Saturday, November 23, 2013

Why I (half) Use Khan Academy in my MS Math Class

Over the past year I have read numerous posts about the pros and cons to using Khan Academy. After reading many of these, and now that Khan Academy has come out with new features, I wanted to put my two cents into the mix as to why I feel that I "half" use Khan Academy.

Teaching Student Individuality
I introduce Khan to my students on the first week of school. Students create accounts and add me as their coach. As we do this, we also have a conversation about who we are as learners. We talk about how important it is to understand how each person learns differently and needs different supports. We also discuss how a mature student is one that celebrates their own learning needs and finds their own right path to success.

I ask students to think of a time where they felt that they were learning differently than the other students in their class. A time where they felt they needed something different. Everyone can think of a situation that this happened, either that they were ready to move on, or that they just needed more time. This is when I introduce the Khan quizzes. We talk about how each student is able to practice a concept as many times as they need, without waiting for a teacher to tell them to, or that they can move ahead and challenge themselves with a new idea. They can then work on something as many times as they need to, at any point in time without any consequences. We then share and celebrate times where students felt different than others in their learning. Putting these feelings in the open in a middle school classroom can create a classroom culture of understanding and support.

Creating Student Directed Review

When I started using Khan, I would assign quizzes as homework, but I realized that this was not following the culture of student directed learning I was trying to create in my class. The minute that I stopped assigning quizzes, students saw them as a place to make mistakes without injury. A place to practice and test their ideas with immediate feedback. Prior to assessments, they select their own review questions based on their own needs and create their own study plan. With the immediate feedback from the quizzes, they can gauge their own needs and made adjustments as needed. By the end, they have a great sense of empowerment and ownership of their learning. They were the ones that made the plan, did the action, and then came out with the final result. I feel that for a middle school student, this is a very important lesson.

Providing Vocabulary to What They Learn
I have also used Khan as a way for students to identify what they have learned. At the start of a unit, I give the students a list of concepts that we will be learning. We call them the "building blocks" as they are the more calculation/knowledge based concepts needed for their curriculum. As we explore the concepts in class, students are told that we are looking at concept #6, or applying concept #4. Students can then refer to their concept chart to see what these could be called. Along with this chart, I attach links to Khan quizzes. I do this because I want the students to be able to look back at examples of things that we have done in the past, and see how they build on top of each other. They can also then practice a specific skill if necessary.

This year I saw a new benefit to linking the Khan quizzes to each concept. My students now can tell me that they are having challenges with the distributive property because they don't fully understand negative numbers. By seeing how the concepts build on each other, and not as separate entities, they can find the specific issue for themselves. They can go to a Khan quiz and see concepts as many times as they need, making them more familiar with the smaller building blocks. Compared to my past experiences I would have students say that they can't do any math and would put up a wall for moving forward. Now, I have students saying that they can move forward as long as they go back and practice an earlier concept. This was an amazing thing to hear from a student, and something that we celebrate together. If a student can identify a specific challenge rather than feeling it is EVERYTHING, they can feel there is a way out of the maze. The best part is that they become their own guide rather than depending only on the teacher. I have really enjoyed this aspect!

How I Don't Use Khan

I do not use the "flipped" approach that Khan was originally founded on. I do make my own videos, that I post after we have explored a concept in class, but I feel there is a part of learning that is missed if a student doesn't have a chance to explore an idea before they are walked through it. I feel that a student should have the time and opportunity to think through a new concept. To be able to ask themselves:
What looks familiar? 
What looks new? 
If I could change one thing about this problem so it looks familiar what would it be?  
What do I think my first step is going to be?
 I feel that by giving the students a chance to explore the ideas, they start to develop their own problem solving skills.  The end goal is to develop their own routine to find a starting point for any question that they are presented with. I feel that if a student is walked through the steps they don't have this opportunity.

Final Thoughts

I am very thankful for programs like Khan Academy. They allow my students to feel that they are more in control. They determine what they need to practice and when. They also start to celebrate their own challenges and their own solutions. I also appreciate how they are free, and my students can continue to use it long after they leave my class.

I feel that Khan can be a great tool if used in the right manner. For me, that means there is nothing assigned, marked or expected from students when using this program. The less I tell them to use it, the more they do. My next step is to figure out how my students can start making their own Khan academies online, to share and collaborate with each other in a program that gives immediate feedback like Khan. I guess that is the project I could assign my students exploring coding as an extension project. See what their first step will be to this new challenge.

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