Will Khan Academy Conquer New York Classrooms?

May 15, 2012 at 6:03 am

At the Celebration of Teaching and Learning, Sal Khan explained the history of the Khan Academy and why it’s been able to help so many. View his full presentation at WNETcelebration.org.

In the 13th century, it took Ghengis Khan two decades to conquer Asia. In the 21st, it’s taken six years and about 135 million YouTube views for Salman Khan to conquer the classroom.

Khan, a former hedge fund manager, discovered his calling as an educator several years ago when he began tutoring his nieces in mathematics. Pressed for time, he decided to upload some of his lessons to YouTube. Not only did his pupils prefer learning via video, Khan also discovered that others in cyberspace were watching his videos, too. It was the beginning of Khan Academy, a free website that offers video tutorials as well as interactive problems and quizzes on a range of subjects.

Sal Khan has personally narrated over 3,100 video tutorials on everything from history to chemistry to algebra. His public recognition has included an invitation to give a TED talk about revolutionizing education with video, a feature profile on “60 Minutes” and being named one of the “100 Most Influential People in the World” by “Time Magazine.”

Sal Khan peeks over the shoulders of students using Khan Academy in the classroom. In addition to over 3,100 YouTube tutorials on topics ranging from chemistry to history, the Khan Academy website also offers interactive problems. Photo courtesy of Khan Academy.

The next stop on the march of Khan? New York City.

Approximately 15,000 classrooms worldwide use Khan Academy web resources on a regular basis, according to Sundar Subbarayan, who leads school implementation for the organization. In the San Francisco Bay area, where Khan Academy is headquartered, a handful of schools were selected as pilots for the free resources that accompany the site’s video tutorials. Representatives of the Khan Academy visit the school, provide training and one-on-one support to teachers and collect feedback from students who use the online resources.

Subbarayan said that Khan Academy hopes to expand this type of close partnership to schools in other areas of the country by the next school year, including two to three schools in the New York metro area.  He shouldn’t have any trouble finding eager candidates. Subbarayan wrote in an email that in March 2012 alone, the Khan Academy website received over 700,000 visitors from the New York metro area.

With Khan’s tutorials, students can absorb information from bite-sized videos that would typically be delivered in lectures or in-class presentations. It’s called “flipping the classroom.” The idea is that using Khan Academy allows more class time to be spent on problem-solving and allows teachers more time to work with students.

Two views by New York teachers

Vince Interrante, who teaches math and science to sixth graders in Mineola, N.Y., said he encourages students to do problems on the Khan Academy site, six days a week for 20-30 minutes. “Most nights, Khan Academy is their homework,” said Interrante. Because he can track his students’ progress online, Interrante says he’s able to deliver a more individualized learning experience for each student.

Angel Albanese, a Brooklyn parent, who said that Khan Academy has helped her two sons with tough subjects like chemistry. Albanese has also used the site herself — to bone up on probability and statistics for a professional certification in accounting.

Frank Noschese, a high school physics teacher in Cross River, N.Y., is seen here teaching the physics of the video game "Angry Birds." He argues that Khan Academy videos lack depth and advocates for teachers to engage students with more hands-on activities. Photo courtesy of Frank Noschese.

But the Khan Academy philosophy isn’t for everyone and has sparked a debate about classroom instruction, including in the New York area.

Frank Noschese is a physics teacher at John Jay High School in Cross River, N.Y. He’s a good physics teacher — he was named a New York State finalist in for the 2011 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Teaching.

When he first discovered Khan Academy four years ago, Noschese said he was initially impressed.

“I first saw it and was like ‘oh wow’ and sent an email to a whole bunch of physics teachers,” said Noschese. But over time, Noschese came to criticize Khan Academy on his blog about teaching physics. He says that Khan Academy materials are not sufficient for his students because they lack the depth necessary to teach complex concepts and often gloss over crucial details.

“For example, in his first video on physics, Khan moves from motion to freefall. That’s two weeks worth of class material and he doesn’t hit all the major points,” said Noschese. “It does a disservice to put all those concepts into one video.”

“But being anti-Khan doesn’t mean being status quo,” said Noschese, who advocates for teachers to engage students with hands-on learning activities to help them grasp concepts in physics.

“Instead of just focusing on equations, let’s get the kids doing labs, models and actually doing the science to get the equation themselves,” said Noschese. For example, when learning about acceleration, Noschese has his students take a weight into an elevator and design their own experiments.

So, will Khan Academy take off in New York? Perhaps, but as long as there are innovative teachers like Frank Noschese, it may not need to.

Watch MetroFocus for more videos and articles about education in the metropolitan region.

“MetroFocus: Education Innovation” premieres on May 15 at 10:30 p.m. on WLIW21; May 16 at 10:30 p.m. on NJTV; and May 17 at 8:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN.


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