I ‘Khan’ do maths!

Posted by Marcus on Nov 15, 2015

In this week’s task I will be looking at an article written by Dan Willingham as well as a TED talk given by Sal Khan about his ‘Khan Academy’. Willingham explores the question “Is it true that some people just can’t do math?” by looking at various types of research. Whereas Khan talks about a platform for learning maths. Both Willingham and Khan feel that mastery is important to be a successful mathematician.

Interestingly enough, whilst I was writing my personal statement to apply for my place at University, I spoke about how I constantly hear students expressing that they will never be good at maths, because their parents weren’t. In his article, Willingham explores some research that shows humans are born with two ways to appreciate number, which would suggest that we all have the ability to learn maths. So why do we hear students conceding that they are no good at maths? If we are to believe that we don’t inherit mathematical ability should we consider that perhaps some students gain a ‘fear’ of maths subconsciously from their parents? If students are constantly told by their parents that they were never good at maths whilst they were at school then how can we blame them for thinking that they won’t be good at it?

The concept of ‘mathematical mastery’ is something that I’m interested by. It makes complete sense to me, we shouldn’t expect students to move on to a new concept until they have mastered the basics. This point is echoed by Willingham when he says “study just a few concepts each year, but study them in depth so there is sufficient time to comprehend one concept before the next one is introduced”. I really like the way that Khan has produced a way that can help people to achieve mastery in maths. It allows people to view tutorials in their own time and most importantly at their own pace. Whilst I was studying through The Open University, I used some of the tutorials on Khan Academy to learn some of the mathematical concepts, and this was brilliant when you consider that I was trying to learn pretty much everything from a book! So is this platform giving us everything we need to become masters at maths? I think that it is a brilliant supplement to the learning of mathematics, but I don’t think that it provides everything. I feel that actual human interaction is still vital for student’s learning, however I do accept that available time is a massive factor to what we as educators can do in the classroom. The concept of a ‘flipped classroom’ as discussed by Khan, sounds like a good approach but how can we ensure that students will commit the time and effort to learning a concept when they are left to their own devices?

The idea of ‘mastery’ links back to Richard Skemp’s article about Relational understanding. Last week I spoke about the time constraints on educators to be able to teach relationally whilst covering the required content, but perhaps Khan has provided us with a way that means we can get closer to providing a relational understanding…


  1. Laura
    16 November 2015

    I love that here you have introduced the idea of impetus on the student to complete set work. In recent pieces we have talked a little about what to do if a student isn’t willing to put the time and effort in to class work in the classroom, can we really expect that these students will put in the time required outside of the classroom when we are not there to badger them to keep going?
    Some great points to think on.

  2. Emma
    22 November 2015

    I enjoyed reading your think-piece and I found that you made clear connections between the article and the video. I agree with you that many students perceive their inability to do maths as a result of their genes and I have heard similar things in school. I like the word ‘fear’ to describe student’s feeling towards maths. I wonder what we can do as teachers to combat this…

  3. pepsmccrea
    23 November 2015

    Great thinkpiece. Lots of connections with your own experiences as well as related articles and ideas (eg. mastery). You look at the pros and cons of Khan.

    Keep it up!

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