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Math Can Be Fun! ALearn and Khan Academy Help Solve the Achievement Gap 

by Kathryn Hanson, Founder and CEO of ALearn

Khan Academy helped me a lot because I didn’t know a lot about ratios and expressions, but with Khan Academy and the help of my teacher and TA I learned to love math and have fun.

– ALearn middle school student

For many students, summer is a time to play outside, sleep in, and watch TV. School and learning become a blurred memory. Many of these students, especially low income students, then suffer “summer learning loss” and actually lose 2-3 months of math proficiency over the summer, falling further behind their peers - and accounting for over two-thirds of the achievement gap between low-income students and their higher-income peers. 

But for 1,200 first generation-to-college middle and high school students in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties, the summer of 2013 offered a great opportunity to improve their skills in math and get on track to go college as they enrolled in ALearn’s Math Acceleration and Catalyst to High School programs. 

ALearn is a non-profit organization founded in 2007 that is committed to help more low-income, underrepresented students prepare for and complete college. Since then, ALearn has provided rising 6th, 7th, and 9th graders access to academic support programs and a college-going culture that has helped increase the number of college-bound students in the Silicon Valley. 

The majority of the students that ALearn serves come from Title I schools, with high percentages of English Language Learners and students who qualify for the Free and Reduced Lunch Program. They often come with significant gaps in their math knowledge. They also lack the self confidence that they can do math well, and sometimes have given up on themselves. 

To face these challenges, ALearn uses a blended learning approach based on the new Common Core standards. Experienced, credentialed math teachers and energetic college student Teaching Assistants (TAs) use small groups, interactive hands-on activities, games, and Khan Academy computer modules to help students realize that math is not only necessary, but it can be fun as well. 

From all the resources and tools ALearn used this summer, Khan Academy stands out as one of the favorites for teachers, teaching assistants and students. When asked what he liked best about the program, an ALearn high school student responded that it was “Khan Academy because it was like having a personal math tutor in class and at home. I could just go to Khan [Academy] whenever I need help.”

To most teachers, Khan Academy was new. To help them better reach their full potential using Khan Academy, ALearn included a comprehensive training session during its professional development that showed teacher and TAs how to use Khan to help students understand the math concepts better and at their own pace. “Incorporating the online resource of Khan Academy was engaging and fun for students while also allowing students to continue building their skills at home” commented an ALearn high school teacher. 

Furthermore, teachers and TAs were able to monitor student progress using Khan Academy’s diagnostic features and intervene where necessary, a feature that allowed them to better meet the specific needs of their students. An ALearn middle school TA mentioned how “students were able to connect the lessons and test their knowledge with the exercises on Khan. They got excited to leave the classroom and go work on something else”. 

More importantly, students enjoyed using Khan Academy since they were in control of their progress and they even competed against each other to see which student got the most energy points. “I think that Khan Academy helped me the most because it would make sure I did well and understood math completely. You would not be able to move on unless Khan [Academy] is completely sure you are ready to go to the next step” commented an ALearn middle school student. 

ALearn is glad to have such an effective and popular resource available at no cost to help more of its students achieve proficiency in math. For the third year in a row, ALearn has integrated Khan Academy into its academic curriculum, serving 100% of the students enrolled in its programs with significant practice using KA. ALearn students showed remarkable results and success using Khan Academy to supplement the curricula used in the classroom. Rather than losing competency in math over the summer, these students gained significantly. In the words of an ALearn middle school TA, “Khan Academy was definitely a major strength in this program.”