Khan Academy Math Works guest post Jeff Sandefer

Laura Sandefer

February 16, 2018

Khan Academy

Khan Academy (KA) is a website with short videos and adaptive game-based exercises in a wide variety of subjects, most notably math, where it covers from “1+1=2” to advanced Calculus.

We’ve been fans of Sal Khan from the start, personally, as philanthropic investors and professionally, and were delighted to play a small part when he launched Khan Lab School.

If you are an Acton Academy parent, you may have become accustomed to hearing a mild expletive uttered before “Khan” when an Eagle makes a sloppy mistake and sees a mastery challenge disappear.  You may have even heard “Khan doesn’t work for me.”

Well, we finally have enough data to set the record straight:

If your Eagle dedicates 25 minutes a day, every day on Khan Academy math, watches the videos and asks for encouragement when needed, KA is a powerful way to learn math, offering deeper and more comprehensive coverage than the average traditional math class.

We encourage Eagles to do math during silent core skills time, so they can earn their way to higher freedom levels.  If your Eagle is struggling, he or she may need help removing distractions, overcoming resistance or avoiding victimhood – but it is unlikely Khan Academy is the problem.

KA Math in a Nutshell

  1. The secret to KA math? 25 minutes a day, every school day.

KA does work for learning math, and it works extraordinarily well.

An MS Eagle needs to invest 25 minutes each school day, five days each week, for 36 weeks a year will finish Algebra I in middle school.

MS Khan minutes

Minutes of Work to Finish KA MS Subjects

An LP Eagle needs to invest 42 minutes each day, five days each week, to complete all required high school math in Launchpad in 2 years, setting the stage for Pre-Calculus and Calculus.

LP Khan minutes

Minutes of Work to Finish KA LP Subjects

An MS Eagle who comes from another elementary school needs an additional five minutes per day to catch up on the first half of Pre-Algebra we cover during ES.

ES Khan skills

ES-MS Skill Overlap

  1. KA math is deeper and more extensive than a traditional math class.

Mastery of math through KA provides more depth and coverage than a traditional school.  We estimate KA math is between 2-4 times more efficient and effective than the average classroom lecture.

  1. KA math works for Eagles at all levels of intrinsic math ability.

Some Eagles require 20% more time than the averages above; some 20% less.  But when an Eagle decides he or she is serious about completing math, KA works for all levels of math ability.

  1. Some Eagles soar through seven years of traditional math in as little as 18 months.

Eagles who start to love math can rocket ahead or catch up quickly.  We believe most differences in advancement rates are a matter of attitude, not aptitude.  By investing 90 minutes each day – 30 minutes at Acton Academy and an hour at home – an Eagle can finish all of middle school math in nine months.

The difference in time to completion is not a matter of talent, but largely the amount of time invested.

A Few Caveats:

  1. Learning math is hard.

An hour of intense concentration on Khan Academy burns up a lot of brain energy and is draining.  But this is exactly what deep mental work is supposed to do.  So when your Eagle complains: “Math is hard;” the best response is: “It sure is.”

  1. Eagles must watch the KA videos for a specific problem. 

An Eagle absolutely, positively must watch the videos – there is no substitute, unless he or she wants to Google to find different YouTube videos.

  1. Eagles who do KA math every day do far better than those who binge and procrastinate and binge.

One secret to doing well with KA math is to do it every day.  It is very easy on Khan to track when your Eagle is working on math, and whether he or she is truly focusing on videos and problem sets that will help, or wasting time to log minutes.

  1. A subject like Algebra Basics is not the same as a school year of math.

Do not make the mistake of assuming each KA subject area equals a year’s worth of work.  An MS Eagle from our ES should finish Pre-Algebra plus 30 skills in Algebra Basics in the first year of MS and Algebra Basics plus 40% of Algebra I in the second year of MS, to be on track.

  1. Encouragement and companionship can help.

Some Eagles like to sit next to a parent, sibling or friend and collaborate.  As long as the encouragement delivers more learning than distraction, having a coach is helpful.

  1. KA math is not Math Utopia

Everyone would like to have Euclid sit next to him or her to learn Geometry.  And it would be much better to learn all math in a hands-on, real-world way or to dive deeply into Set Theory; real-world risk management, computational math and other areas.

But this Math Utopia doesn’t exist – yet.  If a parent or a college admissions officer wants an Eagle to trudge through a traditional math sequence, KA math is a terrific way to proceed.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line? KA Math works.  If your Eagle is struggling, we hope you’ll follow our lead in the studios, and use Growth Mindset encouragement and focus on incentives and consequences designed to address Resistance; Distraction and Victimhood, until KA math becomes a deeply embedded habit.

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