Beyond schools: How will kids learn?

Technology is ramping up the possibilities for out-of-school learning, predicts Mike Petrilli.

Venture capital is flowing into “apps, games, and tutoring platforms that are ‘student-facing’ and being sold direct-to-consumer (or available for free),” he writes.

Khan Academy was drawing 6.5 million unique users per month in the U.S. in 2014, according to a study by SRI.

I’m particularly intrigued by its new partnership with the College Board, which allows students to use their PSAT or SAT results to find free, targeted help through Khan Academy. In the lead-up to the new SAT, administered for the first time in March, over one million students used Khan’s official SAT practice modules. And it wasn’t just affluent kids in hothouse high schools logging on; usage was even across all major demographic groups.

For young kids, PBS Kids provides video content, games, and interactive features, writes Petrilli.  His eight-year-old son “has learned much more science from Wild Kratts and the like than from the Montgomery County Public Schools.”

Other good sources are Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr. and National Geographicboth for videos and for interactive activitiesTinybop has created several “strange and beautiful” apps that make learning fun for preschoolers.

Older kids can get a lot out of Ted Ed or the Art of Problem Solving or Duolingo (for learning languages); many younger kids enjoy the Age of Learning’s products. . . . We at Fordham have even tried our hand at compiling good streaming videos from across the interwebs. And of course, don’t forget about the learning potential of games like Minecraft.

Funders and reformers could offer their own content-rich curriculum with “videos, games, social interactivity, Petrilli writes. “Not surprisingly, that’s what the “teach coding” people are busy doing.”

I like Petrilli’s idea for “a website where an elementary or middle school student could enter his standardized test score, and maybe his GPA, and be informed by an algorithm what kind of a college he’d be on track to attend.” Students on the track to remedial community college courses could be pointed to learning resources to help them catch up.

PBS KIDS has announced its summer schedule with new episodes of Ready Jet Go!, Odd Squad and Nature Cat. Parents can find free games, activities,  educational apps and videos at

Khan will offer free SAT prep courses

Khan Academy is now offering free, online SAT test prep, reports the New York Post

College Board, which administers the exam, gave Khan access to the new SAT that will be introduced next spring. Khan Academy, a Silicon Valley nonprofit known for its instructional videos, has developed quizzes and interactive practice tests.

If students answer a question incorrectly, the software will show “the specific skills on which they need to improve, offer step-by-step explanations for deriving the correct answer and recommend personalized practice tutorials from the Khan Academy library.”

Nicole Hurd, founder of a nonprofit called College Advising Corps that places trained advisers in underserved high schools, was given a preview of the materials and called them a “real paradigm shift.”

“I think they are really trying to change this from test preparation to an educational opportunity,” Hurd said. “If a young person takes the SAT math section, and they don’t do well, instead of saying, ‘Well, you don’t do well,’ it will push them back into the Khan curriculum so they can get the math skills they need so they are SAT-ready.”

The redesigned SAT will make the essay section option, returning to the traditional 1,600-point scale.
Test-takers won’t lose points for wrong answers.

Questions will track what students are learning in high school and the skills they’ll need for college, Coleman said. Vocabulary words like “querulous” have been replaced with more commonly used terms such as “synthesis,” he said.

Does Khan help remedial math students?

Do Khan Academy’s free videos and problem sets help remedial math students at community colleges? A controlled study will look at the effectiveness of blending Khan with traditional teaching.

SRI: Khan helps kids learn math

Nine schools that use Khan Academy math lessons are seeing gains in achievement and confidence, an SRI study reports.  

Use of the free online lessons is associated with less math anxiety, reports EdSurge News.

71% of students liked Khan Academy; 32% liked math more as a result of using it;

85% of teachers believe it had a positive impact on student’s understanding of math; 86% would recommend it to other teachers;

Most teachers use Khan videos to supplement their instruction. Only 20 percent used Khan to introduce new concepts.

It’s too soon to say that Khan works in the classroom, the report stresses. “No single implementation model was used across all the sites, and Khan Academy was not used as the sole, or even primary source of math instruction at most sites, making it difficult to isolate its effects.”

Khan Academy will help prepare students for Common Core math testing, Sal Khan announced last week. The web site now includes thousands of math problems aligned to every Common Core math standard in grades K-12

New SAT won’t kill test prep

However the SAT is changed, test prep isn’t going anywhere, writes James S. Murphy, an SAT tutor, in The Atlantic.

David Coleman, the president of College Board, thinks companies that offer SAT prep services are “predators who prey on the anxieties of parents and children and provide no real educational benefit.”

It’s not the test prep companies that make students anxious, writes Murphy. It’s the test.

Although more schools than ever are making SAT scores optional for application, good test prep will remain important as long as high-stakes, time-constrained, multiple-choice exams are being used to determine who gets admitted to the most selective colleges and universities. Since most of the metrics these colleges use to determine who to accept are based on indelible aspects of a person’s identity or long-term accomplishments like GPA and extracurricular activities, it would be foolish for a student not to try to improve the one thing that can be improved in a relatively short amount of time.

Tricks don’t make much difference, he argues.

Test prep raises scores by reviewing only the content students need to know for the exam, teaching them techniques they have not learned in school, and assigning students hundreds if not thousands of practice questions. It is this work, and not tricks, that overcome test anxiety. As Ed Carroll, a former colleague of mine, puts it, “Competence breeds confidence.”

College Board is partnering with Khan Academy, which will offer free SAT test prep online. That validates the test prep companies’ contention that test prep is helpful.

SAT correlates with family income because more-educated and affluent parents  develop their children’s vocabularies and general knowledge, pay for homes near good public schools or pay for private school tuition, hire tutors if their kids need help in elementary, middle and high school, etc. The advantage is huge long before the student thinks about how to prep for the SAT.

If you don’t have a clue, guess. The new SAT eliminates the penalty for wrong answers, observes Walt Hickey on FiveThirtyEight. That adds “noise” to the results.

The path of Khan

Khan Academy founder Sal Khan started by creating online math tutorials for his cousins’ children, he said at the Hoover Institution conference on blended learning. Ten years later, his nonprofit reaches 10 million people a month around the world. Lessons are offered in a multitude of languages, including — with help from a 15-year-old orphan — Mongolian. 

10 tech trends in education

10 Major Technology Trends in Education include the rise of mobile computing and teachers assigning video lessons, according to the 2013 Speak Up Survey from Project Tomorrow.

Eighty-nine percent of high school students and 50 percent of upper-elementary students have access to Internet-connected smart phones, the survey reports. 

Sixty-four percent of students use 3G- or 4G-enabled devices as their primary means of connecting to the Internet; another 23 percent connect through an Internet-enabled TV or Wii console.

Forty-six percent of teachers are using video in in the classroom. One-third of students watch online video lessons to help with their homework — the “Khan Academy effect” — and 23 percent of students watch video created by their teachers.

For techno-skeptics:

Rocketship tries Blended Learning 2.0

Old-fashioned blended learning uses the rotation model:  Half the class may be watching Khan Academy videos and taking quizzes geared to their performance level, while the teacher works with the other half on the math skills they need to learn. Rocketship charter schools are trying Blended Learning 2.0, reports Education Week. The classroom has more teachers, more students and more flexibility. 

Here’s how the charter operator’s new instructional model looked in action at Rocketship Mateo Sheedy Elementary in San Jose, Calif. on a recent chilly morning:

On one side of the large, rectangular 4th grade classroom, teacher Juan Mateos leads a lesson on identifying figurative language. He projects a poem about California earthquakes on to a screen: “Palm trees begin to sway all by themselves / Here, the earth likes to dance, cha-cha-cha.”

Twenty-two students—grouped together based on their similar academic abilities, which put them in the middle of the classroom pack—are gathered on a carpet, reading along. At Mr. Mateos’ instruction, they turn to classmates and debate whether the poem is a metaphor or an example of personification.

Twenty yards away, teacher Jason Colon works with 22 of the school’s most-advanced 4th graders, also grouped according to ability. The children sit in pairs, facing each other across their desks, binders upright between them. To keep this ambitious lot engaged in his math lesson about graphing coordinates, Mr. Colon has the children create their own x- and y-axes, plot “battleships,” and attempt to sink each other’s fleets—a creative twist on the classic board game.

The lowest-performing 4th grade students work at learning stations or laptops. An aide keeps an eye on them while “working from a scripted curriculum to help four students learn letter sounds.”

Then Mr. Colon reteaches a lesson to the low performers, the middle group moves to computers and Mr. Mateos “adapts his lesson to push the more-advanced students to write their own figurative language.”

Under Rocketship’s old “station rotation” blended learning model, still used in early grades, class sizes are more traditional, and students of mixed abilities rotate from regular classrooms to stand-alone “learning labs,” where they receive computer-assisted instruction. Rocketship officials say that under that model, it’s difficult to address the needs of top- and bottom-performing students—a challenge many schools face.

Teachers now specialize. Mr. Mateos teaches each reading and language arts lesson in three different ways. Mr. Colon adapts math to three different groups.

In a flexible day, a student may spend time in a group of five students to 109 students.

Rocketship made its name by posting very high test scores for low-income, Latino students. Test scores fell when schools shifted to the flex model, reports Ed Week. Rocketship also was trying to save money on staffing and open new schools.

In response, the charter network is slowing the transition to flexible classrooms, using flexibility only in grades 4 and 5 in existing schools. The new model no longer is expected to generate cost savings.

CCs look at self-paced, online tutorials

Self-paced, online courses backed by data analytics could help community colleges get remedial students up to speed, said Khan Academy founder Salman Khan in a keynote speech at the American Association of Community College convention.  Some community colleges are creating their own online tutorials, often geared to remedial students.


PRI: Flip the regulations

Students are learning more in “flipped” classes that use Khan Academy lessons, concludes a Pacific Research Institute report by Lance Izumi and Elliott Parisi. Furthermore, flipping could save tax dollars and extend the reach of excellent teachers. However, the free-market think tank sees bureaucratic obstacles to the spread of flipped and blended learning.

In a pilot in a Silicon Valley school district, some fifth- and seventh-grade math teachers used Khan’s instructional videos and student-tracking software. During class, students worked on problems and projects in small groups or directly with the teacher. Math scores rose, writes founder Salman Khan in The One World Schoolhouse. Twice as many seventh graders reached grade level. With each student working at his or her own pace, “we were seeing that students who were put in the ‘slower’ math classes could actually leapfrog ahead of their ‘non-slow’ peers,”  Khan writes.

Urban charter schools also piloted Khan math lessons. At an inner-city Oakland charter school, sixth graders who started with a third-grade mastery of math reached the  fifth- and sixth-grade level in six months, Khan writes.

Excellent teachers can work with more students in a flipped set-up, argues the report, citing education technology experts Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel.

. . . if one class out of four in a school’s 4th grade has an excellent teacher, and she spends half her instructional time on whole group instruction and half on more dynamic/personalized learning, then if Khan takes over the former whole-group instruction, two 4th grade classes could have that teacher just for personalized/dynamic learning.

A relatively low-cost aide can supervise computer labs where students view lessons, saving money. That’s the model at Rocketship charter elementary schools, which are posting very strong test scores.

To expand Khan Academy, Izumi and Parisi recommend awarding credit for mastering subject matter rather that “seat time,” changing state funding to follow students to online and blended-learning courses and expanding school choice.