Khan Academy: A Math Teacher’s Best Friend?

Teacher Blogger  |  By Brad Skeet

Math imageIn late 2013, the Canadian Press communicated that a report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development was published.  Findings of the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment, or PISA, suggested that Canadian students’ mathematics scores were decreasing (Canadian Press, 2013).  The Canadian Press went on to interview Anna Stokke, an associate professor of mathematics at the University of Manitoba who summarized the issue by stating that “what’s required is a return to ‘pencil and paper math,’ which really requires practice.  What happens is that children aren’t getting the skills to do more difficult math, so they’re struggling when they get to later concepts because math is very cumulative” (Canadian Press, 2013).  For teachers in both Canada and the United States, the question arises as to how we can ensure that students have a basic foundation of mathematics while learning conceptual skills.

In 2012, I was a junior high mathematics teacher.  At the time I was in my eighteenth year of teaching mathematics from grades four through seven.  Having taught well over five hundred students to that point in my career allowed me to see longer term trends in student mathematical understanding. My colleagues and I had noticed a decline in basic mathematical skills.  Our issue was that many of our students had different understandings about these concepts and it became impossible to cover this range of understanding as a whole class.  We were unable to tutor the number of students who required basic mathematical skills and understandings.  We were desperate for a tool that would help.

Khan Academy to the Rescue

We knew that our students needed self-paced lessons that provided them with the ability to start at their point of understanding.  We did not have the money in our budget to purchase specific commercial software.  It was around this time that we had heard of Khan Academy, a free resource that was readily available on YouTube.  We were able to design different levels of learning in our Moodle platform.  It was then a matter of embedding the Khan Academy videos from YouTube into the lessons.  Students and parents embraced the videos.  Teachers loved finding this free resource that was a part of an ever-growing repository of videos.

A Short History of the Future

Khan Academy logoSo, what is Khan Academy?  A short history of its creation is required.  In 2004, Salman (Sal) Khan began to remotely tutor his cousin, Nadia, who was struggling with the topic of unit conversion. This was preventing her from being placed on an advanced math track (Khan Academy, 2018).  Since Nadia was in New Orleans and Sal was in Boston, Sal began tutoring her over the phone and using Yahoo! Doodlepad.  As her progress improved, Khan began tutoring her brothers.  As word spread amongst his family, Khan could no longer schedule everyone for individual help so he began to screencast his videos and place them on YouTube for sharing purposes.  More people kept watching his videos and Khan Academy became incorporated as a non-profit organization in 2008.  In a short time, millions of people around the world began to log in to view videos about specific mathematics, science, and social science topics.  Khan’s screencast videos provide a visual lesson for students and teachers alike.

Today, Khan Academy is a platform unto itself.  While the videos are still available on YouTube to view, students can now create an account on the Khan Academy website.  Students then choose their age, subject, topic, and grade level understanding.  The student begins working in an area requiring tutoring.  The site provides the student with examples, videos, and formative assessments.  Students are able to track their progress as they move through these modules. Continue reading “Khan Academy: A Math Teacher’s Best Friend?”

Why Google Hangouts is a Useful Tool in the Distance Education World

Teacher Blogger  |  By Melissa MacDonald

Figure 1. Google Hangouts Icon
Figure 1. Google Hangouts Icon

As a distance education teacher, are you always looking for a faster, more efficient way to communicate with your students? Often, as distance education teachers, we communicate with our students via phone and email. However, communication strictly via phone or email can cause a delay in response times for students, which can cause student frustration, incorrectly completed assignments, and/or decreased motivation due to a delayed response time.

So….what is Google Hangouts and how can it be used with students in distance education?

Google Hangouts is an instant messaging and video chatting program that appears on the left of a Gmail account. With Google Hangouts, anyone who is added to your contact list can contact you via instant message and/or video chat. You can also have group instant messaging and group video messaging. These options are great for students doing group projects, or for a teacher explaining the same idea to multiple students. When video chatting, you also have the option to share your screen so that if a student is not sure how to submit an assignment on Moodle, you can share your screen so that they can see what you are seeing and you can walk them through how to submit an assignment. This digital platform seems to have an endless amount of educational uses. According to Alice Chen (2015) a teacher and tech coach, some additional uses for Google Hangouts include assisting in forming a virtual book club; supporting collaborative project work; enabling one to invite guest speakers; and facilitating virtual field trips. As you can see, there are many options available to students and teachers when using Google Hangouts.

Personally, as a distance education teacher, I want to make myself available to my students and parents in as many simplified and efficient ways as possible. Often, my students and parents will email or call me on the phone as they view this to be the fastest and most efficient method of communication. Which, sometimes, it can be. However, Google has created a plethora of unique platforms that are great for both students and teachers. Google Hangoutscan solve many communication problems, quickly. As a distance education teacher, I want my students to be able to reach out to me for help whenever they need it and I want to be able to provide help for them as quickly and as efficiently as possible. Google Hangouts allows me to effectively communicate with my online students. For me, this digital platform is also a way for me to appreciate and accept students with different learning needs. Not all students will benefit from or enjoy this form of communication; however, a lot of my students have and will likely continue to do so. So in addition to the multiple communication channels, this set of tools allows me to be aware of the different learning preferences my students have. And I am not alone in thinking this as Keough (2013) also mentions such benefits: “Google Hangouts adds another (broader) dimension to online teaching, especially when the course is taught totally online, however it can be used in hybrid courses effectively as well. This form of instructional interaction (synchronous teaching) also enhances the online instructor’s ability to connect with students who many have different learning styles in his/her class” (para 9).

Figure 2. This image represents a teacher (me) using multiple platforms/options to connect and communicate with students.

In order to introduce the idea of Google Hangouts to my students, I sent out a mass email informing them that this exists and that if they have a Gmail account, they can access and use this unique feature. I then let them know that the use of Google Hangouts is not mandatory, but it is a more efficient and faster way to get ahold of me if they are needing immediate help with something in the course. I also explained to the students what Google Hangouts can be used for (i.e. instant message, video chat, screen sharing, etc.) The idea of Google Hangoutswas received well from most students – especially since this generation of students often want instant gratification. Without using the available synchronous communication tools, they may lose interest and motivation. Therefore, I believe that my using Google Hangoutswill help students be more successful in the course.

Are there any Google Hangout benefits to learning for high school students who need instant feedback or gratification? This statement ( “What are the effects”, 2013)  highlights the divide between home and school:

outside of the classroom students expect instant results or instantaneous feedback on their performance. When you play a video game, you experience the results of every action and decision immediately. When you need to know something, you jump online and you have an answer as soon as you can type or say your question. When you need to know where you are meeting your friends, you send a hyper-condensed text message and have the answer ping back to you in the blink of an eye. But the instant you step into a classroom everything slows to the speed of the 19thCentury. (para 2)

This divide is why synchronous communication tools like Google Hangouts are a great support for online or blended environments. Continue reading “Why Google Hangouts is a Useful Tool in the Distance Education World”