Task 4 – Solving the Problem of Problem-Solving

Posted by Fintan on Apr 21, 2016

Before watching Michael Pershan’s critique of Khan Academy, I expected a convincing argument that may have changed my positive view of Khan Academy. However, there’s nothing in Pershan’s argument that challenges the aspects of Khan Academy that I like. Instead, his rationale is that Khan Academy follows the traditional model of teaching that is prevalent in America as opposed to other superior teaching methods around the world. The core of the matter is that students need to grapple with math problems in order to sharpen their problem-solving skills rather than just being spoon-fed the method for getting the answer. Pershan is assuming that Khan Academy (which follows the American model) would replace a student’s math education which I don’t think is the case. I agree with Pershan that a student will only develop problem solving skills through struggling with the problem for a time. Ideally, Khan Academy would ideally be used as a support so the students can learn at their own pace. It doesn’t mean that Khan Academy will be a student’s first introduction to a topic. The introduction to the topic would take place in the classroom before the student would use Khan Academy at home. Otherwise, even if the student isn’t using Khan Academy, that student can still just find the answer on the internet. Pershan’s suggestion of how Khan Academy’s videos should be presented doesn’t make sense to me. A student can still just immediately watch the solution video immediately after watching the problem video without devoting anytime to struggling with the problem themselves. Pershan wrongly criticizes the technology itself when it’s the use of the technology that needs to be discussed.

Blair’s piece on how the math class should be conducted at least analyses an area that is of genuine concern. I don’t want to be the teacher that does the example on the whiteboard and asks students to repeat the same steps for the other questions. However, students can’t be completely left to their own devices. They still need some guidance. In one of the math classes that I observed in Hastings, I was helping one student with the problem they were doing in class, but was advised by the teacher that it’s important that they have time to do it themselves. The problem was that once the student felt that they couldn’t do the problem, they gave up. Student’s independent inquiry would be a math teacher’s dream, but if the student feels completely lost, they’ll just disengage from the class. I think the math teacher has to walk the line between helping the student with a problem and fostering their independent learning. The inquiry teaching style that Blair is in favor of would have to be introduced to students from an early level so that they would become used to this style of learning.


  1. Martha
    22 April 2016

    Completely agree – it would be great if students became independent problem solvers but we can’t just throw them in the deep end. Starting at a level 1 classroom from a young age and working up to the independent, inquiry learning as an end goal.

  2. Charli
    28 April 2016

    I agree- students can look anything up these days anyway and if Pershan wants to create these videos- this isn’t going to remove the Khan Academy videos on youtube which are already there! Also gradually building up students independence throughout schooling would make sense- this wouldn’t be a quick fix but something to start with the younger students first at the lower levels of independence.

  3. pepsmccrea
    28 April 2016

    Strong critique. I think you start to get into the REALLY interesting stuff at the end of your thinkpiece. KA is only there to set the scene. The real debate is about levels of guidance. Keep thinking on this – it will bear significant fruit.

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