Khan in the classroom

Can Khan Move the Bell Curve to the Right? asks June Kronholz on Education Next. She visits “affluent, tech-savvy” Los Altos, which is using Khan Academy math for all fifth and sixth graders and seventh graders with average or below-average proficiency.

While teacher Rich Julia met individually with fifth graders to refine their learning goals, everyone else logged on to the Khan web site to work on the math concept they were learning.

Some watched short video lectures embedded in the module; others worked their way through sets of practice problems. I noticed that one youngster had completed 23 modules five weeks into the school year, one had finished 30, and another was working on his 45th.

As youngsters completed one lesson, an online “knowledge map” helped them plot their next step: finish the module on adding decimals, for example, and the map suggests moving next to place values, or to rounding whole numbers, or to any of four other options.

Julian, meanwhile, tracked everyone’s progress on a computer dashboard that offers him mounds of data and alerts him when someone needs his attention. He showed me, for example, the data for a child who had been working that day on multiplying decimals. The child had watched the Khan video before answering the 1st practice problem correctly, needed a “hint” from the program on the 3rd question, got the 7th wrong after struggling with it for 350 seconds—the problem was 69.0 x 0.524—and got the 18th correct in under a minute.

. . . The classroom buzzed with activity, and amazingly, all the buzz was about math.

At Oakland’s Envision Academy of Arts and Technology, an inner-city charter, Ruth Negash uses Khan in her ninth-grade algebra class. While some students are learning geometry, “other students struggled with addition and subtraction, and one quarter don’t know their multiplication tables.”

Khan Academy developers want students to learn basic skills, then move forward, but Gia Truong, superintendent of Envision Schools, worries that students are too far behind. “If you do that, you might never get to the algebra standards” that California students must pass in order to graduate.

If you don’t know how to multiply, you’re not going to learn algebra.