Khan tries hands-on ‘Discovery Lab’

Known for online videos, Salman Khan is experimenting with face-to-face, hands-on learning this summer, reports the New York Times. At Khan Academy‘s two-week summer camp in Palo Alto, middle schoolers “take apart household electronics, build robots and learn about probability by making bets in a make-believe casino.”

“It helps us learn what education can be and where our virtual stuff fits,” Mr. Khan said of the camp. “It gets us closer to how to run our own school.”

The Khan Academy’s online lectures are sometimes criticized for duplicating old-fashioned rote learning on a computer screen, and some critics question the way he teaches certain concepts. Mr. Khan says that view misunderstands what he is trying to do. He wants students to absorb basic skills online and be able to put them to use offline. And yes, he wants to build a school. It has been a glint in his eye for years. The summer camp, which he calls Discovery Lab, is an incubator of sorts. There is little to no time spent in front of the screen.

“We try out interactive projects, labs, explorations,” he said. “The ideal academic environment has a very physical component to it. For my own children, I want them to go to a physical school. I want them to have an immersive experience like these summer camps.”

Unlike Khan Academy videos, the camp is not free. Parents pay $1,000 for the two-week experience.

Khan isn’t a good teacher, argue a middle-school math teacher and two math professors on Answer Sheet. Khan responds here.

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  1. Dennis Ashendorf says:

    Please remember that “Khan Academy” is in its infancy. Yes, other software products are better, but will they be better in two years? Khan has backing, mindshare, and a willingness to experiment.

    The point of the current project is somewhat exploratory. The basic idea is to make as many entry points into a STEM world as possible, and then determine/finance what ones are the easiest and reliable in an organized environment: The “Maker” people, the “Arduino” people, the “VEX” competitions, the “MathCounts” clubs and competitions …. all provide multiple paths of entry and exit for students.

    For example, I’m using TeacherGeeks with Autodesk Inventor, Sparkfun for Arduino, and Scratch/Codecademy for simple programming. The goal is to move into VEX robotics with Autodesk Inventor and enter as many competitions as possible. Using as many of the math competitions as reasonable complements this. There are many other “solution sets.”


    At an extreme, it’s not about flipping classrooms, but flipping schools. Use software like Khan Academy, e2020, ALEKS, etc to teach the requirements at as a low a cost as possible, but make schools hands-on. In short, dance, music, art, technology, athletics become the focus. They can be taught on campus in the morning. Students can work in labs afterword. Of course, this extreme doesn’t apply to K-2, but is slowly phased in.

    Low-cost or free software may allow interesting summer programs to become the real programs for students