kitchen table math, the sequel: Salman Khan at WSJ

Monday, April 11, 2011

Salman Khan at WSJ

Salman Khan writing in the WSJ:
I soon discovered that people all over the world were watching my YouTube videos. More important, teachers were using them to change the basic rhythm of their classrooms. They asked their students to watch the videos at home and then used class time for actual problem-solving. Instead of 30 students listening passively to a one-size-fits-all lecture, they were learning at their own speed. Some could focus on filling in gaps in their arithmetic while others were able to jump ahead to trigonometry—and it all took place in the same classroom. It is often said that technology makes modern life less personal, but in this case, it has allowed teachers to take a big step toward humanizing their instruction.

[snip]

Last fall, we began a pilot program with the public schools in Los Altos, Calif., in the heart of Silicon Valley. The initial results are very promising. In order to help teachers customize their instruction, we created a dashboard of robust data for them to follow, linked to their students' online exercises. Students don't move on to more advanced concepts until they have mastered basic ones. Those who get "stuck" promptly receive help, often from peers who are already proficient in a subject. The overall effect has been to create a more collaborative classroom culture.

Turning the Classroom Upside Down
APRIL 9, 2011
By SALMAN KHAN
I'm skeptical.

I'm a fan of the videos, but when the content is slightly over my head, hitting pause doesn't help. Also, in spite of the fact that I have now read a bazillion articles on the disruptive possibilities of online learning, I still prefer books to videos. I don't know why. (Debbie Stier is having the same problem.)

e.g.: I've plowed through nearly 100 pages of Introduction to Counting and Probability on my own - not easy - without having looked at a single Khan video. I keep telling myself I should watch the Khan videos. . . and then I don't watch the Khan videos. Watching a Khan video on counting and probability seems like a chore; studying counting and probability in a book seems like fun.

I'm also skeptical that having students watch videos at home and then work problem sets in class eliminates all the efficiencies of grouping.  But we'll see.

Very interested in the Dashboard, though.

And I do watch the SAT solutions. Those are great - fantastically helpful.

26 comments:

Parker said...

Sounds like a great idea for students willing to watch the videos before class. I guess that magical curiosity and drive to learn will ensure all students do indeed watch the videos.

MagisterGreen said...

The videos are interesting and the potential is intriguing, but ultimately it's just another variant on the eternal truth that an individual eager to learn will learn from whatever resources are at hand, whether they be tribal elders, sitting in the park with Plato, visiting libraries, or now watching YouTube.

It also falls to the same fallacy that what works for some will work for all and, if it doesn't, then the solution is to do it HARDER.

lgm said...

Have you watched the AoPS videos and compared them to the Khan Academy videos in terms of what it does for your learning?

What do you think of J. Stigler's "The Teaching Gap"?

For me, reading or watching before a class is fine if everyone else does so and comes prepared (ie they have actually studied the material) for discussion. Study skills - ie 'what if' Q&A are very important in leading to knowing. If most people don't put in effort and it's a gen ed class, then the class if worthless to me unless the prof sticks to the syllabus and there is QandA time.

Catherine Johnson said...

I guess that magical curiosity and drive to learn will ensure all students do indeed watch the videos.

lolllll!

Of course, watching videos outside of class is also the answer for: BAD TEACHING!

I've seen how well that works.

Again, I do applaud Salman Khan - and I do watch the SAT videos - but there's such a daffy aura of 'where have I seen this before?' to the whole thing ---

There was a terrific comment on an edu-tech post at the Times (must scare that URL up)...

The commenter said something like, 'There has always been a medium people could use to teach themselves the content before coming to class. It's called a book.'

Catherine Johnson said...

And, of course, programmed instruction actually WORKED -- and yet it disappeared.

Of course, Khan is trying to incorporate a sequence of practice exercises into his website ---

Catherine Johnson said...

It also falls to the same fallacy that what works for some will work for all and, if it doesn't, then the solution is to do it HARDER.

That was my favorite line in Michelle Weiner-Davis' Divorce Busting.

People think that if what they're doing isn't working, they should do it more and louder.

kcab said...

Hmmm. I think my comment was eaten. Wanted to say that I found another set of math videos that looks like it could be useful - "Just Math Tutorials". I won't put in the link, in case that's why the first comment was eaten.

I have found it a chore to watch instructional videos too, though not always. If there is some specific part of the video I want to watch, then I find it tedious to see the entire presentation again or to have to cast around to try to find just the right part of the video. Books are definitely better at that point.

I like the inverted classroom idea though, for some classes. I found that, in calculus and physics, the lectures seemed clear and I'd think I understood, but when I tried to do the problem sets I didn't know where to begin. I know this experience isn't unique to me. I could have used much more direct help and instruction while I was working problems, rather than watching someone else doing problems on the board.

Allison said...

Here's a comment edited from what I posted on Joanne Jacobs site:

I think there are serious problems with the idea that teaching in K-12 can successfully be broken down into just 2 stages: 1) a lecture stage with no feedback, and 2) a problem-doing stage.

For k-8, this model just doesn’t work at all. No child has the attention span to watch AND comprehend even 5 minutes of someone at the board like this. More importantly, children need to learn all sorts of things about how to behave that comes from peer reinforcement. A good teacher knows how to model appropriate classroom behaviors and how to use peer reinforcement to get students to do it themselves. A good teacher in these grades isn’t lecturing for even 5 straight minutes. They are doing call-n-response, interactive feedback, question and answer, or otherwise adapting a “lecture” to an environment where students can respond and get IMMEDIATE feedback if their ideas are right or wrong. A watch-a-lecture model doesn’t allow that to happen.

While a lecture-ish model may work better for grades 9-12, another underlying assumption here is that all “lectures” are equally good, or that there’s a “right” way to stand at the board and present the material, and that it’s really not a big deal to create such a good lecture. In fact, it’s incredibly difficult to present material well, to constantly self-assess how good one is, how well students understand, etc. and if one is on target. The ability to see that one’s presentation is going off the rails AND STOP AND GO A DIFFERENT WAY is underrated, but good teachers can do that–they can see that they were wrong in their assumptions of what students were prepared for, or see where their ideas are confusing or misleading and pivot fast enough to throw the whole thing away and start again if necessary.

I’ve watched some of Khan’s lectures, but not enough to say whether his content overall is very good or good or terrible. But what I have seen is just incredibly “typical”, and I find that a typical presentation to a college student which may yield okay results is far from what a classroom of k-12 children in order to get good results.

10 minutes is an eternity to a child.

Allison said...

Now, someone responded with the fallacy of the excluded middle--something like "how does anyone learn anything in class, because you could be daydreaming." But of course, that's the point of the interactivity, the call-n-response, or rapid formative assessnment, or quiz, or work on the board, or whatever the teacher does. No, it won't stop every daydreamer, but it has a lot better chance of retaining children.

the PEER "pressure" aspects of school are highly undervalued. School works because we are social creatures and most of us want to do what everyone else is doing. The kids are regulated by other kids regulating them, by everyone getting with the program. Doing that in front of a box by oneself? Not going to happen for most adults, let alone kids.

Allison said...

Last comment: is the problem REALLY that in K-12, we have too much lecture without teacher interaction?

Flipping the classroom at college level--maybe. A good recitation section fixes that, but we don't value that much, do we? But at the K-8 or 9-12 level, that's not the main problem.

Anonymous said...

"I still prefer books to videos. I don't know why."

Because you can read faster than you can listen. Also, it is easier to 'flip back' a few sentences or paragraphs with a book (assuming one is a good reader) than it is to 'rewind' the video the correct number of seconds.

-Mark Roulo

lgm said...

>>Last comment: is the problem REALLY that in K-12, we have too much lecture without teacher interaction?

The laugh in my district is the observation that children are spending far more time listening to 'how to read' instruction rather than actually reading. Some for writing.

On the whole, im child's experience, most K-5 are telling rather than teaching. The ability to lead a child to the 'aha' moment is not there, as the telling has left out much pertinent info. Then add in the lack of independent practice and in some cases guided practice as well as insufficient formative assessment, and you get a situation where parent may choose to make other arrangements.

lgm said...

Just to add: I've felt as if most of the teachers my child had in K-8 were imitating a university prof and expecting the study skills of a successful college student to already be ingrained. Then there is the problem of the noise and movement in the fully included classroom preventing the child from actually hearing and seeing all of what the teacher is presenting.

Recitation sections in my time turned into tutorial sessions. I learned how to get real question in at the end of the lecture or went to office hours. In high school, my son is finding that afterschool help sessions are the same thing - places poorly prepared students go in hopes of getting something they can memorize and use on the test.

Anonymous said...

I think that the biggest weakness (I won't say problem ...) is that kids make very ... um ... interesting mistakes.

As an example: I've been working on "multiplying positive mixed numbers" with my kid for a while. He understand the concept. But we've been in this unfortunate loop where he'll do this:

1) Me: Please multiply 4½×6½.
2) Him: A bit of writing ... 24¼
3) Me: Nope. Same mistake as yesterday. Please draw the picture.
4) Him: BUT I GOT IT RIGHT! ... draws picture ... comes up with 29¼.

We seem to have finally gotten over this. *NOW* we do the following:

1) Me: Please multiply 4½×&6½.
2) Him: He writes out 24 + 4/2 + 6/2 + 1 = 30
3) Me: Sigh. Please draw the picture.
4) Etc!

He draws the picture, then realizes that he has *added* the last bit instead of multiplying.

A video isn't going to notice the mistake and attempt to correct it. A video can't.

What we *also* need is some sort of on-line/computer problem generator that recognizes most of the common errors, explains (again!) why the error is an error, shows how to do the problem, and then gives the kid a *LOT* of practice for the ones that he/she/it is getting wrong.

I'm pretty sure that the programming is quite manageable, and that gathering the profile of common errors is also manageable.

But I don't think that anyone is working on the problem solving with feedback step.

[And, yes, it is frustrating to do the same F-ing error every morning, have him correct it, and then repeat 24 hours later. I'm pretty sure that a better teacher would do a better job ... but he *knows* how to solve the problem, he just *doesn't* ... yet]

-Mark Roulo

lgm said...

"I still prefer books to videos. I don't know why."

It is also hard to process while someone else is talking and trying to direct your attention elsewhere. ime Too many K-12 teachers do not allow sufficient processing time b/c of the discipline issues.

Rich Beveridge said...

The printing press didn't destroy the interactive oral component in education and I doubt that this will either.

The interaction is really the key to effectively using one-to-many oral communication in an educational setting.

The benefits of ability grouping and solid content shouldn't be overlooked either. Without these you're really paddling against the current!

These technologies are really in their infancy and while everyone is rushing to get the delivery system set up the content is really no better (and often worse) than what is already out there.

Hainish said...

Mark, have you tried having your tutee write out the problem as (4 + 1/2) x (6 + 1/4) and solve using FOIL? That might get him to really see why his method is wrong.

(Yes, I know he won't have encountered FOIL yet, but if you explain it to him, he might see the logic behind the multiplication rule.)

Catherine Johnson said...

The printing press didn't destroy the interactive oral component in education and I doubt that this will either.

Exactly!

Anonymous said...

"Mark, have you tried having your tutee write out the problem as (4 + 1/2) x (6 + 1/4) and solve using FOIL? That might get him to really see why his method is wrong."

I have had him write things out this way many times. And ... if we replace the mixed numbers with algebraic expressions, then he does fine.

He *knows* that his method is wrong (or ... he must, right, since he gets it wrong every morning?), he just either forgets or isn't paying attention or something.

Still, we seemed to have moved on ... now it is time to be consistent with the multiplication and not arbitrarily replace × with + ...

:-)

He hasn't encountered FOIL and he won't. I hate FOIL. He does have a picture that explains things quite nicely and he can draw this picture any time he wants to do so. He just (for a while) chooses to get the answer wrong and then throw a tantrum :-)

-Mark Roulo

K9Sasha said...

Mark,

Do you discuss the steps of solving the problem (activating prior knowledge, in teacher-speak) before giving him a problem to solve?

Catherine Johnson said...

Why do you hate FOIL? (Not a challenge - just asking)

To this day, I have trouble grasping the "FOIL" picture that I think you're probably talking about----

Anonymous said...

"Do you discuss the steps of solving the problem (activating prior knowledge, in teacher-speak) before giving him a problem to solve?"

No. If I tell him something like, "If you get this wrong, I will hit you," then he seems to remember. Also, if I say something like, "Draw the picture," then we are fine.

But at some point the kid just has to get it right without any hints/prompting ... right?

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

I hate FOIL for two reasons:

(a) It becomes one more random (to the student) formula. No understanding expected (by the student) or attempted.

(b) It doesn't scale/work when you have more than 2 terms (e.g. a quadratic).

I prefer something much closer to these:

http://www.mistybeach.com/mbra/topics/math/multiplying_mixed_numbers_technique.html

http://www.mistybeach.com/mbra/topics/math/multiplying_polynomials_technique.html

They "scale" to as many terms as you like, plus seem to have a fair amount of understanding.

The final goal is to show how multiplying polynomials is just like multi-digit multiplication ... but this doesn't seem to relevant for multiplying mixed numbers (although it works).

I hate "invert-and-multiply" for reason (a) above, too. I'm teaching division of fractions (and mixed numbers) like this:

http://www.mistybeach.com/mbra/topics/math/dividing_fractions_technique.html

I'm not super dogmatic about this ... I taught multi-digit multiplication as a magic black-box because I didn't think that the longer explanation was going to work at that time/age. I do, however, plan to go back (in a year, maybe) and make sure that it is clear how polynomial multiplication is a generalization of multi-digit multiplication (and, in fact, the two algorithms are the same once you stop drawing the boxes).

-Mark Roulo

Glen said...

But at some point the kid just has to get it right without any hints/prompting ... right?

Of course, but if it takes a little longer, it won't matter.

I frequently have this same situation with my son. I've discovered that he ALWAYS gets things eventually, no matter how hopeless things appear, if we just keep going. This ought to be obvious to me by now, but for some reason, I have to keep reminding myself. If we have to slow down and take a little longer, it just doesn't matter in the long run.

I'm not talking about "developmental readiness" either, just background knowledge. If something isn't working, it's better to take it apart and fix it than to demand that it work.

When my son can't solve a whole problem reliably, I'm usually better off having him go through more worked examples with me. He does only the parts that he can do and explains WHY, and I do the other parts and explain why. Then we do another example with him doing what he can and me doing the rest, both of us explaining why.

Eventually, whatever was missing gets fixed. At that point, which could be after many days, he'll be able to do it all "without hints or prompting." And we move on and do it again.

Anonymous said...

"Of course, but if it takes a little longer, it won't matter."

In some sense I realize this. In another it can be frustrating to make the *SAME* mistake day-after-day, especially when he can do it on his own once I tell him "please draw the picture." That's it. No more hints required. So he does know (for some meaning of "know") how to do the problem. He just doesn't.

[NOTE: He's gotten pretty reliable at these by now, but for many weeks 'twas quite frustrating.]

I imagine that I could have said something like, "And now please do it correctly," and he would have gotten it right on the second try, too.

Or ... "How did you solve this yesterday?"

The problem isn't/wasn't a lack of background knowledge. It is/was something else.

We have (mostly) worked through it, but I would really like to know what sort of block he was tripping over.

-Mark Roulo

Glen said...

I imagine that I could have said something like, "And now please do it correctly," and he would have gotten it right on the second try, too.

Yes, this brings a grin to my face, because I think we're teaching the same boy.

My son knows that there are multiple approaches to most problems, and I think sometimes he just wants to show his own *style* by approaching it his own way instead of always slavishly following Daddy's little nit-picky memorized approach. He wants to be his own man and do things his way. It's probably healthy, but the results can be comical, because he often doesn't realize that his smooth shortcut isn't mathematically valid. My "nit-picky" approach can be changed, but only to another nit-picky approach.

He lacks the background knowledge to know what is valid and what just looks like it's valid because it resembles some pattern he's seen. If I insist, "Now please do it correctly," he assumes that just means my preferred way instead of his, and he can do it--yielding the correct answer--but he'd rather do it his own way.

So, I'm still guessing that if he keeps getting it wrong when he could get it right, it's a background knowledge problem, but with a twist.