Vi Hart v. Sal Khan

Timon Piccini mashes up one of Sal Khan’s lectures with one of Vi Hart’s indictments of lectures and the result is difficult to watch:

Of course, Khan went on to hire Hart, a partnership which could be yielding all kinds of fruit. If anybody has noticed Khan innovating on his format since he picked up Hart, drop me a line in the comments.

Featured Comment

Mr. Bombastic:

The KA lectures may or may not be effective in helping people with math, depending on your idea of “helping”. The KA problem sets are almost certainly going to give many students the impression that they know and understand something that they do not. Naive teachers may be taken for a walk along this primrose path as well. For that reason I think the problem sets could be quite destructive. I don’t object to checking for mastery, but KA doesn’t even come close to having assessments that measure mastery.

2012 Mar 24. James C. points out this collaboration.

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.


  1. A Line in the Comments

    March 22, 2012 - 9:31 am -

    Here is a 3 part series of videos by Khan that SORT OF improves video based instruction (warning: high physics content).

    Sal split it up so that the problem is the first video and following videos are “answers”. This could be done by a teacher in a classroom, but also done independently by a student (e.g. autodidact or student in a traditional class).

    My analysis

    1. The first video could be more succinct and less narrative. But this is a sign that Khan is himself experimenting and open to changing (even in a 3 acts type way).

    2. The answer videos could be arranged more in a 3 acts way that Dan et al do.

    3. When the KA site is crowdsourced and available for anyone to upload videos and customize exercises, class material, games, etc. (a feature in progress) more of this could be seen and distributed at a central location.

  2. Hm. Thanks for pointing out the difference. But those videos were uploaded in November 2011 while Vi Hart announced her partnership with Khan Academy in January 2012. So I suppose I’m still looking for the Vi Hart effect.

  3. If we could muster enough personpower, we might be able to get a listing of the date posted of the KA videos. That would give a chronological ordering to the videos. That would mean we could find the videos after Vi Hart was hired and check those for differences. I would use a Google Spreadsheet to keep track of the details.

  4. … or, you can go the the Khan Academy YouTube page and sort the videos from newest to oldest. (I’m an idiot.)

    Sal and Vi have been making videos together. There are a few on the YouTube page.

  5. A Line in the Comments

    March 22, 2012 - 4:13 pm -

    Dan, regarding the upload date and the date of Vi Hart joining the Khan Academy, it is not that obvious as the posted dates.

    In fact, Vi Hart had already been working for the Khan Academy for “a few months” before the announcement videos were posted on both Khan’s and Hart’s channels. My source is the announcement video by Khan and Sal (below). In fact, the timing of Hart’s arrival (“a few months” before the announcement video was posted in January is November, when Khan posted the physics videos)


  6. I’ll name drop here, but I had coffee with Timon this afternoon and he pointed out that, while every loves Vi’s style, her videos aren’t all that different from Khan’s. She is showing the result of the math, not the process or the questioning. Timon’s suggestion was to stop Vi’s videos after she’s done the intro of the math, which gets students interested, then have them get their hands dirty with the math on their own.

  7. I was very surprised that Vi Hart wanted to work for KA, but I don’t think she’s supposed to rub off onto Sal’s methods. I think KA is simply her patron, and I have to say it’s working. Haven’t checked the data, but it sure feels like we’ve seen a lot of Vi Hart vids lately.

    I disagree with the thought that Vi is showing, “the result of the math, not the process or the questioning.” In her stars video, for example, she is narrating the whole way, describing the things she’s noticed and the questions she might pursue. Every new drawing is a new mathematical idea, doodled out. I don’t think she’s simply showing mathematics. She’s doing it!

    I read the point as, “play is part of the learning.”

    I want to hear more from Timon about what he has in mind.

  8. Yes, but as a teacher, the point is that it is the students who need to play–it’s the difference between watching the game and playing it. It’s hard enough to teach habits of mind like playfulness, perseverance, exploration, and Vi gives great hooks and enthusiasm…but I think the teacher should stop the video and let kids have their shot before seeing what someone else does with it…Sure, show them what Vi does after the fact, but the a-ha! moments are few enough in a math class, and really, that’s what I think Vi aims at…

  9. I don’t want to get all philosophical on the effect of Vi on KA, and when it might happen, but I’ll just say that the mashup was succinct. And I imagine that it was not that difficult to find an example of.

    On Vi, I love her videos, and will show one on one of those really messed up short days. I’ll see the kids doodling away for months.

  10. @ecvulic That’s it right there for me, and I think it is what Dan has been trying to teach us with this site, with anyqs, and now with 101qs.

    I am going to borrow his words and ask the question, “How Do You Turn Something Interesting Into Something Challenging?” Vi Hart’s videos are awesome. I think we can all admit that, but she does all the wondering for the viewer. As teachers we want our students to do the wondering, and therefore as a classroom resource we must alter them slightly. The pause button does wonders, and at least in the case of this particular mashup, there is a lot that we can leave up to the students. I give a brief outline of how I might try it in my post, but I am sure there are better ways.

    The only “problem” (for us teachers) with Vi’s videos is they are not made as classroom resources, but as windows into this beautiful world of math. They are Art, not lessons per se. We the teachers need to transform them if we want them to be a lesson, otherwise just let students watch them as the entertaining thought provoking art that they are.

    That’s “all” I was trying to say with Eddi this afternoon.

  11. KA lectures aren’t particularly good. Why the hype? I don’t know.

    Vi’s videos are frenetic. How can anyone keep up? They are interesting, though.

    Just because something is online doesn’t make it wonderful, does it?

  12. Vi has one video (the Mobius strip one with Wind and Mr Ug) where she cuts off at the end and invites the viewer to figure out the end of the story by making a Mobius strip of their own. It’s one of the strongest invitations to mathematical play I know of.

    However, I showed the video to my hyperkinetic freshmen and the feedback was “most boring video EVER.” She’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

    They did like the (sadly low-level) video of Mr Duey rapping, though.

  13. Eavesdropping on this conversation has been so informative. I have been struggling with the best use of Khan Academy, and how to share it with colleagues in a manner that doesn’t compromise my personal pedagogical beliefs. I’m now off to a running start. Thank you.

  14. I think the more interesting juxtaposition would be Vi doodling on a problem that interests her with a student plowing through ten identical KA problems to earn a mastery star.

    The KA lectures may or may not be effective in helping people with math, depending on your idea of “helping”. The KA problem sets are almost certainly going to give many students the impression that they know and understand something that they do not. Naive teachers may be taken for a walk along this primrose path as well. For that reason I think the problem sets could be quite destructive. I don’t object to checking for mastery, but KA doesn’t even come close to having assessments that measure mastery.

  15. Along the lines of Mr. Bombastic’s thought…

    Why couldn’t they have Vi working through some math doodling similar to Veritasium’s break down of science videos (in that they include correct and incorrect methodology)?

    The students could then work through some KA problems, and only then would they be able to access the KA video on the topic.

  16. @physjunkie I would love that but I feel like it may be the same as asking Hollywood to create lesson plans for their movies. We can take interesting moments from movies and turn them into cool learning moments (see Mr. Meyer’s CV for some examples) but a movie is not primarily a classroom resource and to tell you the truth I don’t want to see a lesson plan at the theatre, but I do want find interesting moments within films. I feel the same with Vi. I am not sure that I want her doing something that is not exactly what she wants to do. The joy of her videos is that you enter into her world of wonder. We have to be the ones that turn it into a classroom resource. But that’s my humble opinion.

    Also yes the Khan Academy video should only be shown at the end. That’s what I put in my post and what I stand by.

  17. Mr. Bombastic –

    Define “mastery.” You’re on the right path with your thinking, but I think that your comment is too broad to take on all of the concepts covered by Khan. Here’s an example – I’ve got some students that can clearly explain how division works, but for the life of them, can’t compute it fluently. If I tie the mastery achievement to a speed badge and independently check for conceptual knowledge, that mastery badge begins to mean a little more.

  18. @Matt, Yes, my comment may be too broad – I haven’t looked through all the assessments, and I am sure that some of them serve a useful purpose.

    However, even with division, I think the KA assessment tool has a lot of room for improvement. I liked the fact that one of the problems I got was: 792 divided by 8. This keeps me alert because I am sometimes rewarded with problems like this that can be done quickly with mental math. Unfortunately, when I asked for hints on 792 divided by 8, I was guided through the standard alogrithm. To me, you have not mastered this sort of division unless you can recognize when mental math is the better approach, can use an algorithm quickly and accurately, and can recognize when to use division in a word problem.

    If your students are like mine, many of them that can give an explanation for something (how division works) don’t actually understand it all that well. There is a video on Keith Devlin’s blog showing a girl seemingly able to explain how place value works. On further probing, it becomes clear she doesn’t understand at all.

  19. It doesn’t surprise me at all that Sal and Vi joined forces. They do videos. Sal needs to spice up his site, Vi needs regular paychecks (she says so).

    KA might be good for some people, like: 1) a home-schooled student whose household no longer could teach her beyond geometry, 2) a student whose teacher has such a heavy accent that listening to his lectures is painful, 3) an adult learner who needs a refresher course on free radidals, 4) an incompetent and lazy teacher who thinks Khan is god, 5) someone (maybe I) perusing the site because there’s an impressive collection of videos.

    Vi, however, is kickass cool. She’s a musician! I really enjoy her videos, and my students do too. I’ve shown three Vi Hart videos (Wind and Mr. Ug, Binary Hand Dance, and Pi is [Still] Wrong) — all at the end of the unit. Vi’s work is entertainment, not lesson planning.

    I had never uttered one word about KA to my staff, but our Superintendent (teaching a small elective class), Special Ed teachers, and a few parents have used KA as part of their “curriculum.”

    There’s definitely a market for Vi and Sal — the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation thinks so.

  20. I can’t help but think that as we continue to debate the effectiveness of one person’s video lectures over another’s that we should be focusing more on what @ecvulic and @Timon are implying about the teacher involvement of utilizing these resources in the classroom.

    Students aren’t always going to recognize their deficiencies with the content, nor will they necessarily benefit from the example given in the video, which is why it’s important that we spend time dissecting the videos to see how a teacher would actually use them to support student scaffolding and development.

  21. I’ve enjoyed the debate above on the +’s and -‘s of Khan’s vs Vi’s approach, and how they apply to understanding, mentoring, and motivation. I have recently put together three videos as pilots of my style which is somewhere between Vi and Sal, and is more reliant on how kids (and adults) learn. They are based on some successful approaches I have taken with struggling learners from low to higher grades. One is on fractions (5th-6th gr), one on integers (7th-8th), and one on powers in algebra 8th-9th+). They’re not as high tech or artistic and playful as Vi, but have some of her flavor and understanding, and not as low tech and procedure-oriented as Sal, and with way more emphasis on concept and on ways to understand and remember math ideas. Techniques involve faster paced visuals, use of manipulatives, fantasy stories, personalization of numbers, kinesthetic language, a little playfulness, visual-spatial cuing, etc. Here are the links:
    Feedback appreciated. Of course the production values could be improved with an infusion of $$!

  22. Brian Cartwright

    May 1, 2012 - 3:40 am -

    Good discussion! I find a few facts to be very interesting:

    — Sal Khan’s videos have found a big niche, proving they’re needed and appreciated, and yet,
    — Sal’s videos can be deadly dull when he makes us watch him drawing and labeling x- and y-axes etc. I wonder, how does he get away with this stuff? The explanation has to be partly in my first point, but also that
    — Sal has mastered his subject matter and we’re patient with him because we know he’ll make sense of it.

    So I see the collaboration with Vi Hart as very productive: take a video by Sal that sounds as if he just whipped it off while waiting for the clothes to dry, and cover the subject matter using the visual appeal and verbal fluency that Vi has, and all of the more boring presentations can be made exciting and fun.