Khan in the classroom
School district expanding use of Khan Academy
Khan Academy, the internet teaching sensation, will have a bigger presence in the classroom. Mountain View's elementary and middle school district is expanding its use of the web-based teaching program, with more than 30 teachers set to bring the technology into their classrooms this year.
Building upon the district's use of Khan Academy last year, when just a few teachers gave the program a test run, MVWSD Superintendent Craig Goldman estimates that as many as 35 instructors will be using the training exercises and instructional videos in class — either on laptops, desktops or tablet computers.
Khan Academy offers a series of free, instructional YouTube videos and interactive workbook-type lessons (the vast majority of them relating to math). In an effort to encourage MVWSD to adopt their program, the company — which is headquartered on Castro Street — is hosting a series of free teacher-support sessions on how to use Khan Academy.
"Khan provides a high quality accessible experience," Goldman said. "I'd like our teachers to be able to experiment with it, to determine the role of interactive learning technology in their classrooms."
As MVWSD teachers work to figure out what role, if any, Khan Academy will play in their students' education, a representative from the Mountain View-based education company will check in on a monthly basis to help the teachers learn more about Khan, troubleshoot problems they may be having and field suggestions on how to improve the program. To encourage turnout, the district is going to pay teachers to attend.
In an informational meeting held Sept. 24 at the MVWSD board room, teachers from all over the district gathered to take in a presentation and ask questions of Khan Academy representative Sundar Subbarayan. A little more than 30 people attended, including an MVWSD board member. The first training session will be held on Oct. 1, and more sessions will be held through the end of the school year.
Margie Wysocki and Lynn Moorehead — both teachers from Theuerkauf Elementary School — shared their first impressions of Khan Academy after the meeting.
Both said that their kids get excited about using tablet computers.
"They love that," said Wysocki, a fourth- and fifth-grade combo-class teacher.
"They love technology," fifth-grade teacher Moorehead chimed in.
"I think you have an instant buy-in when you have tech in the classroom," said Wysocki. "When you have a gadget, you've got them."
Getting their students engaged in a lesson is a huge plus, both women said. But the question is whether a given tech-driven lesson is actually going to teach the kids something.
On that score, Wysocki is fairly confident that Khan is a winner. She has used the program herself and said it helped her. She had taught first grade for almost 10 years before taking her current fourth-fifth assignment. "I went to Khan Academy to brush up on my math skills to get ready for fourth grade," she said. "I know the strength and power of it from my own personal learning."
But Wysocki added she isn't sure it will be useful for all of her students. She anticipates it will be helpful with children who are way ahead and those who have fallen behind. The kids who aren't as quick to pick up concepts will be able to tune-in to Khan to catch up, she said, and those who have gotten ahead will be able to pick up a tablet or sit down at a laptop to work on some of the finer points of a lesson that may not have been covered in the homework. That will leave her free to teach the majority of the kids in the middle.
Goldman said one of Khan's biggest strength is that it is computer-based. "There's not a tutor you could hire that would teach you something 40 times until you got it right," he observed. "Khan gives you the ability to keep going back, and to do it over and over until you understand." This way kids who are getting ahead don't get bored, and kids who are struggling don't feel stupid.
The superintendent said he is optimistic about what may be accomplished by bringing in technologies like Khan Academy. He said the district's location in the heart of Silicon Valley means teachers here have an opportunity to get a look at some of the most cutting-edge educational tools before much of the rest of the country. And while he said he is hesitant to be on "the bleeding edge" of any trend, he does feel it is important to take advantage of his district's proximity to companies like Khan Academy.
"Interactive technology is becoming a game-changer," he said.