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Using Khan Academy in my Class

October 8, 2011

So I’ve been using the Khan Academy website in my class… but I don’t think it’s in the way the math education world wants (or doesn’t want) Khan to be used in the classroom. I haven’t flipped my classroom.

First you need to know my schedule: I’m working at a school which is making significant structural and philosophical changes to improve achievement of our students. One of the strategies is building in a pyramid of interventions. One way this is implemented is that on certain days, some of classes have an extra 25 minutes that I am to use for remediation, one-on-one attention, or student conferences. The way the schedule is set up is such that on Monday, my 1st and 2nd periods are longer while the others are a typical 50 minutes; on Tuesday, my 3rd and 4th are longer; and on Thursday, my 5th and 6th are longer. All 6 classes still meet every day. This is not a block schedule – I can’t plan a ‘block’ lesson because of the way the periods are staggered – I’d only be teaching the lesson for 2 classes on any particular day. The reality is that I don’t have the structure yet to implement this as well as I could – for a long time, I just ended up extending the lesson / having students work on homework for that extra time. Then I had an idea.

Khan Academy has a feature where they will generate practice problems for students to work on and ‘work through the material at their own pace’. There are even achievements. You can add a ‘coach’ – someone who can monitor progress. You move to the next stage by answering 10 questions correctly in a row – it’s all based in a mastery philosophy.

How I’m spending my extra 25 minutes for every class: I created a generic Google account for every class and have set up rules and structure within my class where we move through the Khan Academy practice dashboard and try to get as far as we can. The class that gets the farthest gets a pizza party at the end of the semester. I pick students names out of a hat, anyone in their group can answer the question, we keep going until we’ve answered enough to move to the next level. Each account is tied to my personal gmail account (I’m their coach) so I can monitor their progress.

Results: The game aspect and pizza party incentive really motivates my students – they want to play this ‘game’ whenever they can. It also helps that the first few sections are easy – Addition, Multiplication, etc – it boosts their egos. But then you hit some tricky conceptual problems – Number Line, Word Problems, etc – and they still want to power through it – to be the first class to finish that category. Some have asked me about creating accounts of their own outside of class.

Why I like it: My kids have massive gaping holes all over the place that I am still uncovering. They also need lots and lots of dirty practice and drill and skill. They just need it – too many sloppy mistakes. I’m glad that they’re getting this practice and the motivation to perform well and accurately has been taken out of my hands – it’s mostly student motivated. I also like that the students will naturally hit things they’re unsure about – soon they’ll get to decimals and fractions, negative numbers, etc. Maybe even things they’ve never seen before, which gives me an opportunity to teach it to them. The discussions we had about the Number Line were illuminating to some students. I was able to throw in some mental math tricks (“Do you guys ever see a subtraction problem and instead of subtracting, ask yourself ‘what number do I need to add in order to get the other number?'”) and have students elaborate on their answers. I also can’t underestimate how much I appreciate the fact that my students are essentially doing the middle school drill & skill problems that they desperately need but in a way that doesn’t feel like busy work. I’m also looking forward to when they hit something that they either never learned before or completely forgot, giving me a natural opportunity to teach it (note that in these moments it’s me – the teacher – teaching, not us watching a video).

So… there’s that.

  1. Not to be all demand-y about your blog, but I’m curious about your schedule. What do you think?

  2. Jennifer Lockett permalink

    Ditto Jason – I really want to hear more about your schedule format! My school is consistently attempting to change its schedule – we just did a big switch this year.
    Love the game aspect! It’s such a great idea! Quick question – how do your students access the “Khan Game”. Do you guys have computers in the classroom? Do they use their own devices (e.g. cell phones)?

    Also, how does the prize system work? Do the students pay for it? Is it a gift from you? Come out of the departmental budget? You know me and logistics 😉

    Seems like you’ve really keyed in on how to motivate your kiddos and that it will help them to fill in the gaps.

  3. Hey all,

    For any future readers of this post, I posted the schedule for my school and some comments on it at the following post:

    @Jen: I have a computer hooked up to a projector – I sit in my chair behind the computer (which is at the side of the room behind my desk – I am very much so removed from any discussions that take place, which improves the student-driven aspect of the game but gives some students the feeling they can zone out/not participate). I pull names out a hat, that student answer the questions or ask their group members for help. If someone else ‘blurts’ out the answer or I hear the answer from any other group (even if they are just saying to another group member), I purposefully put in the incorrect answer to reset their streak.

    Some additional benefits: I’ve noticed that for my the classroom with the most behavior issues, the rules of the game are a good exercise in self-control for my students. I’ve seen some marked improvements in the students who used to blurt out answers or had trouble controlling the volume of their voices when working in small groups, which has translated into a more controlled classroom when we do structured notes and practice problems.

    Also: I recently invested in group whiteboards. I tried this with one of my classes: each group writes the answer on their whiteboard, after a few minutes I yell out “BOOM!” (classroom joke) and they hold up their answers. I wait until every group is holding up an answer so I make sure every group/person is accountable. This also lets students check their answers with their neighbors, which is a testament to slates rather than a testament to the Khan game. I may switch to this structure permanently as the year continues.

    Anyway – there are a few more updates. Thanks for reading! And thanks to Dan Meyer for the link to the blog – blows my mind.

  4. Sue permalink

    How can I sign my students up, do they each need their own id, or can I assign generic user names for them to use?

    • Hi Sue!

      I’ve been using the game for my entire classes rather than with individual students, so I created generic gmail addresses for my classes. I used my schools initials, then ‘geo’, then the period – so, if my school’s initials were KA, one of my generic addresses would be “KAgeo1” for my geometry class in period 1.

      Khan Academy also lets you log in with facebook, so if your student has a facebook account, they can log in with that too.

      One important aspect, in my opinion, is to get them to add you as a Coach so you can watch their progress.

      Hope this helps!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Khan Academy Roundup « Mathy McMatherson
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