Reflections on Khan Blends

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It was a visit to Eastside College Prep in East Palo Alto that inspired Scott Ellis to “really dive into blended.” The math class using Khan Academy also impressed 60 Minutes  (here’s a short video description).  Scott had five important observations

1.  Framing. The teacher provided great framing at the beginning of the class.  She said to everyone, “Remember, we all learn at different speeds, and that is a good thing.  Some of you are still working on the content from the multiplication unit, and I will be helping you in a small group over here.  For the rest of you, first work on your homework, then do your Khan Academy, then your other assignment.  Ready?  Go.”  Then she sat and worked with about 5 students in a small group with a miniature white board, while the others all got up and pulled their laptops out of the cart in the back of the class and got to work.  She had the sequence of activities written on the whiteboard.

2.  Show what you know. The students were using Khan Academy. They were all also using paper notebooks and were required to show their work and turn in their notebooks, though they submitted their answers to questions in Khan.  So she could see whether they were getting the answers right in Khan, but could also see where the kids were making errors from their notebooks.  As I walked through the classroom I could see this process play out.

3.  Peer tutoring. She put two columns on the whiteboard:  “Needs help” and “Offers help”.  At one point in the class Jessica went up and wrote her name under “Needs help” and listed rounding decimals as her topic.  Within a minute Anthony got up and wrote his name under “Offers help”, and then he sat next to her and helped her with it.  There was no involvement from the teacher.  This was really neat to see, and I am quite certain that their roles would have been reversed in another class.

4.  Workflow. Each student had a piece of paper with the list of topics to do in Khan Academy–I think there was a sequence of about 10 elements.  As a student would get the necessary number correct in Khan they would use a pencil and check off the item on the list, then go on to the next one.  It seemed really helpful for the students to have this list so they could see where they were and what they needed to do next, and they were all at different places on the checklist.

5.  Tech Support. Having the tech work well was critical.  One boy’s laptop had not been fully docked in the cart, so its battery did not charge.  When he found out it was dead, he started chatting with the girls, etc.  And another boy was chugging along, but then the wireless slowed down.  He started getting frustrated and pounding the return key pretty hard as he tried to get it to refresh.  Both of these situations got addressed quickly, and the whole class worked really well.  But it is very easy to see how everything falls apart quickly if the tech is not in place and working seamlessly.

A recent SRI report on Khan Academy recapped us in nine pilot schools.  Key findings included:

• Student perceptions were positive: 71% of students reported that they enjoyed using Khan Academy,
• 85%, reported that the use of Khan Academy had positively affected their students’ learning,
• Teachers appreciated the modular architecture but lack of alignment with core curriculum posed a challenge for most teachers and some teachers found it hard to find right content for specific standards, and
• There was little flipped classroom use and less video access than anticipated (i.e., a little different than in Khan’s book).

One site had stronger use relative to others as a result of one-to-one access, mandated completion of Khan Academy goals, close teacher monitoring of progress, a well-planned integration with the core curriculum, and a 90 minute math block.

The SRI report concluded:

The teacher’s role is still central even in the wake of the adoption of new technologies. The achievable classroom benefits of using new technologies can include building stronger connections with students, and developing a clearer and deeper understanding of what students actually know. At their best, the new technology tools can enable teachers to do what they find most fulfilling: interacting with students to have a positive impact on their learning experience.

Core & more. Last week at the CUE conference, Sal Kahn introduced an extensive library of Common Core-aligned math missions designed by 40 math educators. They also partnered with Smarter Balanced to receive feedback and ensure the problems aligned precisely to each standard. The 50,000 questions are available in a well organized map and include step-by-step solutions.  Students get a dashboard identifying progress and gaps.

Khan also announced a  partnership with College Board to provide free test prep for the new SAT. Here is a link to an SAT landing page, including a 4 minute conversation between College Board CEO David Coleman and Sal Khan.

The new content and features are impressive.  Khan’s appetite for impact and voracious fund raising ability are remarkable.  We’ll track how schools are putting the new capabilities to work.  Stay tuned for a fall update on Khan math blends.

This blog is brought to you by The Nellie Mae Education Foundation. For more stayed tuned for the Getting Smart on Blending Middle Grade Math bundle and see the other posts in this series:

Tom Vander Ark

Tom Vander Ark is the CEO of Getting Smart. He has written or co-authored more than 50 books and papers including Getting Smart, Smart Cities, Smart Parents, Better Together, The Power of Place and Difference Making. He served as a public school superintendent and the first Executive Director of Education for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.