Is Khan Academy helpful for use in my Project Based Learning with Math classroom? No! and yes, well maybe.
I actually heard some of you gasp in horror at my lack of Khan enthusiasm. But wait and hear me out! I find that many math teachers worship at the alter of Khan Academy and I get it. There is never enough time to be the teacher we all dream of being. Khan Academy takes some of the pressure off. Run out of time to plan a lesson? Give a Khan lesson that day. Need to help a student make up a missed lesson? Plug him/her into a Khan lesson today. Have parents frustrated because they cannot remember the math well enough to help their student? Give them the Khan Academy website as a resource. I believe there is a significant place for Khan Academy in every math program, but not as a substitute for quality math concepts.
Others of you are thinking, “At last, a like-minded colleague.” Let me spell out my Khan caution, and you will begin to see why I am such a proponent of Project Based Learning with Math. Khan Academy focuses on methods and procedures at the expense of concepts, logic and vocabulary. Why do American adults have so much trouble remembering how to do high school math, or even middle school math? Because they never really understood the concepts that the procedures are built on! If you teach a 12 year old the procedure first, they will put it in their short term memory long enough to pass an exam, and will never learn the concept. Conversely, if you teach a student the concept, he/she will never need to memorize a procedure, because he/she understands the idea and can apply it in many different ways.
What if a student experiences the concept? Integers are difficult to grasp for a lot of students. The concept of negative numbers are difficult to wrap the middle school brain around. Can we experience negative numbers? Absolutely! We can swim 5 feet below the surface of the water. We can borrow 5 dollars from a friend, pay him back 2 dollars and know that we still owe him three. We can walk outside when the weather is 5 degrees below zero. Do we forget that it is negative 5 degrees outside? No, because we are experiencing it. The goal of Project Based Learning with Math is to create an environment for students to first experience the math, then conceptualize the math, communicate the math and finally calculate the math. Khan Academy attempts to mention real life scenarios and some vocabulary, but focuses on the method and calculation of math primarily.
Khan Academy is a resource, not a teacher, and should be treated as such. I do not use Khan Academy in my classroom or recommend it as a resource for student learning. I do, however, recommend Khan Academy to parents for their own review and edification. Every parent understands the concept of integers. The first time you overdraw your bank account, you experience negative numbers. We cannot forget that having a negative balance in our checking account is bad and will have a detrimental effect on our next paycheck, because we have experienced it! Khan Academy can help parents brush up on the more complicated methods of calculating negative numbers that they may have forgotten since high school. In my opinion, this is the greatest asset of Khan Academy – helping adults whose math skills have become rusty.
What do you think? Have you any experience with Khan Academy personally or with your students? Do you use Project Based Learning with math in your classroom? Please share you comments above.