I will be reflecting both qualitatively and quantitatively on Khan Academy’s impact on the students, the class as a whole, and me, the teacher.
Khan Academy’s impact on students was quite noteworthy in my classroom. Quantitatively, because students were able to work at their own pace and receive proper attention for mathematical “holes”, their performance on tests and final exams improved. Although there were students who did not pass with 70% or higher, when compared to similar students from previous years, this year’s students scored higher, with scores mainly in the range of 60%-69%. When students from previous years did not pass a test, I saw much lower percentages ranging from 20%-50%. An interpretation of this, alongside my own anecdotal notes, could be that rather than knowing barely anything and struggling through the test as a whole (previous students), the students who did not pass this year almost passed. Their work on tests did show conceptual understanding; they were able to solve parts of problems and more importantly, they knew what was going on. Computational errors, inability to finish problems to completion, and confusion about what the questions were asking contributed to their non-passing grades. With the use of Khan Academy and with more personalized attention and instruction as a whole, students learned more and had fewer/smaller holes.
Qualitatively, Khan Academy’s impact on students was incredible. Because students were able to navigate themselves through the curriculum, they took ownership of their learning. They controlled the pace, they set their own goals, and they knew how they were doing. This sense of ownership resulted in increased motivation levels, engagement, excitement, and purpose. Students developed skills that aren’t quantifiable. They learned how to push through a struggle, how to ask for help, how to help others, how to approach problems from different angles, and how to be a proactive learner. In addition, students experienced grit, perseverance, frustration management, the thrill of reaching a goal, and realized that they have the means within themselves to make something happen or not happen. These habits of mind are invaluable and are in congruence with the growth mindset. These traits are not limited to one subject or one experience; they are good for life.
Another aspect of Khan Academy’s qualitative impact on students was to instill qualities such as empathy, sympathy, kindness, concern for others, reciprocity, understanding, and mutual respect. Students who were once very self-focused when it came to time, materials, interest, and needs became students who would often put their classmates’ needs before their own. Rather than make their own progress with the Khan Academy exercises, they chose to spend their work time helping someone who was struggling with an exercise. I was almost brought to tears when I’d see students helping each other in such a caring, respectful, and supportive way. Their voices were gentle, nonthreatening, and they never brought shame onto anyone. Because there was so much help being distributed in different combinations around the classroom, everyone knew about everyone else’s progress, struggles, and successes. It was a joy to see the whole class clapping for a student who finally passed a unit, or to see a large gathering around a student who was about to become proficient in an exercise module. They were just as nervous and excited as the student himself! It was common in math class to hear cheers, claps, positive shout-outs, and to see pats on the back, thumbs-up signs, and smiles. It was also common to see students gathered around a student who just discovered that she did not pass the post-test. They would bring over a box of tissues, they’d offer hugs of encouragement, and they’d say things like, “I know how you feel. You’ll be okay. I know you will pass next time.”
Khan Academy has also impacted me both professionally and personally. When the journey began, I had no idea that it would lead to such profound meaning. This Khan Academy adventure has taught me about growth mindset, about letting go, about taking risks, about the value of change and struggle, and about how to view and live life in general. Because of my experience with Khan Academy, I realized that I had been underestimating the abilities of my students, myself, and that I often chose status quo for the sake of comfort or fear. These realizations were not just useful for me as a teacher, but what I learned can also be applied to other areas of life. I also realized that amidst the daily grind, the long to-do lists, the papers, grading, planning, and organizing, I had lost and forgotten what the “center” of teaching is. The center is the student. Khan Academy helped me and challenged me to get to the “center” again.