping our tech department get our Chromebook carts ready and in classrooms. Due to an overwhelming number of orders (note to self, order Chromebooks in February if possible) our order arrived on the first day of school. To make matters even more complicated they all arrived at our Support Office in Oakland in giant piles.

photo taken with photosynth

So I sifted through them all and organized them into piles for each site, arranged for their transportation, unpacked boxes, charged them, turned them on, enrolled them into our domain, tagged them, inventoried them, carted them etc… All this set up is nothing in comparison to that of a macbook cart, for example, but it is still a significant number of days work.

Envision School is embarking on two new ventures this year. We are expanding the use of Chromebooks in Algebra I classes to all four sites.

Metropolitan Arts and Technology High School – known as Metro, in San Francisco

City Arts and Technology High School – known as CAT, in San Francisco

Impact Academy – known as IA, in Hayward

Envision Academy – known as EA, in Oakland

We are using a Flexlab model at two of our schools (Metro and CAT) for language classes, credit recovery, and extension classes. We are also continuing to work with our highest need students individually to provide blended learning opportunities through integrating technology with the general education curriculum. My role as Blended Learning Coach is to support the teachers in implementing these programs, continue to monitor the effectiveness of the each program and, of course, write about it.

Our efforts are unified in that we are focused on individualized and differentiated pathways to success within the structure of A-G requirements and standards aligned courses. We strongly believe that all students will experiences success when given appropriate opportunities and tools. An important part of this equation is using technology as both a tool and thus an opportunity to access individualized and differentiated learning experiences. I look forward to sharing these experiences with you over the coming school year as I write about what is working and what is difficult. I always welcome suggestions, comments and feedback as I learn from active engagement with my audience.

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Project update

A few days ago I had the pleasure of going to Impact Academy and spending the day with the 9th grade team, students and teachers alike. The project is well under way. The students had spent time reviewing and critiquing other online instructional tutorials, whether on Khan Academy, on UpsideDownAcademy or other web-based lessons. They used cleverly designed graphic organizers to detail their thoughts and keep track of this learning. On the day of my visit they were in the middle of finishing up their scripts and filming their first lessons. These lessons were created in pairs, they also got to choose which Algebra concept they wanted to focus on. Naturally, the outcomes were varied. Students chose very different concepts and different approaches.

In my discussions with students they all seemed interested in the project but not entirely enthusiastic. They were apprehensive about what was being perceived as a lot of work. They did express excitement about uploading their video tutorials and the idea that people all over the world could see them and comment on them.

I captured a small bit of footage that demonstrates a taste of the productive flavor. Students are collaborating, discussing strategies, being creative, and iterating as they go.

In the next few days the fruits of their labor will be uploaded to, and I hope that you will view them and provide the students with feedback. This will help them immensely as they delve in to their final project of the year, video tutorials about functions.

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Upside Down Academy takes a trip to Hayward

I am in Hayward today sitting in the 9th grade academic numeracy class. Today is the roll-out for their end of the year project, which is going to take place in both this class and Algebra I. Both teachers have worked together to figure out how to balance the conceptual and the applied parts of the project, so that the students remain engaged and focused, and are able to reach a high level of rigor. To kick it off today the teacher had the students think about a memorable moment in learning that had occurred.

One student remembered “this thing called Project X. My teacher had some students sit in the corner and do pointless work, and other students got to do some meaningful work, and then others got to chill. It was like this for a whole week. Students got so upset, and rebelled, that it even became a problem outside of class. This really made me think” Yet another student reflected on how “our science teacher always sings and makes songs about what we are learning. She has so much energy”

Then some 10th graders came were invited in to talk about some science lessons that they had just taught. This group of students talked about what strategies worked well, which lessons were memorable, and what they would do differently next time. The 9th graders listened attentively and asked questions.

So what is in store for this lucky group of 9th graders? For the next week they will learn about teaching strategies, take learning styles inventories and discover their learning styles, they will watch and analyze video tutorials on Khan Academy, BrainGenie, and UpsideDown Academy. Yes, stay tuned for cross school commenting as the students at Impact Academy will be watching and providing feedback to the lessons created at Envision Academy.

Then the students will delve into flipping the teaching and learning cycle as they become teachers. This is Upside Down Exhibition II – Spartan Style (the Spartan is Impact Academy’s mascot)

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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.


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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