2012-13 was my fifth year with the High Tech High organization and my fourth year as a teacher. I teach 8th graders math and science. I cover physical science and mathematics including topics in algebra and pre algebra. I co-teach these students along with my humanities teaching partner. Often our projects are multidisciplinary. Many of these projects incorporate applied mathematics, but I also run a mathematics program in parallel with the projects. This mathematics program is roughly 50% procedural practice and 50% in depth problem solving. It is in the procedural practice of mathematics that I have used Khan Academy most often.
Making the decision to use Khan Academy
Several years ago I became frustrated with how inefficient I was at helping students master certain mathematical techniques. My classroom is untracked and the spectrum of previous skills and abilities can be wide. I never felt that I was achieving a level of effectiveness, as a teacher that was useful to my kids.
I started looking into software solutions. I tried several and they had real benefits. The ability to differentiate widely with infinite problem generation and comprehensive reporting were all improvements over what I could accomplish without them. I used another program for an entire year before I settled on Khan Academy.
One of the reasons I made the switch was the ease of use of the Khan Academy interface. Other teachers had asked me to run a workshop on how to effectively implement the program I was currently using and despite the workshop, many of those teachers became frustrated with the learning curve necessary to become proficient with this other application. I wanted to use a program that I could recommend to other teachers and feel like they could begin using effectively right away.
Reporting was also a key reason for switching to Khan. The reports provided me with actionable data that I used to plan my days. When students came into class ,I had an plan ready for them based on what the reports were telling me about where they were progressing. For example, if there was a group of 6 students who were struggling with linear equations, I would allow that group to work as a study group in the hallway. If not, I could assign a peer tutor to work with those students. I could check on that same group after class and see if improvements had been made or if they were still struggling.
Starting out with Khan Academy in my class
My initial goal for Khan Academy was to have it supplement material that I was already using in the classroom. From the first day, I was able to find ways to use it effectively. I was already using a self-paced curriculum, but I used worksheets and frequent advancement assessments. I matched Khan Academy videos and exercises to the materials related to one unit that a group of my students were struggling with. By initially using the Khan Academy site to supplement a small part of my curriculum I was able to work through the learning curves and figure out what I thought would be useful in my classroom on a broader scale.
One reason that I have stayed with Khan Academy is that it is highly adaptable. The site provides tools - but does not dictate how the tools should be used or force users to follow any path through their site. This was important to me because I value the autonomy I have in curriculum design, I value my choices as a teacher, and I do not think that there is a single best way to approach learning or teaching. I welcome tools that I can use to design my own solutions but am wary of sites or programs that enforce or their own pedagogy. Over time, as I decided on my own best practices, I integrated my classroom with the site quite a bit. But even on the first day I was able to give kids extra practice and extra resources.