Teacher Blogger | By Brad Skeet
In 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
So, 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?”