Khan we have an Inquiry

Posted by Raj on Dec 6, 2015

Khan we have an Inquiry

No sooner is Khan Academy lauded as the being the answer to so many maths teaching problems: his videos watched by millions of students; earning Khan worldwide acclaim; legendary Microsoft founder Bill Gates even introduces him on a TED talk; we have question marks over its value in Michael Pershan’s video. Is the Khan Academy floored ? Andrew Blair, in his detailed article, discusses the merits of Inquiry over Investigation. Are these voices saying we are wrong to accept Khan Academy and current teaching methods ?

In the US and UK it is common practice to introduce a concept by way of a worked example and ask the classes to answer other questions ‘in the same way.’ In my view Khan Academy is by know means perfect, and Pershan highlights the fact that the Khan ‘blended approach’ of allowing students to work a their own pace, on individual computers is an effective method of learning. I found the video were no substitute for a well-written book with clear diagrams examples and exercises to do. A good teacher finds a way of explaining things in a way that students understand. I once taught an SEN student addition by using dots to represent numbers. Once she understood how to do this she was inspired to do more questions, overcoming her initial fears of adding 2 digit numbers and refusing to try. Khan Academy shows the viewer how to do things in one way. I have to agree with Pershan’s suggestion that it is important to have more than one way of answering a question and perhaps leave a question unanswered for a while allowing the student to think and struggle a little bit. This is where the real improvement in a student’s ability will come from.

Andrew Blair’s article builds a sophisticated argument around the merits of Inquiry over Investigation in that Investigation is a rigid way of finding answers and Inquiry requires a teacher to respond how students are progressing towards a solution and providing clues accordingly. To me this is an overly elaborate argument. Some students will benefit from just drilling and almost not really fully understanding how problems are solved in an instrumental way rather than relational way. I have yet to see an effective way of teaching, other than instrumentally, the following:

-1/+1= -1

-1/-1= +1

+1/-1= -1

Once students have confidence the answers are as above they can progress to bigger and better things. Yes, there should be consideration of how students are progressing, and in an ideal world there would be time for this.

Khan Academy is a valuable tool we can all use as educators and students. After all, millions of people have used it and are happy that the videos enhance their learning. I would not say it is the aesthetically pleasing nor is the American accent of Khan necessarily the easiest to listen to over a period of time, but we should not throw the baby out with the bath water, it does a great job in some ways. Similarly, the Inquiry method should not be dismissed. Students learn to understand in different ways. An interesting problem can be approached with inquiry being the way students are asked to tackle it, I am not convinced it is more effective than an investigation.

1 Comment

  1. pepsmccrea
    7 December 2015

    Very measured discussion of a complex range of ideas. You are grappling hard with these and thinking about what they might look like in practice. In future, I’d be keen to see you look for links with ideas from previous tasks.

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