Month: March 2012

Total 10 Posts

Sal Khan On 60 Minutes

Sanjay Gupta, introducing Khan Academy:

Take a moment and remember your favorite teacher. Now imagine that teacher could reach, not thirty kids in a classroom, but millions of students all over the world. That’s exactly what Sal Khan is doing on his website Khan Academy.

If your favorite teacher did anything other than lecture for 10-20 minutes continuously, though, Khan Academy may seem like several steps in a different direction.

Students Don’t Like The Videos

60 Minutes reported the quantity of videos Khan has produced and the time and effort it took to make them. It didn’t report the efforts some students take to avoid watching them. Here’s a white paper from Stanford’s

We were surprised to find that students preferred to teach themselves or each other through the practice problems and hints rather than watching the Khan videos.

My own classroom observations confirm theirs and a Khan Academy employee confirmed both: kids watch videos as a last resort after exhausting other efforts, some of which don’t look much like “learning.”

Pivoting From The Flipped Classroom

That is a critical design challenge for Khan and his team as they put distance between themselves and the “flipped classroom” model he promoted in his TED talk a year ago.


And the teachers would write, saying, “We’ve used your videos to flip the classroom. You’ve given the lectures, so now what we do … ” – and this could happen in every classroom in America tomorrow – ” … what I do is I assign the lectures for homework, and what used to be homework, I now have the students doing in the classroom.”

Last night:

I kind of view [the flipped classroom] as a step in the direction. The ideal direction is using something like Khan Academy for every student to work at their own pace to master concepts before moving on and then the teacher using Khan Academy as a tool so that you can have a room of 20 or 30 kids all working on different things but you can still kind of administrate that chaos.

This is a enormous expansion of the Khan Academy vision. No longer is the message, “Do the basic skills with Khan Academy outside the classroom to free up time for projects and higher-order thinking inside the classroom.” That message raised a lot of interesting questions which are now moot. (eg. “Why are video lectures the best way to learn basic skills? Why are we separating basic skills and higher-order thinking? Who decides which is which?”) Now Khan Academy is the classroom. Kids come into class, sit in front of a laptop, put on headphones, and pick up where they left off from the last class. The teacher monitors the class dashboard and offers coaching when necessary. If you think I’m extrapolating too much from Khan’s remarks, the same Khan Academy employee confirmed that vision to my Stanford team a few months ago.

We could argue whether or not that kind of future for our math classrooms is depressing and dystopian but all available evidence indicates that kids won’t put up with it. I’m curious what changes, if any, Khan will make in response to the evidence that kids don’t like watching his videos.

BTW: The strangest editing decision CBS made last night.

BTW: Edtech Hulk has the vibe surrounding Khan Academy and the just-announced TED-Ed exactly right.

2011 Mar 13. Sue Van Hattum e-mailed to suggest that the middling student reception to his videos explains Sal Khan’s hiring of Vi Hart and Brit Cruise, both of whom do good work with video. I think that’s plausible.

2011 Mar 14. I Would Have Loved Khan Academy In Eighth Grade.

2011 Mar 14. Welcome, EdSurge readers. Let me point out that EdSurge rebuts [amended below] the’s report that kids make efforts to avoid watching Khan’s videos (confirmed by a Khan employee and my own observation) with no stronger evidence than a) an iPad app released by Khan Academy this week and b) a Gates Foundation op-ed. We’re all playing on Team Student Learning here. It does nobody any good to paper over bad news. Let’s figure out the nut of the problem and fix it. Take it as a design challenge for EdSurge’s design-minded readership.

2011 Mar 14. I misinterpreted EdSurge as rebutting my case. According to their editor, that wasn’t their intent. Here is the item in its entirety:

THE FUTURE OF EDUCATION: That’s how CBS 60 Minutes–like so many others–billed the Khan Academy in its feature of Salman Khan last weekend. Such great PR has Dan Meyers on his feet, pointing to studies that say students don’t actually like watching Khan videos. Dan also notices a discourse shift from emphasis on flipped classrooms to a model where the Academy is the classroom. His take: “all available evidence indicates that kids won’t put up with it.” Khan clearly feels otherwise, particularly as it is now offering a collection of ipad apps. A cogent argument in favor of blended learning is set forth by Stacey Childress of the Gates Foundation in the Harvard Business Review. It’s among the most read pieces in the issue. Full disclosure: EdSurge has received support from the Gates Foundation for our beta website.

“It’s Killing Me. I Gotta Know.”

Frank Noschese, on last week’s ceiling fan:

I’m dying to see the third act.

Ginny, a participant in my qualifying study at Stanford, on the water tank:

I’m dying of curiosity. Is that anywhere near the right answer?

Andrew Stadel’s student, on the path of the basketball:

Can we watch the video to see if he makes it? It’s killing me. I gotta know.

All three describe the experience of not knowing the answer to a math problem as something like death. A math problem. How does that happen?

My best guess? You start with a credible document of the world your students live in. That could be an actual water tank in the classroom or a representation of a water tank on video. It has to be credible. Then you document something happening – the tank filling, the fan spinning down, the ball sailing through the air – long enough for a learner to have a sense of what is happening and what might happen next.

That’s where you end the document. Then work happens. The work is motivated in part by the student’s knowledge that the answer actually exists, that the teacher talks a huge game about math being everywhere and in everything and we’re about to put that to a test.

Then you show the answer.

Please watch this video of Ginny watching the answer to the water tank problem. This moment was incidental to my actual research question. I have no way of knowing if Ginny would have experienced the same mixture of suspense, elation, and catharsis reading the answer to the same problem in the back of her textbook. I only know that if you had told me in my first year teaching that suspense, elation, and catharsis were possible reactions to a math problem, as much as I loved math myself, I would have thought you were crazy.

Previously: You Don’t Have To Be The Answer Key, Handle With Care.

2012 Oct 2. Rachel Kernodle writes about Bean Counting: “… the 4 groups that correctly got the extension with no help from me literally SCREAMED and high-fived each other when I played the answer video ….”

2012 Oct 2. Chris Robinson writes about Taco Cart: “More student comments from @ddmeyer ‘s Taco Cart #3act: I’m losing sleep over the answer, this problem is killing me. Teachers, #3act works. Students made me replay the answer to @ddmeyer’s Taco Cart #3act so they could provide play-by-play in the style of a horse racing announcer.”

I Need A Physics Tutor

I need you to calculate the total time it will take this ceiling fan to come to a stop, and then explain your calculations. I think the keywords are “rotational kinematics” but I’m way out of my depth here. I’ll call this off and post the third act (the answer) when someone gives an answer that’s inside a 10% margin, paired with an explanation. The winner gets the keys to my heart.

Here’s a video that (I hope) will simplify your analysis. [download]

BTW: Let’s get a few guesses in there also. Totally from the gut, informed by experience only. I’m interested to see who gets closer – the analysts or the guessers.

BTW: Don’t hesitate to get your students in on this also.

BTW: Yes, I already gave this a try but I was undone by the fact that I gave both the first and third act in advance which led to a lot of handwaving and glossy explanation.

2011 Mar 9. Frank Noschese gets inside the 10% envelope. His explanation, screencast, and Python script. Here’s the answer video, also.

[3ACTS] March Tasks

I designed two tasks this month:

Some process notes:

  1. It’s a lot to ask someone to click those links and look at a lesson plan. The reader has to decipher the structure of the plan and decode its particular jargon. (ie. “What language does the author use to indicate the point of the task and where on the page can I find it?”) All of that may be necessary at some point in the plan but I’m trying to do my material a favor by isolating what about it is a) most perplexing, b) most visual, c) least verbal, and opening with that. If twenty seconds of video make you curious how many yellow Starbursts are in that huge pile of candy, you’ll be more inclined to wade through my structure and jargon than if I opened with that structure and jargon.
  2. Math tasks imitate life. I imagine math teachers overestimate how often they practically use math in their daily life. It’s easy to say that “math is everywhere,” because it’s true, but most of that math is performed by computer chips that are embedded in everything from your car to your toaster. So whenever you find yourself wielding math like a saber to cut through one of life’s hassles, pull out a camera and capture that moment. Pose the problem to your students as you experienced it.
  3. More where those came from. I’m slowly building up a spreadsheet that lists all these tasks. Something more organized and visually appealing is somewhere in the works, but this will have to do for now.
  4. Behind the scenes. I can’t imagine who’d be interested in the notes I wrote up as I designed these tasks but here are PDFs for Starbursts and Chocolate Milk, for Future Dan if nobody else.

When You’ll Ever Use Math

A bachelor party on Catalina Island.

We spent the weekend under a system of penalties and proposition bets. It cost you a dollar if you inadvertently said your wife or girlfriend’s name, for instance, while everyone paid you a dollar for a hole-in-one on the mini-golf course.

Then there were the proposition bets you set up on the side of that system.

“I have a number written down on my hand,” I said during some downtime. “It’s between 0 and 10. I’ll pay out 11:1 to anybody who can guess it. Who wants that action?”

Zac took me on for a dollar and guessed 5. I took his money.