Mastery Challenge: Accepted

It’s a holiday Monday here in Canada. It’s not even 7:30 am and I’ve just spent an hour working on Khan Academy mastery challenges. You see, a few of my students (who have been using Khan Academy for just over a month) have earned over 100,000 points on Khan Academy and I’m in a bit of a competition to see if I can surpass them. You’d think that would be easy enough to do when you consider that I had university level calculus under my belt before they were born and I’ve been teaching math for longer than they’ve been alive, but I’ve got no easy task ahead of me: these kids are addicted to practising math skills on-line.

I’ve been using Khan Academy in my classroom for just over two years. I first heard about it in a Ted Talk by Sal Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, an on-line platform for learning and practising math skills. At first, I used the on-line videos and exercises for students in my class who needed an additional challenge. Those who had an intuitive grasp of the topics we had covered in class enjoyed the opportunity to extend their skills and were generally able to teach themselves new skills by using the videos posted on the website or brief “mini-lessons” from me. Now, I have all my students using Khan Academy.

This is what I love about it:

  • Students get immediate feedback on their work without having to check an answer key or wait until the next class to go over their work. Rather than spending all their homework time practising incorrect habits, they find out right away that they’re making a mistake. Most of the time they figure out the error on their own, sometimes they follow-up with me the next day to get some extra help. Either way, students and I both get a clear sense of what they can do on their own.
  • Students spend time practising what they need to practise, rather than practising what the rest of the class is practising: students who are ready to move on to something more challenging can move on, students who need to work on a simpler exercises can do so.
  • I can track student progress in real-time. If I assign a Khan Academy exercise for homework, I can log-in before class to see who has done it, who had a hard time with it and who didn’t try it at all. Similarly, if students are working on Khan Academy during class time, I can see who needs some help and who needs an extra challenge. I can then work with students individually or in small groups in order to meet their specific needs.
  • Students can practise the basic skills at home so that we can spend our class time doing hands-on activities or real-world problems that deepen their understanding and connect the math skills they are learning with real-world applications.
  • Students love it! The exercises are basically the same as the problems I would assign from the textbook or what they would get in a worksheet, but the platform itself is more engaging than paper-and-pencil homework. Students also earn badges for spending time practising, for mastering skills, for persisting with difficult topics… and all students love a reward (no matter how small) for a job well-done!

Khan Academy is not perfect (stay tuned for a post about some of the problems I’ve encountered and the solutions that I’ve worked out so far) but, like any tool, if used thoughtfully and skilfully, it can be very useful.

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