The Math of Khan

I love the word FREE. When I hear it, my little tightwad heart starts palpitating ferociously.

So you would think when I first heard about Khan Academy, I would have had a coronary at the prospect of online math tutorials, complete with teacher tracking, student rewards, and self-guided feedback–ALL FOR FREE.

And yet, it took many mentions on my homeschool listserves and an article in Business Week, before I really took notice.

When I did, I was amazed at what I found.

Quoting from a Wikipedia article, Khan academy is a “website [that] supplies a free online collection of more than 2,400 micro lectures . . . teaching mathematics, history, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, economics and computer science.” It “also provides a web-based exercise system that generates problems for students based on skill level and performance.”

Basically, in ten-minute segments, your kid (or you!) can watch a video explaining a chunk of information. Then they work problem after problem until they are proficient–which is when they can get ten problems correct in a row. Then several new tutorials are suggested based on what they’ve already mastered. Along the way, they are awarded “badges” for their work–some for time spent, some for number of problems correct, some for just trying really hard. (These are surprisingly motivating.)

As the teacher, I can track the content my kids are working on, how long they spent working, how many videos they’ve watched, how many problems they got right/wrong, and which problems they are struggling with. There’s probably more I can track, but I haven’t figured out everything yet. There’s just so much.

To get started, your kid will need a Google or Facebook account. (Yes, I know you “technically” have to be 13 to have these accounts. Why something like this–aimed at all ages, including elementary ages–requires you to be at least thirteen is one of the great mysteries of life. I’ll leave it to you to figure out how you want to solve this problem.)

Once they log on, they can start watching videos or choose to work problems. (To log on, you have to find the miniscule “login” link at the very top of the website. This is THE hardest part of the entire setup. I promise!)

The tutorials are all videos imbedded from YouTube. You only see information being written down (no person, no class), while hearing Salman Khan’s voice explain the topic at hand. His quirky sense of humor and non-condescending approach make them highly watchable.

My favorite part about working problems is the scratch pad feature. Your kid can write on the screen with the mouse, working the problem out as they go. Then they type the answer in. If they need a hint, they can ask for one, but then they’re “streak” (how many problems they got right) is reset. (Remember, you have to get ten problems in a row right to be proficient in a topic.)

Today, Pepper turned to me and said, “Mom! I just learned all about significant figures. How old were you when you learned about significant figures?”

I had to admit that I couldn’t even remember what significant figures were. She got a kick out of that. Then she turned back to the computer to work on some division problems.

Ah, inspired learning at work!

(Now I’m off to research significant figures . . .)

Click here to visit Khan Academy.

(The title for this blog post was blatantly stolen from the BusinessWeek article I referenced above. It was just too good to not be given another forum!)

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