What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Khan Academy is a free website comprising thousands of educational videos aimed at self-paced instruction. Although most widely known for its math videos, Khan Academy offers tutorials on a wide range of other subjects as well. Kids might find themselves using the site as part of a school assignment or as a way to practice math concepts for test prep. They might even want to explore the site for their own enjoyment. For math concepts -- from upper-elementary through college-level -- the site offers an almost unlimited number of practice exercises, organized by topic, with instant feedback and progress data. However, parents should know that the site will work best for kids who need procedural help, rather than conceptual understanding, whether they're looking for intervention or enrichment.
Kids are encouraged to sign up using a Google or Facebook account. However, it's also possible to sign up with an email address. Once logged in, kids can monitor their math progress on a personal dashboard. The videos are short and are presented in a casual and unrehearsed yet engaging style. Many of the math videos cover basic skills and are about mastering procedures rather than conceptual understanding. Users can rate the pace of each video, leave comments, and ask and answer content-related questions.
What kids can learn
- the economy
Thinking & Reasoning
- problem solving
- applying information
- asking questions
- academic development
- using and applying technology
Engagement, Approach, Support
Videos are simple, with Sal Khan's casual and friendly voice. Although the videos may be challenging for younger kids, high school students will find them easy to understand. Badges and points help motivate without being too childish.
Although thoroughly educational, most math videos focus on procedure rather than on conceptual depth. In general, lessons are very instructive but could do more to invite critical and investigative thinking.
Hints and videos embedded in each problem provide excellent scaffolding and support. The site gives instant feedback, and progress is clearly illustrated. Overall progress is tracked on each user's personal dashboard.
What's it about?
KHAN ACADEMY's creator, Salman Khan, is best known for his extensive library of math videos, some of which he originally created to help tutor his younger cousins. Today, the site has a growing library of five- to 20-minute videos on a variety of basic -- and not-so-basic -- academic subjects. Salman is still a narrator for many of the site's videos, and his casual, unrehearsed style can make you feel as if he's right there in the room.
Users can watch any video or practice any skill at any time when using the site. In the math section, there's an option to start with a pretest, after which the site will recommend a lesson as an entry point and continue to recommend lessons thereafter. Within each tutorial, every math problem includes hints, and the videos have links to support further learning. Other subjects include numerous science, economics, and humanities subjects such as Art History, World History, and American Civics. Kids can sign up with a coach (a teacher, parent, or tutor) who can monitor their progress and suggest lessons. Kids also can earn badges and energy points, which are meant to engage and motivate. The custom dashboard has a progress map that fills up as kids work their way through the skills.
Is it any good?
Khan Academy is designed for self-paced learning, and, in general, it's a solid resource to supplement classroom instruction on basic math skills. It's not, however, a standalone math course. The videos tend to be more procedural than conceptual and may, at times, contain minor inconsistencies that could confuse some learners. However, recent additions include videos on the "why of algebra," and some of the older videos have been updated with more polished instruction. High school-age kids are most likely to find the site useful and appealing.
The site is continually growing, and updates include a broader range of subjects and lessons, collaborations with the Stanford Medical School, and even math and science explorations with NBA star LeBron James. The dashboard has improved over previous versions: lessons are recommended based on progress, and navigation is easier. A companion iPad app allows video downloads for offline viewing, and there's even a new version of the site in Spanish. There's also a new Coach Resources section, aimed at parents, tutors, and teachers, with helpful tutorials on using the site. Parents and tutors may find some of the case-study videos particularly useful in helping kids get the most out of the site. Based on its popularity, the site is likely to keep growing. As Sal has said, "What you see today at Khan Academy is a very crude approximation of where we'll be in five or 10 years."
Families can talk about...
- Families can talk about the pros and cons of technology-based learning. Ask questions such as, "How is technology changing people's access to education?"
- Talk to your kids about different learning styles, and ask them to self-reflect: which teaching styles might suit them best as learners?