Math Wars: A new hope?

Posted by SIMON on Nov 26, 2014

In a galaxy not so far away….


Khan Academy is a fantastic resource and I believe it only scratches the surface of the potential for creating a partnership between the modern classroom and the internet, I do not however think it should be a substitute for the classroom.

The idea that the classroom portion of learning maths could be done at home while the homework could be worked through in school is a novel idea, but I think it would run into a few problems.

1)      If the Khan Academy lessons are not completed at home (a very likely if) then it could potentially set the student back and also disrupt the ‘homework’ lesson in that the teacher would most likely end up having to explain the subject anyway

2)      Different students learn in different ways and some may not get the most out of just watching videos and struggle to learn from them, some students find it much easier to understand subjects from interactions with a teacher that you could not get from either videos or computer programmes

3)      The internet is an incredibly distracting resource for a student to be expected to learn on their own, many students may not have the will power to not click on their Facebook tab after every minute of Khan Academy

The civil engineer needs to be fired.

In his talk Sal Khan speaks about humanising the classroom and how if students can learn the subject at home then the class time need not be a lecture, but a place where students can share ideas and work on problems together with the teacher there to assist them, again this is a fantastic idea and one that matches nicely with some of our ideas on other think-pieces that we have looked at but as Daniel Willingham mentions in his article, neither concepts or procedures should be taught first, but in unison and I fear that Khan Academy is teaching procedures first.

Another point where I feel that Khan Academy is not an ideal crutch for the classroom (and the biggest reason why I think its usefulness is limited to mainly revision) is that it does not introduce real life problems, analogies that Daniel Willingham states are very effective, it is step by step explanations that I do not feel challenges the students and almost contradicts what I have learnt through these think-pieces as really effective teaching and almost hinders the students ability to solve problems on their own, its telling the student how to do a problem and then the student practices the problem and I feel like that is very similar to how classrooms already teach Maths.

You missed an opportunity!

What would really excite me is if this new platform of internet learning was used as the start of a whole new generation of teaching Maths, one that uses many of the ideas that we have learnt through the last few months, relational understanding, teaching concepts and procedures in tandem, using real life analogies, using the internet to do group work with friends.

So while I think Khan Academy is useful and I have used it in the past when I have forgotten how to do a certain topic, I just think it could be so much more and could have kick-started the evolution of the modern classroom rather than emulate it. It could have grasped some of these fantastic ideas we have been learning (and that are used in some of the countries that are more successful in mathematical education)  so that the Maths wars could finally be won.

I could write for hours about my ideas of how to create a much more suitable classroom aid website that incorporates these concepts but if you were to design a brand new Maths learning website, what features would you include and how would you improve on Khan Academy?

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