Turning “Can’t” into “Khan”

Posted by Emma on Nov 15, 2015

Daniel Willinham outlines the ongoing issue of an individual’s belief that they “can’t do Math”. He argues, despite us all having the capability to understand and conceptualise mathematics, work and effort is needed if we are to be successful. Carol Dweck’s notion of a fixed mind-set seem relevant here. Many students have a fixed mind-set that they can’t do maths and that they never will be able to. Willinham also outlines the on-going debate regarding “the procedures-versus-concepts axis” which links well to Skemp’s concept of instrumental versus relational learning. He surmises, contrast between procedures where there is a lacks of reasoning behind methods and concepts where theoretical understanding and the relation of concepts is more important. He argues that a mixture of the two seems the best and most logical way forward. Salman Khan has created an online structure whereby students can watch lectures at home and then complete activities and “home-work” during school time under the supervision and guidance of the class teacher. This can be seen as a solution to the issue outlined in Willingham’s article because Khan Academy allows students to master the subject through practice.

In Ken Robinson’s talk outlines how students are increasingly distracted by the media and technology, is Khan academy a way of turning the distraction on its head and incorporating technology into the classroom? It allows students to take control of their own learning, potentially making them better equipped for further education. I can see further advantages of the system, a teacher’s time is freed up to help individual student’s needs and to rectify any misconceptions. It also gives teachers the ability to monitor a child’s progress. Students are able to work at their own pace, allowing for differing levels of development rather than a one-size-fits-all model. I think this is really important and an issue I can relate to. I had a lot of time off when I was in secondary school and as a result completely missed concepts which later lessons and concepts were built upon.

When it comes to whether the Maths through Khan Academy has the potential for students to learn conceptually (Willingham) or relationally (Skemp), I think this is the idea’s downfall. Despite Khan showing us the mapping system illustrating interconnected nature of mathematics (something Jo Boaler would advocate), as a whole, I view the system as extremely instrumental. Students watched videos in order to answer the questions correctly to move on to the next section, there is little real-world application and there is no opportunity for students to discover concepts for themselves. Lessons such that Dan Meyer described in his video which were more collaborative and where students were constructing questions, in my opinion, demonstrates a better learning environment. Also, you are relying on students to watch the videos without any supervision and no help when faced with difficulties.

When Sir Ken Robinson stated that changes within education and British classrooms had to be made, I’m not sure whether online lectures were what he had in mind. I do however wonder why it is ok to criticise people for having a fixed mindset that they can’t do maths when our curriculum has a fixed mindset that students learn in only one way.


  1. Laura
    16 November 2015

    I think this is a great piece that poses some fantastic questions about learning styles, new technologies and how they all fit together.
    I think as modern teachers we are often keen to embrace new technologies as we not only see them as an opportunity to streamline our work process but as something modern students can immediately connect with. One questions I would have about resources such as Khan Academy is that with all their data analysis how much time are we really saving ourselves. The more data that is collected, the more data we need to search through and filter. Is this really quicker than the instantaneous, intuitive feedback we get from teaching students face to face, particularly on a fresh topic?

  2. Stephen
    17 November 2015

    The idea that Khan Academy is the be all and end all of online education is surely a thought that even Sal Khan would agree with. However I do feel that as a pioneer he is putting the right ideas out there even if the method is a little rough. Imagine having a site where we can learn about the topic and then have activities such as nrich and desmos where the students can then apply what they just learned to situations where they have to think! I guess this might be the ultimate learning site, but it doesnt really give students a chance to collaborate or have the much needed human contact if learning went completely online.

  3. pepsmccrea
    23 November 2015

    Some strong links being made here, between the various ideas encountered across various tasks, leading to a very healthy analysis. You look at both the pros and cons of ideas encountered in the pursuit of a considered conclusion. Keep up the great thinking!

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