Khan Academy … everyone loves to hate it

This popped up in my feed today:

Since I’ve been using Khan Academy, an online math practice website, with my students for a few years now, I was intrigued & promptly read the blog post.

I had so many thoughts as I was reading through it that I decided to respond to each of David’s points from his post in a comment on his blog that I’ll post here now:

Feedback is terrible or nonexistent

Agreed. No worse than a textbook w/ an answer key in the back to check (KA tells you if right or wrong). Better than a worksheet w/ no answer key to check.
Obviously worse than a teacher working beside you.

Impossible to see patterns

Agreed

Blocked practice

I have my students use the blocked practice to practice a skill the first time. Later I encourage them to do KA’s “mastery” quizzes which interleaves concepts they’ve practiced over time to help with retention.
So some of these offer both blocked & interleaved options.

Too easy or too hard

I use the progress tab on KA to look at a series of practice sets. Students that still haven’t mastered the first on the topic from back in September practice that again. Students that have shown competence with more skills will be assigned the next in the progression for their needs. I can do this student-by-student on the KA dashboard so that they each get what they need to practice next.Screenshot 2017-11-28 at 3.45.27 PM

Inappropriate medium

No worse than a textbook. My students solve the KA problems on paper with pencil and then input their answer to see if their right … same as they used to do w/ textbook practice.

It obscures information from teachers

Yes – it doesn’t show me the student’s work like when I used to pick up paper copies. But I also no longer spend hours checking/correcting homework. Instead I use that time to better prepare the in class activities we do where I am able to offer in the moment feedback while they work on problem solving.

It isn’t really mathematics

Again, no worse than a textbook.
Obviously worse than the problem-solving activities I run in class …

…. But here’s the thing: Khan Academy [or insert other online practice medium] is not meant to replace a teacher or a math class. I use it as a tool to allow my students independent practice like they used to do w/ a textbook. I think practice is useful to my students, and sometimes they do need to practice skills one at a time in addition to the problem-solving we do in small groups all the time in my class.

I’m not a fan of these blanket statements that these online tools are totally horrible and can’t be used in helpful ways. Is Khan Academy perfect? Far from it – but nor was the textbook my school used to offer us to use. Here are the things I like about it:

  • The report it generates is a useful tool to communicate home about students that aren’t practicing (b/c I believe that independent practice is still important)
  • That I can differentiate who gets assigned which exercise set.
  • That students can work ahead & KA can even predict what the next skill in their progression might be
  • That students don’t lug home a textbook each night
  • That it has videos (even if I don’t always love his strategies) a kid can watch when stuck
  • That I no longer have to spend time marking homework for correctness or completion
  • Probably more reasons too that aren’t coming to mind at the moment …

KA is not a valid replacement for good Math activities and teaching. But is it a useful tool to offer independent practice to students? My argument would be yes. Does that make me a bad teacher?

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

– Laura Wheeler (Teacher @ Ridgemont High School, OCDSB; Ottawa, ON)

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4 thoughts on “Khan Academy … everyone loves to hate it

  1. I think your points are a fair observation. I think this point is not quite true, “independent practice like they used to do w/ a textbook” because at least in this case students would be working in a familiar medium and be able to look and use past examples from their work.

    As for the benefits, this seems like a clear list of useful benefits of the program. But wouldn’t it be nice if these practice programs didn’t have the problems I described in my post? I think we should aim for something better.

    Perhaps the title of my post could use some revision though. “Online Practice Programs Have a Lot of Room for Improvement” or “8 Ways Online Practice Programs Should Improve” or something like that.

    I did not mean to insult anyone’s teaching practice.

  2. Pingback: My Blog in 2017 | Wheeler's thoughts on teaching

  3. Pingback: My Khan Academy Pedagogy | Wheeler's thoughts on teaching

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