One of the impediments to getting students on these high-quality, engaging, FREE learning platforms such as Khan Academy and Desmos is the lack of technology both in schools and at home, especially for the less affluent districts and families. In other words, it’s all about the money. On the last day of May, one of my former students, now part of the 4-member IT department in our > 2890-student district, rolled a brand-new, shiny mobiLAB full of 33 chrome books into my classroom. It was like a bigger, boxy BB-8 in all its orange and gray glory. My first utterances were, “Why am I getting this now? School’s out for summer!” and, “Am I supposed to buy a lock for this?”
This was the second computer cart for our 9-member department. We got our first one about four years ago and it is primarily used for universal screeners, benchmark testing, End of Year assessments and credit recovery classes. To say it is a little long in the tooth at this point would be generous. But, our IT department does a great job keeping it maintained and so we did have those approximately 30 chrome books to share amongst our 800+ students, when they weren’t being used for something else, that is.
Over the summer I thought about how we could best use our new cart. My AP Calculus students had already been on Khan Academy for the better part of 2017-2018. I had figured out how to navigate the platform and manage a class with a small number of students (20-ish). It was not their only resource for learning, and it was not the only way I assessed their understanding, but it accounted for about 10% of their grade and/or study time. Many of them had a computer so they could access it at home, and most did. We learned together that sometimes working on your phone isn’t ideal, even if it is through the free app. I also learned to not assign videos but rather only exercises; they could always click the “I need help” link and watch videos or read through examples as needed. The majority of my AP Calculus students go on to big universities where homework in 100-level STEM classes is exclusively on line so I wanted them familiar with that interface. In addition, Khan Academy offers video tutorials, notes, exercises, and assessments in many subjects so I knew my students might continue to use it as a resource for their college classes.
Another aspect about Khan Academy that I loved for my AP Calculus students was the efficacy of the content. The questions were in line with what calculus students should be covering, the variety of problems diverse (easy, medium, hard / traditional multiple choice, open text box, select all that apply, and more), and the accuracy impeccable. My students loved the instant feedback: correct gets confetti and a winning sound; incorrect gets silent ‘need more help’ and ‘try again’ options. I keep my settings open so that students can make multiple attempts (the problems / questions keep changing) and this is a fantastic way to measure their tenacity. [Side note: Research shows it’s not your “smarts” that get you far but your “grit”.]
When school started in August, I (almost) immediately had my AP Calculus students on Khan Academy because they accepted my email invites. Like last year, none of my class time was devoted to on line assignments, however, students could come in the mornings or afternoons and work on the new chrome books. And they did. But, like last year, they mainly did their online assignments elsewhere. Other than that, the first quarter zoomed along and mobiLAB sat mostly dormant, patiently waiting for me to use it.
After my formal observation in October, my assistant principal and I sat down and had our “post observation conference”. The eighth and last question for us to discuss was for me to articulate a manageable goal for this week. From my written feedback: The teacher stated that her goal is to have all of her Algebra I students set up on Khan Academy since this resource has proven to be very effective for her calculus students. Have you ever tried to teach origami to a group of 20 students? Getting all 20 students up and running on Khan Academy in one class period is like that. Multiply that by 4 and you can see why I was avoiding it. I had already sent email invitations back in September once my class rosters stabilized and only about 2 students per class signed up on their own. In addition, Algebra I in our district is like a big ship — we are all on it together stopping at the same ports, eating from the same buffets. I would need to get approximately 240 Algebra I students and their teachers (including support teachers) on Khan Academy.
Long story short, we did it. And it has been amazing. Now our Algebra I students have 1 on-line assignment and 3 paper-pencil assignments in one week. We do give them class time to work on all of their assignments. When given the choice, some go for the mobiLAB cart and some go for their paper/pencil assignments. Several of my eighth graders finish their required Khan Academy assignment so quickly (they get them all right on the first try), they ask me to open other assignments for them. A few of those students said, “We need to take up a collection for Khan Academy,” because they are amazed at what a wonderful free resource it is and they are also so inspired by Sal Khan’s story.
So, when Facebook asked me if I wanted to have a fundraiser for my birthday, Khan Academy instantly came to mind.
My initial goal was $314, but over the two weeks I increased it to $628 and then to $942. In the end I raised $760 for Khan Academy and I am pretty proud about that. I know that I could have had a fundraiser for animals or children, two other passions of mine and worthy causes to boot, but in my mind education is above those. If more people have access to high-quality, free education, our world is going to have to become a better place, isn’t it? Then again, it’s free to go out for a walk every day to maintain our mental and physical health and yet so few of us do it. We need to join expensive gyms and buy fancy watches to keep up with our fitness. I guess I don’t really know the solution after all. Maybe I should stick to solving for x.