The Khan Academy (KA) is a library of short video tutorials on a full curriculum of math topics. They also have other subjects, but their math curriculum is quite extensive. Recently the Academy added an exercise software piece to help students practice their math skills and to help teachers monitor a student's progress. There's a nice video explaining the software on the site.
During the last trimester at school, I decided to use KA exclusively to see how students liked it and whether or not it would help them do better with their math studies. I felt that some of the challenges I mentioned in the previous blog could be remedied or at least reduced using KA.
Pacing: I assigned the math concepts I wanted my students to learn by reviewing my pacing plan for the remainder of the year. I then told the students that they would receive full credit for each assignment they successfully completed. There would be no penalty for WHEN they completed the assignment. So students could work at their own pace and choose which assignment they wanted to attempt.
Questions: At first I told students to raise their hand and I would come by and help them during class if they got stuck or needed help. I found this did not work too well. However, if I just casually walked around the room with pencil and paper, students would stop me and ask for help. This was a great discovery and I was very surprised how willing students were to ask me questions when I was next to them. Now I had students willing to ask questions without them feeling intimidated or standing out in class.
Gaps in math skills: If a student was not ready to work on the concepts I assigned, I could "back them up" and have them work on the gaps in their math skills. That is, I could assign lower grade concepts for them to work on first before tackling the pre-algebra assignments. This gave students a chance to be successful in their math endeavors.
Bored Students: OK, this was a great surprise to me. My students were incredibly focused during class. I gave them a lot of freedom but I monitored their work closely. For instance, if a couple of students wanted to go outside and sit at a table to work they could. Students were allowed to listen to music. Often students helped each other and worked together.
I have small classes so I was able to easily monitor all of my student's working. What I found is that they DID work and were much more focused and happy with this system. It's been eight weeks now, near the end of school and most students have completed a large portion of the assignments.
Posting success: I placed large sheets of paper in the front of my classroom for each class. The posters had student names and all the assignments. As a student completed an assignment, they were allowed to put a stamp showing they completed the assignment. This also was a big hit. Students came in at lunch and before school to ask if they could stamp their assignment. Seventh and eighth graders still have some of that elementary school mentality and really enjoy little stamps and such.
At the end of the week, students received a raffle ticket for each assignment they completed that week. I held a drawing for little prizes just before the end of class. You would think I was giving away a new car with all the excitement this raised!
I think KA is a great teaching tool. I still have questions and concerns about how I should/should not us it. I'll talk about that next time.