Monday, November 14, 2011

Update - Returning from a hiatus

I had the chance to check back in with my Khan Academy account.

There is a lot of gray on this map!

Since I have been gone, a number of months now, the Khan Academy has been happily chugging away, adding some new graphics, plenty of new videos, and a slew of new exercises to challenge me. Two of the challenges still await me, along with a number of badges. Unfortunately, things will stay this way for a while, as I have less time these days to devote to Khan.

Along with checking the academy, I had to check in on the state of Kahn's status on the internet. I was able to see a few updates about the pilot program that was going on in the Los Altos schools from the KA main website (

I also HAD to check in with the Action-Reaction blog, as Frank Noschese is an excellent critic of KA and before was carrying on an excellent discussion. To my surprise, there were fresh posts over at Action-Reaction pertaining to Khan.

I am hesitant to comment on FNoschese without fulling reading everything he's posted, seen the comments and his responses, and giving it some time to mull over, but with everything he produces, I just don't have the time. (How do you find the time Frank?!!!) So for now I will just go from the hip.

I really appreciate FNoschese's criticisms, and I actually think they are the best thing that could happen to the KA project. KA is a new and barely tested idea, and what FNoschese provides is some real world, really insightful push back on where KA fails. This is vitally important to making KA better.

What FNoschese also does is draw the spotlight on to some of the dividing issues around KA. For instance, teacher's feel threatened because it looks like they might be replaced by computers. While I personally don't think this is the case, I can see the real fears that people have when confronted with something like KA. This is a conversation that needs to happen, and the people at KA are playing close attention, I am sure, as to what sorts of questions they need to address pertaining to the relevant issues.

Technology will almost surely have a place in the future of education. We need more projects like Kahn to improve the overall system.

Here is a video that I will be using as a quick introduction for one of my classes this week:

Its not perfect, but it is my job to make it fit. In the future, I hope that I have the time, ability, and resources to make my own video that will fit better.

Go check out Action Reaction here:


Saturday, May 7, 2011

FINISHED! (well almost)

I have finally completed all of the exercises on the Khan Academy. I thought I was finished a day ago, but then I noticed a small green dot on my knowledge map. A new exercise had been added. This is a great sign that the work is in progress and there are more topics to come.

As of now my project is still not complete. I still have the larger challenges to complete along with a total review. Originally I intended to complete the challenges, and then go back and tie up loose ends with the review, but my first attempt at the challenges proved to be too difficult. I think I am going to need an organized review that covers the proper exercises, then proceed to the review. Once again, I think this is going to take me some more time.

Then engines have slowed slightly recently. Work and a new side project are draining time from the KA project, but I do still plan to finish. I was hoping that someone might catch wind of my attempts and proceed on their own with the same goal. I am sure someone with more knowledge, say a high school math teacher or a college math major, could knock this off in a week or two.

If you do take up the challenge, please let me know!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

One Exercise Left

I only have Kinematic Equations left. I have been busy and a bit distracted. I just picked up a 1200 page book and I took a day last weekend to carve out 100,000 points on

I got to the 9th problem on Kinematic Equations twice. These problems, I think, are a poor use of KA. There are far too many steps that involve rounding and I think doing the problems in different ways can yield slightly different answers. The tool breaks down here.

Regardless, I want to plug on. Tonight I finish Kinematic, then I only have 2 Challenges (could take some time) and an almost full review.

One note about review: I think once you have reviewed a problem set once, or maybe once you have completed the corresponding challenge, that you don't have to review again. My map is very orange, but many of the early exercises remain blue.

Off to work.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Homing in

I am nearing the end of finishing all of the exercises. As you can see on my my map, I am orange for some review.

I am down to 11 unsolved exercises. For the 4 sets of word problems, Functions 3, and Equations of a Line I just need to buckle down and do the work. For some of the exercises, like Functions 3, this will take a while, as there are many steps to many of the problems.

On the right side of the map, the Trig section, I am going to have to either look at many hints or watch some videos. I just don't remember the trig identities or the inverse trig functions. I was never good at finding the range of a function, and I think Inverses of Functions involves some simple trick I am forgetting.

So, with 6 grinders and 4 reviews, I am left with Solving For a variable, which I will admit I haven't looked at yet.

This won't complete my journey though. I want an entirely blue map, every thing complete and up to date. This means after I finish the gauntlet at the end here, the most challenging exercies for me, I will have to refresh myself on most of the exercises and do a few long review sessions. I decided to save it all for the end because when I begin a session at Khan I tend to lose some steam after doing too much review, especially if I mess up a review exercise and have to plug away through another full set of problems.

Completing the final exercises and the review will leave me one final goal on the road towards completeness: the challenges. I knocked off the Arithmetic Challenge and the Pre-Algebra Challenge. The Algebra Challenge was lengthy, and considering the difficulty and the increased number of problems in the next two challegnes, Algebra and Trig are going to be a feat. That said, I have some vacation days coming up, so I am hoping to make a big push and be finished before I'm knee deep in May.

I should add that by completing all of these exercises I will only have primed myself for greater things. This adventure will have polished my skills, but in now way will I suddenly be some sort of mathematician. My college Shakespeare professor used to insist that studying Shakespeare was akin to doing push ups in the gym. There is not often a direct goal in mind, other than your overall health. Well, I am viewing KA as a similar self-improvement tool, and after I finish I will be out looking for more exercises. I aslo intend to poke around Khan a bit more, maybe seek some of the medals and become more than proficient in some of my troublesome exercises. Maybe I can write a book on the medatitive qualities of solving derriviatives (easy ones) for fun, and spawn a new shelf at B&N in the self-help section. "The sine and cosine of happiness."

I took some time off from Khan over the past few days. I was investigating the hullabaloo around the internet about Khan. I was excited to find some other people talking about Khan, but their reviews seemed mostly critical and agenda serving. They had much to say about other learning methods, and many incursive thoughts about Khan and the KA team's bloated chest. I find this confusing at best. Khan is new and untested, and these naysayers seem to be responding to the high-sounding language surrounding Khan and especially its introduction to a public school in Los Altos. I asked a few of them if they had used the Khan Academy, but, being new to the blog world, I am still on my way to retracing my steps to where I placed these comments to see if anyone responded back.

In my mind Khan won't replace the classroom, but it is definintely pointing in the next direction, so we need to embrace it now and march towards the future , critiquing it soundly and improviong on its draughtly areas.

One particular blogger I feel I need to mention is Mr. Frank Noschese's blog here:

Mr. Noschese has a very nice blog and I encourage everyone to check it out. From the looks of it, you may have heard of him before because I see some awards on the site. Mr. Nochese's name seemed to pop up on many of the blogs that were talking about KA. He continually derided KA, and then followed up with some information about the Modeling Instruction Paradigm. I need to be clear here. Mr. Noschese writes very well, but his structure of argument is scattered at best. I think Modeling Instruction looks great, and a new and powerful way to teach physics and other subjects. But in no way does KA take away from or prevent a school from embracing modeling. Modeling could be used in some classes, and students could use KA during other periods to refine their skills. If anything, I think that KA complements a great program like modeling and the two should be used together. But from the tone of many of Mr. Noschese's comments it seems like he is against KA as if it is leading students down a path of skill learning abscent of any vaulable problem solving skills. Well, I might say that airtight skills will free up a young mind to develop excellent problem solving skills. When addition is a snap, imagine the other fun conundrums you could take on, not having to sweat the small stuff because you mastered it already.

Anyways, as I dig deeper I am finding I have much to investigate, and I want to save a lot of that until I have completed my goals. So, I will try to back away from the larger KA discussion for now, and focus instead on completing the exercises and challenges I have left.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Evoloutionary Classroom: How to take the bad aspects out of the Khan Academy

To make the Khan Academy a true success, we need to have many Khan Academies. We need different teachers each tacking the same subjects. We need multiple videos on everything from addition right on up to calculus. From here, we an unlease a sea of students onto the videos. The surviving videos will be strong, recommened to friends, tied to students with good test scored. From there we can teach our future teachers. Watch the good videos. Find what makes a success. Browse some bad videos. Compare and try to identity points of failure. Then go forth and make new videos.

I can't understand all the criticism of KA on the net. They offer man rebuttles and few solutions. KA needs to be embraced and developed.

A Probing Discussion about KA

I have to repost this website:

Here is a lengthy and probing discussion about the KA and how it is not all that it is worked up to be.

I think the author is fair and intelligent, but I have to disagree that KA is a bad thing. The concerns of this discussion are very focused though, so I will have to read more carefully and consider the points fully before bringing the gavel down.

Well written and engaging, I strongly recommend checking this out.

Idea for a Khan Style English Classroom

I'm still thinking about how to transition the Khan model to an English Class. I think a regular High School English class wouldn't be so hard. You could offer a lecture from a teacher that was familiar with a selected reading, and perhaps make a series of videos covering different sections of the reading, or different chapters of a book. For exercises you could assemble multiple choice style tests.

The ESL classroom could also use some effective software. I am working on 2 videos, one for simple sentences, and a second for a simple reading.

Simple Reading
The simple reading will be a video of a short text, including dialog, and followed by a walkthrough of three questions: one easy, one medium, and one hard. Linked to the video will be 6-9 more questions, following the models shown in the video. The problem with this model is that the questions will be hard to verify. I am trying to use and to build and accompanying set of study cards and a quiz.

Simple Sentences
This is more of a big idea than an actual possibility for me to pull off alone. I am think of the ESL market around the world. So many people out there are eager to learn English. Therefore, a very simple topic might be very popular.

I thought about introducing a simple sentence, such as "The boy kicked the ball." With pictures I could define the words, and then I could have the learner practice writing their own sentence following the video. The difficulty would be checking the sentences.

My idea is to build a database. Language is very versatile, so when you ask a student to write a sentence, even if you restrict them to 10 words and ask them to use "boy" and "kicked", you still have many possiblities.

The boy kicked the ball.
The boy kicked the cat.
The boy kicked the dog.
The man kicked the boy.

If we could pilot this program somewhere, then initially we would have to build a list of correct answers. We could take the pilot students answers and enter then in a database, flagging the correct answers. This would be time consuming at first, but hopefully we would begin to see some similarities between correct answers, and the program would become automated. The date would also server the teacher well in helping make follow up videos on common mistakes. This could be a very powerful system, but it requires a lot of ground work to start. Once it gets going though, I feel like it can accelerate learning.

I am still plugging away. Before I was beginning each day with review exercises. Now I am going to let them pile up, while I chip away at the reamining 20 or so exercieses I have left. On the weekend I am going to take a run at the reviews, and see if I can't knock them all off at once.

The wesbite is a bit testy sometimes. I have 2 other people working on the challenge now, but they are 2nd Language learners, so they are not looking to speed towards the final goal, rather, just improve their vocabulary steadily.

I have 435,000 or so points. I am almost halfway there. When the site goes down I love the fervor, and sometimes it doesn't come back for a while.

The other day I explored answering questions wrong in favor of gaining points more quickly. This is worth investigating, but even if this "game" is "broken", I think the integrity of the tool stands. It is modeled as a self-pace tool to start with, so if you want to learn, you will use it correctly.