You were not born with two left feet – you just simply haven’t danced enough.

Posted by Ash on Apr 5, 2016

Sal Khan, a financier, introduces the on-line teaching tool, the ‘Khan academy’. With one million hits globally a month offering thousands of free mathematical videos, it is seen by many in the United States to be revolutionary. With celebrities such as Bill Gates backing the concept it is not surprising that Khan is seen by many as a ‘god’ in the teaching world.
Like Dan Meyers, Khan is using videos as a mathematical teaching tool. Because they are simple to create and easy to upload to the internet, they can capture a worldwide audience. I do feel we have to give credit to Khan for creating this huge platform for learning.
In my opinion the quality of the lectures is not amazing as most were based on an old fashioned ‘’do this now’’ teaching style. It almost seems as if Khan prides himself in his ‘non-preparation’ attitude towards his videos, hence there are mistakes within the teaching of the subject itself – not helpful for students and not a good role model for teachers.
Although I am uncertain of Khan himself, could the Khan academy concept be more beneficial on a smaller scale? I believe it can and this has been shown by Dan Meyers.
Dan Meyers, a teacher himself, is using videos within a classroom environment as an aid to his teaching, which is fantastic. As Willingham highlights, using relational approach (i.e. ‘why’ it works) in concert with some instrumental (i.e. ‘how’ it works) will be more successful. This is exactly what Meyers does. What Khan is doing however, in my opinion, is using low quality videos with lack of depth and understanding and minimising the classroom interaction between teachers and students. A minority of students could excel with this concept. However, I feel a lot more students may need that face to face interaction when learning. They will be unable to ask questions and for help from their teacher and peers and this is where a student could simply give up on a topic.
Willingham states that the ‘can’t do maths’ notion is a myth – it represents people who, somewhere along the line, have just given up on the subject. He believes that everyone is born with the ability to appreciate the concept of numbers and space. I couldn’t agree more, it is up to us teachers to stimulate our students to motivate them to study and learn a subject.
It is up to us to develop a student’s love for Maths in this modern age and using videos as an aid could help in this process.
Having looked at the video from ‘Train Ugly’, it is so true, people weren’t born with two left feet, they simply haven’t danced enough! People weren’t born bad at maths they simply have stopped learning. Let’s all learn from Dan Meyers (see bonus 2 – awesome idea) we can use modern technology in a revolutionary way within our classroom environments to give everyone that maths gene.


  1. Fintan Donnellan
    9 April 2016

    Having giving it more thought, I agree that there’s nothing amazing about Khan’s videos. I do think they’re well explained and that he does go through the process nice and slowly, but it’s not majorly different from how any other teacher could explain it. The selling point is that it allows students to go at their own pace and to pause and rewind bits they didn’t understand. I think this would work for a lot of students, but there are some who, no matter how many times they watch the same video, they still might not get it. Then again, for those students who don’t get it, the teacher can provide the face-to-face interaction. Like anything, it’s only as good as how it’s used.

  2. Charli
    10 April 2016

    I have to admit that I really like the fact that they make mistakes in the videos. I think it helps to learn from ‘humanised’ (as he called it) teachers. I think it’s quite brave and a really important skill in teaching to admit when you’ve gone wrong. This being said, I do think that sometimes students might, unfortunately, retain the mistake rather than the recovery, which is not overly helpful. I agree that the face-to-face in teaching is massively important and I think your two left feet dancing analogy works really well with the concept of not being able to do Maths. Great piece!

  3. MZwiers
    11 April 2016

    Most of us seem to be quite enthousiastic about the Khan Academy so I found your critical view refreshing. I’m not sure whether I agree that the videos are low quality but I did find them similar to how I was taught in the ‘old-fashioned’ way at school. They worked for me to refresh knowledge but that’s not the same as teaching a new concept.
    And we should all dance more!

  4. Martha
    12 April 2016

    Love the title Ash!! Completely agree with your article – the computer based lessons shouldn’t be taking over the classroom learning. I agree videos can aid teaching but conversation & problem solving should play a much greater role

  5. pepsmccrea
    12 April 2016

    Stinging analysis. Great to see you looking at the downsides of Khan and making connections with previous tasks’ ideas. Would also be interested to hear your analysis of the pros of KA.

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