Kate On Khan, Khan On PBL

Kate Nowak prefaces her #mtt2k contribution:

Before y’all get out your flamethrowers and head to the comments, I’d like to say a few things. I’m neither vitriolic, panicked, nor bitter about Khan Academy. I think it’s a great resource and it’s an excellent place to see a demonstration of procedures. I send my own students to it during exam review time, and they report that it is helpful.

Where Khan and the Gates Foundation overextend their claims, though, is when they suggest that the Khan Academy can serve as standalone instruction in Mathematics. Enduring learning requires productive struggle and time to noodle out unfamiliar problems, posed by a teacher who knows what you’re ready for, and can provide expert scaffolding. Lecture-only instruction focused on mastering procedures is an impoverished substitute for doing Mathematics, and it doesn’t matter if that lecture is in person or in a video.

Well-put, all the way around.

For my part, I find it pretty difficult to talk with people about the uses and limitations of Khan Academy if either of the following conditions are true:

  1. that person believes teachers are frequently motivated by jealousy,
  2. that person’s own math education comprised ten years of lectures followed by procedures repeated ad nauseum.

Occasionally both conditions are true simultaneously and we’d be better off discussing less intractable issues than Khan Academy, like abortion or climate change.

BTW. As long as we’re here: Khan Academy frequently asserts itself as interested in more than lectures and procedures. Whenever a blogger points out that, “No, there’s not a whole lot of evidence for that,” a Khan Academy proponent named Jay Patel (who comments under various pseudonyms on this blog and others) will often link to this page in the Khan Academy customer portal, which cites as its project-based bonafides an activity called Simpsons Sunblocker. No problem there, except that Simpsons Sunblocker was developed by my team at Stanford – here’s the activity; have fun! – not Khan Academy, whose representatives tried to convince us we should do the activity only after the students watched a lecture about proportions and practiced those procedures. (Playing a game of basketball only after shooting hours of foul shots, essentially.)

I don’t care about credit. As I say at the end of this comment, I would love for Khan Academy’s deed to match its word on project-based or problem-based or anything-other-than-lecture-and-procedure-based learning, but I haven’t seen it.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.