Are we really ready for a different kind of Khan?

Posted by Laura on Nov 29, 2015

I was very interested to see this week’s task after the discussion about Khan academy last week and the many questions I had yet to answer about it for myself.

Although the lack of multiple representations was a questions that had been raised about Khan academy, I thought that the comparison between different cultural styles of teaching was intriguing.

Pershan speaks of the Japanese teaching style promoting discovery and problem solving skills. In this style a problem is posed by the teacher and students are encouraged to search for not only the answer by themselves, but to form links between different areas of mathematics to find their own solutions. I find one of the areas children struggle with most is problem solving, particularly independent problem solving. Often exam questions, particularly those nearer the end of papers, disguise the mathematics they are comfortable with in words and ask them to link topics they do not normally associate with each other. I encourage methods that help us improve problem solving among students however, I wonder if methods like this would fit with our current education system and the attitudes of current students.

Currently many believe that Khan academy is a good tool to supplement current teaching styles to enhance learning. The current method of delivery used in Khan Academy is a style that students are used to and would feel comfortable with. I think if it were to change to a style like that used in Japanese classrooms then many children would be discouraged from using it. So often I see students presented with a problem and after reading it, immediately dismiss it as something above their perceived level of ability when in reality, with a little guidance as to what mathematics they can link together, they can solve the problem themselves.

Pershan suggests in his video that the answer may be altering the way Khan academy teaches material to the students, I however would like to suggest that perhaps efficient use of Khan academy could free up time in the curriculum that we could use to help develop problem solving skills within the classroom and break down the barriers many students see when presented with a multi-topic, wordy problem.

If we could reach this stage within our classrooms, we could start building more problem solving into the way we teach, rather than just using the material we have already taught.

In his article, Blair speak of the 4 levels of learning trajectory. I would agree that much of what I see, particularly in mathematics classrooms, lies on level 1, as does much of the material on Khan academy. I think improving students independent problem solving skills and confidence will allow educators to progress to levels 2 and 3 where much of the Japanese style learning seems to take place.

I have seen some evidence of level 4 teaching within PYP classrooms in IB school however, I wonder if this method of student led inquiry would fulfil the needs of our current curriculum and testing system.

So often when speaking of alternate methods of teaching we come back to the same argument: will our current curriculum allow it? Perhaps it’s time to start thinking about what a curriculum that would allow it would look like.


  1. Emma
    30 November 2015

    I love your last comment Laura! It is so true! I would be interested to hear more about your experience of level 4 teaching and whether it works/what it looks like in the current curriculum. If it doesn’t work, what do we need to change?

  2. marcus
    5 December 2015

    This think piece is really thought provoking, Laura. I like that you have focused a lot on problem solving and how we can enhance it. I was really interested in how you talked about the suggested change for Khan Academy being a potential discouragement for students. I didn’t think about it in this way at all! Certainly some food for thought here!

  3. Rhys
    6 December 2015

    I really liked how you talked about how maths is sometimes hidden within a really wordy question to try and confuse the student. Are students just disregarding maths because they think it is to difficult or because they cant see it within the question?

  4. pepsmccrea
    7 December 2015

    Very strong critical analysis here. Your argument about using Khan to free up time for problem solving in the classroom is a compelling one. Some important questions raised about culture, curriculum and constraints. Keep it up!

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