Monday, March 28, 2011

Khan Academy for Two Year Olds?!? I Guinea Pig my Own Kids

 As a school administrator, I was excited about Khan Academy when I first saw the site with videos.  When I saw the diagnostic practices with help videos posted, I was thrilled.  I couldn't wait to try it out on my middle school students and went straight to my own kiddos.  I created accounts for my 7 year old (not pictured) and my five year old (in green).  They were soon fighting over who got to use the site.  They both zoomed through the first two lessons, but got stuck when they were asked to add double-digit numbers.  I reminded them about the video for help and my seven-year-old expressed dread at getting talked to.  My first thought:  this is not going to work.  I finally goaded them and turned on one of the suggested videos.  The lesson started with single digit addition and he groaned and tried to run away.  This was OLD information and he was SICK of hearing it.  I quickly jumped ahead to the double-digit addition and he stopped and tuned in.  Suddenly, there was silence.  He finished the video and went straight back to the exercises...guess what?  He got them all right.  A believer was born!  When he finished the third lesson a screen popped up telling him he had received a meteorite badge.  I thought he would dismiss that, but he was pumped - especially about the idea of earning a black hole or galaxy or whatever else comes next.

This evening my seven-year-old was out of the house, but my five-year-old asked to "do the math game."  I was cleaning up from dinner, but decided to give him a shot.  I logged him in and suggested that he start with the addition again even though he had passed the first three lessons.  Little did I realize how ridiculously insulting this would be.  He saw that he was ready for multiplication and demanded that exercise.  I set him up and went to washing dishes.  Soon I heard some frustrated grunts coming from the living room.  "Why don't you watch a video?" I suggested.  "No!  I don't want to miss one!" he replied.  Once I convinced him he wouldn't be "docked" for watching the lesson he went for it.  You can see the result below.  Not only did he sit mesmerized throughout the lesson, but my two year old climbed up next to him, declared that "I'm gon do sum mat," and sat through the video.

Once the video was complete he yelled out, "Daddy I need a pencil and some paper!"  I brought him some and he started doing what you see below.

I intentionally acted as a spectator and didn't get involved.  I saw that he was drawing and organizing groups and then counting them.  He then launched straight back into the exercises.

 Guess what?  He got the next 20 correct.  He took a long time, and asked me for clarification a few times, but he was excited about being in control of his own learning.  It was something HE wanted to do for HIMSELF.  Plus, he was super-psyched because he earned two more badges...who knew?

As a Generation X parent who wants things individualized I am thrilled about this technology.  It focuses in on my kid's needs with laser-like intensity and gives him the tools he needs to learn.  Could he have accomplished all of this without a teacher nearby?  No way.  He needed me there as a resource and guide, but this technology tool made me a much more powerful teacher because it made him a more powerful learner.  The learning taking place was all about HIM and I was just another resource.

As an administrator, I am excited to get a class of kids trying this out.  Remediation is almost a dirty word for how difficult it is to find time to fit it into the school day.  Khan Academy would allow learning and remediation to occur instantly and effectively with the student in control.

I am obviously very "pie in the sky" about Khan right now, and I am sure there will be kinks, but for now I am giddy with the possibilities for any learning program that makes a kid of any age say, "I'm gon do sum mat."

Khan Academy


  1. That just inspires me. I think... "I'm gon do sum mat"

  2. My 11 year old son has a math disability...barely a 2nd grade level in 5th grade. He learns completely different than most of the other kids. The funny thing is though, he is a master of geometry. I looked into Khan and will be showing it to my son this week and I am very excited.

  3. I am 51 years old. I still remember being beaten by my parents and made to feel ashamed of not knowing my multiplication tables. In the third year of secondary school when an appointment was set for me to be interviewed and hopefully transfer to a grammar school my parents discovered I was poor at maths. So they beat me into learning. For sure I have a complex about maths and this has held me back my whole life. Your blog gives us all hope for the future. When I have completed my local objective of ensuring that every school in my local education authority has a hotbutton link on each school website linked to the Khan Academy website I will go online and improve my maths. Khan Academy is too important for us not to publicise to each of our local schools. I am reminded of the recent BBC programme 'Human Planet: Rivers' where there was footage of a young girl being shown by her father how to weave living tree roots to form a strong foot-bridge in their Indonesian neighbourhood which was subject to flooding. The girl was being taught the skills in weaving the fast growing roots of the fig tree because these 'living bridges' take more than one generation to be completed and become a network for safe passage for the people. Khan Academy is a living bridge. Thank you for posting your blog. I was moved to tears.

  4. @MrD, YOU are inspiring sir! :)

    We homeschool and Kahn Academy is our Math book. I completely agree w/your blog! (& will add that you can also go in and see what they have been working on to see strengths & weaknesses..tracking progress electronically)

    We use Kahn Acad. with what I term 'everyday math' which is applying math in everyday ways such as shopping & using discounts, sewing projects, woodworking, time management, budget, cooking, etc.

    No more tears in math since adding purpose & video game levels/badges! :)

  5. Don't forget about how teachers and parents can be set up as coaches so you can see what they're working on and where they might need some extra help. I love that.

  6. My five-year old daughter has just begun this. She has asked to do it again on subsequent days, which was a good sign. She liked being able to experiment ("what if I intentionally put in a wrong answer?"), and I try to let her do so as much as possible ("oh no, my streak went away!"). She seems to like the videos, and treats them (so far) as a reward for doing the exercises. She also likes being able to pause, go back and hear something again, etc. Early days, but I'm encouraged.

  7. Thank you for sharing everyone. Really compelling testimonies. I am excited to see where this technology goes...

  8. straight into the classroom!

  9. Very nice posts. I am glad to see administrators who believe enough in what they do "in the system" to use it at home. As I looked through the list of resource sites I did not see which isn't so much for the "the students" as it it for "the teachers". Different form factor but filled an well thought out insights at every turn.

  10. This was one of the run-away hits of ISTE this year. I must have heard about it in five different seminars. Good website to tell your readers about.

  11. I impressed to see your Khan Academic & Educational article. Your highlighted topic are so amusing.
    Graham Sharma

    "PC Pro Schools"

  12. What I find brilliant about this level of individual study is just that, the individualization of the lessons. If one kid struggles with addition and needs more time, they have it. Perhaps getting a root understanding of that addition will then make multiplication quicker, which you noted took B2 a little more time.
    I remember in grade school thinking that making kids come to the blackboard, reading out loud, etc was just cruel. There was a brilliant kid in my grade school class who read at least 5 books a week on his own. When we were made to read out loud in class, he stuttered and tripped over words because he was a shy boy and this was forcing him to go against his nature.
    Like you, I'm curious what technology will do to individual study and creativity, when (if) education is something unrelated to contests, public proving of knowledge and oneupmanship. If kids are encouraged to learn, to try and fail and try again instead of always looking for the "right" answer, what will this world become? I'm excited by that idea!