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What I've Learned
Classroom education in this country – in the world, for that matter – is about to be turned on its ear.
It started with a hedge fund analyst helping his young cousins with their homework.
To make sure they understood the math he was helping them with, Salman Khan made some simple videos – just his voice explaining some examples as he worked them using a computer drawing program. Khan posted the videos on YouTube.
YouTube, in case you don't know, is a video-sharing website that allows anyone to open an account for free and to upload short videos on the internet.
YouTube videos can be about anything. If someone, for example, shot a video of their young daughter eating spaghetti and getting messy with the tomato sauce, they could upload a copy of the video to YouTube, and anyone in the world could see little Emily having fun with her food.
Unless Emily's parents decided to make the video private, in which case only people they gave permission to could see it.
So Khan made a couple of math videos to help his cousins and uploaded them to YouTube. He saw no reason to make the videos private – after all they were just simple math tutorials. Who, other than his cousins, would even be interested.
Two things happened that surprised Khan.
One, his cousins preferred video instruction from their cousin over live instruction from their cousin. With the video, they felt less pressure. If they didn't get something, they could back the video up and rewatch the confusing part over and over without wearing out their cousin's patience.
The other surprising thing is that Khan began to get emails from strangers commenting on the videos, praising Khan for his concise, practical, and relaxed way of teaching, and asking for more.
Now, a number of years later, Khan is no longer a hedge fund analyst. He has gotten supportive funding ($2 million from Google alone) and spends his time making short, instructional videos that he posts for free on YouTube.
Not only is Khan good at explaining things, he really knows his stuff. He holds three degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology: a BS in mathematics, a BS in electrical engineering and computer science, and an MS in electrical engineering and computer science. He also holds an MBA from Harvard Business School.
So far, he's made more than 2,000 videos, not just about math, but about history, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, and economics. His math videos start at single number problems, such as 2 + 3 = 5, and works their way through artithmetic, pre-algebra, algebra, algebra II, geometry. trigonometry, and calculus.
I'm okay at math, and my wife, who minored in it in college, is good at it. So instead of watching Khan's math videos, we've been learning about the French Revolution. Each video is 10 to 20 minutes long. We watch one an evening.
I told you all that so I could tell you this.
A school contacted Khan and asked, "If you had total free-reign over a classroom, how would you set it up?"
Khan said that instead of the traditional model in which a classroom teacher gives instruction, then assigns homework as reinforcement, he would reverse that. Homework would be to watch an instructional video. Classroom time would be spent reinforcing that instruction. As students worked on example problems in class, the teacher would be free to walk around and help – one on one – students who were having difficulties.
But how would a teacher know which kids were "getting it" and which were not?
Simple, Khan said. Each student would take a computer test that requires them to get 10 problems right in succession. If a student missed a problem before getting to 10, they started over, repeating the process until able to get 10 in succession correct.
To further aid the teacher, a tracking program would show at a glance each student's status. A green bar under a task means that a student has watched the video and successfully solved 10 problems in a row. A blue bar under a task means the sudent has watched the video, but has not yet attempted the test. A red bar means a student watched the video, attempted the test, but has not yet been able to answer 10 problems correctly.
Say the task is subtracting two-digit numbers with borrowing, such as 35 - 27. The teacher sees that six students are having trouble with the test. Students who have passed the test are assigned to help those who are struggling. The teacher is free to walk around and lend a hand where needed.
And that, Khan told the school, is what he would do.
The school said, "We'll get back to you." Khan didn't expect to hear from them again. Two weeks later, however, the school called and said, "We're ready. How soon can we start?"
The plan was tried in 5th and 7th grades, and the results were remarkable.
Expect in the next few years to hear more and more about this, as Khan's idea washes like a positive tsunami through the world of education. Khan's collection of instructional videos is called Khan Academy. Search for that on YouTube and you can watch any of 2,200 videos for free.
In the mean time, would you like me to tell you about the French Revolution? I now know when and where and why it started. I know what the Tennis Court Oath was. I know what the Women's March on Versailles was all about. I know why the Bastille was stormed. (It was not so much to free the prisoners – there were only seven – as to get hands on weapons that were stored there.) I know what the Declaration of Pillnitz was. I know what the Brunswick Manifesto was. I know when and where Louis XVI was executed. I know all this from a pleasant 20-minute's worth of video watching each evening.