How a math challenge can teach more than just math

Students celebrate at the LearnStorm finals

Students celebrate at the LearnStorm finals (photograph by Andrew Weeks).

Sherry*, a 5th grade student, didn’t want to come to Google. For months she’d been working hard on LearnStorm, the Khan Academy math challenge, and had earned a top spot on the leaderboards. For weeks our team had been working with Google to build the most epic final award celebration we could devise. We asked her teacher, Jen Ellison, what was up and the response was heartbreaking:

“I don’t ride in cars much.”

Ms. Ellison said Sherry’s response reminded her of the crippling effects of poverty. Sherry is ten years old. She doesn’t often leave her neighborhood. “Driving an hour away might as well be the moon.”

The thing is, this kind of self-limiting thinking is not only a problem for kids from underserved neighborhoods: most people are held back in some way by their mindset. Last year Edelman-Berland helped us do a poll that showed that the majority of people think their intelligence level is fixed. The research shows not only that this is inaccurate, but also that when students think this way, their test scores suffer, and they are less likely to take on the learning challenges that will set them up for future success.

We designed LearnStorm as a direct attack on these ways of thinking. We knew that to be truly impactful we would need to create a hands-on way to practice positive learning mindsets. Could we design a math challenge that taught a lot more than just math?

We launched LearnStorm in the Bay Area as a pilot. Based on what we’d learned from other math competitions, we aimed to reach at least one percent of students in grades 3-12, which is about 13,000. Three months later, over 73,000 students from about 1,600 Bay Area schools have participated in LearnStorm. They’ve earned points and prizes not only for mastering math skills but also for showing “hustle,” a metric we created to measure grit, perseverance, and growth. They competed over 200,000 hours of learning and 13.6 million standards-aligned math problems.

In addition, thanks to the generosity of,, and Comcast’s Internet Essentials, 34 underserved schools unlocked new devices for their classrooms and free home internet service for eligible families, increasing student access to online learning tools like Khan Academy.

Bella Vista Elementary

Bella Vista Elementary, one of the 34 schools that earned new devices for its classrooms through LearnStorm

On Saturday, we invited the LearnStorm students who mastered the most math and showed the most hustle to a finals celebration on the Google campus. These students competed in individual and team challenges and earned educational prizes from organizations such as the Exploratorium, Ardusat, the Lawrence Hall of Science, the Tech Museum of Innovation, the California Academy of Sciences, NASA, NASCAR, and the San Francisco 49ers.

Thanks to the efforts of her teacher, Ms. Ellison, Sherry was there. Thanks to her grit, determination and growth in math, she earned a prize and was celebrated by 300 of her peers from across the Bay Area at the heart of Google. As Ms. Ellison put it:

“LearnStorm taught us about hope, endurance and grit… It taught us to encourage one another because everyone struggles. It taught us that you can learn anything. It taught us that we are capable of more than we can imagine…. Oh, and we learned some math, too.”

Teacher Jen Ellison tells Sal her school's story

Teacher Jen Ellison tells Sal her school’s story (photograph by Andrew Weeks).

At Khan Academy we’ve been inspired by Sherry and all the participants, volunteers, teachers and parents who made this LearnStorm pilot such a success. We’re working with the same hustle, grit and determination to make LearnStorm bigger and better. So stay tuned for updates later this year!

- James Tynan, Adoption Lead


Khan Academy helps students prepare for medical school admission test


There were many memorable moments on my road to becoming a doctor, but a few stand out.

1. Biking to the hospital in the snow, day after day after day (it was in Boston), during residency. Wet scrubs are no fun.

2. Talking to a teenage girl who was embarrassed about having to find a prom dress that would cover the large psoriasis plaques on her elbows

3. High-fiving and hugging a patient-turned-friend moments after finding out his leukemia was in remission!

4. Helping to give a baby its first breath…

5. Studying for the MCAT® exam (Medical College Admission Test)

Are you surprised that last one made the list? Don’t be. I studied for the MCAT for weeks and weeks, and walked out feeling drained. It was a grueling experience and I was a basket case, running around trying to balance my class-load with finding reliable study materials and knocking out practice questions on weekends. For three long months, I ate, slept, studied, and stressed (in that order). But I realize that the work I put into preparing helped get me ready for medical school.

This April, the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) is unveiling a new and improved MCAT exam. More than 80,000 individuals will take this new test on their road to medical school each year. And with the help of the AAMC and a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Khan Academy has built resources to help students prepare for the exam.

For the past two years, we’ve worked with a fantastic team of educators to create more than 900 videos and 2,000 questions spanning all of the foundational concepts tested on the new exam. These include biochemistry, biology, physiology, physics, chemistry, and - for the first time ever - the social sciences, specifically psychology and sociology.  

It’s amazing to think that within four years, students taking the new MCAT are going to be physicians in every single clinic, hospital, and operating theater across the United States and Canada. They’ll be caring for you or someone you love.

We know that aspiring medical students want to learn, and we want to be a small part of their journey. Good luck to everyone taking the new MCAT exam - we hope you find our new study tools helpful!

  • Rishi Desai, Program Lead - Medical Partnerships


New course: Learn to make your web pages interactive with JavaScript

On Khan Academy, our two most popular programming courses are Intro to JavaScript, where you learn the fundamentals of JavaScript with the ProcessingJS library, and Intro to HTML/CSS, where you learn to create, style, and lay out a web page. But that’s like having strawberries and chocolate in front of you, and not dunking a strawberry in the chocolate.

Why? Well, JavaScript was originally invented in order to bring HTML/CSS web pages to life, to make them interactive with events and animation. The language has become very popular since its invention and is now used outside of browsers, but, still today, it is the only language that browsers natively understand and it is used by every interactive web page on the internet.

That’s why we’ve put together a course on making web pages interactive – combining your knowledge of HTML/CSS with your knowledge of JavaScript so that you can programmatically access parts of your page and modify them in response to all sorts of user events. With that knowledge, you can make slideshows, games, galleries, apps – virtually anything you’ve seen on the web.

Dive in here:

A big thanks to our early reviewers for all their great feedback:

Nicholas Zakas, Kevin Lozandier, wbwalp, SpongeJR, and Katarina L


The Learning Myth: Why I'll Never Tell My Son He's Smart

This article has a new home! Read it here alongside other conversations with Sal.


Khan Academy: now on your iPad more interactive and personalized than ever


Back in 2008, Khan Academy started as a simple library of YouTube videos, but has grown to become so much more. Over 15 millions students per month are learning across the platform through video lessons, tutorials and interactive exercises.

In our mission to build a free, world-class education, we’ve heard from students that they want to learn and practice on tablets: it’s easier to access whether you’re at school, on the couch or doing homework with friends. For the past few years we’ve offered a great video viewing experience on iPads - today, we’re excited to introduce the next step in Khan Academy’s mobile story: bringing interactive, personalized learning to the iPad with math exercises, handwriting recognition and more.

So what’s the story? This is the first time that the entire library of Khan Academy has been made available on iPads!

Our app has been built for speed - it’s the easiest and most personal way to access all of our content. We also wanted to build features uniquely suited for the platform, like our beautiful scratchpad that you can use to jot down your thoughts and work through problems in the app.

Our new app has brand new ways to help you learn math and more on the iPad:

  • Sharpen your skills: over 150,000 interactive, common core aligned exercises with instant feedback and step-by-step hints for each question. Follow along with what you’re learning in school or practice on your own, at your own pace.

  • Flex your muscles: the app adjusts to give you interactive exercise recommendations that are tailored just for you through the world of math.

  • Show your work: the app harnesses the power of showing and stepping through your work with a beautiful, expansive scratchpad. Once you have your answer, just write it in, and we’ll recognize your answer!

  • Track back: your learning auto-magically syncs between your iPad and, so your progress and recommendations are always up-to-date, anywhere, anytime.

We’re excited that this can help you learn almost anything: we’ve put together thousands of videos on science topics such as biology, chemistry, and physics, and the humanities with tutorials on art history, civics, and finance, too. Our new app has a new, expansive design that highlights our content and makes it more efficient for students to access content at the right level and puts you a few touches away from our full library of videos, articles, and exercises.

This app would not have been possible without the generous support of our donors. It’s available now - download it here and be sure to let us know what you think in the comments below!