Monday, February 8, 2016

In Which I Pour Out My Love for Khan Academy Math

Math @ Mt. Hope Chronicles

Math. Honestly, it has never been my favorite subject to teach.

I started out using RightStart Math with Levi. It’s an incredible program, but incredibly teacher-intensive. It was difficult to teach Levi (my distractable non-math kid) with two younger brothers running around getting into mischief. It was even more difficult to consider teaching two boys at different levels. RightStart Math was only going to be great if I actually used it, and it started to sit on my shelf much more often than it was off the shelf in use. [I’m considering pulling it back off the shelf to teach Lola early math, however. We’ll see.]

After much math frustration with Levi and then a long break to regain sanity (around 2nd or 3rd grade), I purchased Teaching Textbooks and ended up using it for all three boys (my two younger boys were advanced in reading and math) for a few years. Honestly, it was a God-send. Math was much more enjoyable for everyone. I loved that the boys could do it independently, that it gave them instant feedback, and that it was self-grading.

Last year, Levi’s first year in the Classical Conversations Challenge program, we switched him to Saxon Math. I can see how Saxon Math is a thorough, rigorous program. But it almost killed us. Even doing only half the problems.

What I really wanted was an interactive, inspiring, engaging, self-teaching (with excellent visual/audio instruction), instant-feedback, self-grading, mastery-based, challenging, attractive, comprehensive math program. Similar to Teaching Textbooks, but better.

I had used Khan Academy occasionally in the past for a video here and there, and I loved Sal Khan’s teaching style. What I hadn’t realized is just how much they’ve added to Khan Academy recently. It is now a complete math program.

So we’ve been using Khan Academy as our main math “spine” since September and I adore it.

It is an online math (and so much more!!) program, and it’s free. Let me repeat that in case you didn’t read it correctly the first time:

It’s FREE.

It blows my mind.

Students can work online on a computer or on mobile devices with the Khan app.

Parents sign up for an account and then their students sign up for their own account under the parent.

Students choose a grade level (K-8th) or a subject (pre-algebra and up through college math). They complete a Mission Warm-Up to assess their current knowledge.

When a student logs in, they can go to their mission page (the grade level or subject they are working through).

This is what Luke’s mission page looks like:

Khan Luke

On the left it tells him what percent of the mission (grade level or subject) he has completed. It also tells him which skills he has practiced, which skills he has mastered, and which skills he has yet to complete in each topic. He can click “show all skills” to see all the little boxes, or “hide skill breakdown” to minimize it. He can click on any one of the little squares if he wants to choose his next skill to practice. When he hovers over the square, it will tell him what the skill is and give a preview.

On the right he is given suggested next tasks.

When he clicks on a skill to practice, his screen looks like this (I think this is a screen-shot of a 5th grade skill):

Khan Skill

The program is mastery-based. In the upper right-hand corner, students can see exactly how many problems they need to complete correctly and independently to successfully practice the skill. For this particular skill, they must get the first two correct or five in a row if they miss one.

If they need instruction, each problem gives them a direct link to the video with instruction for that particular skill. The video pops up on their screen. They can watch it and then return directly to the practice. If they need help working through the problem, they can click on “show me how.” Each time they click the button, they are shown one step of the problem. (This screen shot shows one hint.) They can watch every problem worked through and explained step by step! If they ask for a hint, that problem does not count as correct. Students then work through the problems until they can get the designated number in a row correct.

Students can use a scratchpad on the screen when needed (with a mouse on the computer or finger with the app), but my boys usually use scratch paper and a pencil. A calculator function pops up on the screen when they are allowed to use it for the skill.

After a student has successfully practiced a skill, they are given a mastery challenge after a specified amount of time has passed (often 16 hours). Previous skills are randomly tested in mastery challenges to determined whether the skill or concept is still mastered. If not, it gets bumped back down to “practiced” status rather than “mastered” status.

The levels are connected and build on each other. Some skills are covered in multiple levels. If a student masters a skill in 4th grade that is also covered in the 5th grade level, it will already show as mastered when they move up a level so they do not have to repeat concepts (unless they show up briefly in mastery challenges).

Students work at their own pace. They work on skills and concepts until they are mastered. They level up as soon as they are ready.

I’m not even touching the surface of the program. Students earn “badges” and avatars. They can see graphs of their activity. You can add “coaches” to their account so other adults can encourage or challenge them.

One of the best aspects of the program is the parent page. Parents have access to detailed, customizable reports for each of their students.

I can see with an easy glance at his activity summary, for any specified period of time (including daily), just how much time my child has actually spent working on Khan, what videos he watched, what skills he practiced, what skills he is struggling with, and more. Or I can click on “full progress report” (below). I can expand or minimize each category.




So here are the cons:

Students have to have internet access. (But they can log in from anywhere at any time!)

Students are not given a specified day’s lesson. I usually give my boys a set amount of time, and I can verify the time they spend and their activity from my parent account. I’ve found this helpful because the boys can work on math even if we have varied amounts of time available depending on the day.

Some kids may struggle with deciding what to do next. They are given suggestions, but they may feel it is too open-ended. Some kids may need more parental direction.

A student must be able to read and follow directions or have parental assistance. (Teaching Textbooks, on the other hand, has a narrator reading the problems aloud, so that is helpful for struggling readers.)



Khan is constantly upgrading and improving the program, as well, so look for more features in the future!

Well, there you have it. I didn’t even mention the computer programing or the science or many other subjects that Khan offers. You’ll have to check it out yourself. [grin]

I’ll end this post with one of Sal Khan’s instructional videos, just to give you a taste.


Tsh Oxenreider said...

Yes! This is all we use now, too, and we love, love, love it.

Laura at By the Bushel said...

Using today- 'we are on a mission,' but I would say watching just now, 'mission accomplished!' Yes!!

Jill Foley said...

I'm going to check this out....we use Singapore and I planned to switch to Teaching Textbooks after 6th grade (one more year). My girls also do Reflex Math every once in a while (which is not free).

Christi said...

We use Khan exclusively for both of our boys! And we love it for all the same reasons. ;-) So glad to hear others are using it, too!

Rebecca said...

Thank you! My son just started and it is a great fit for him, being very self motivated. Thanks for mentioning the app, too!

Jenni said...

Thank you so much for sharing this! We started Singapore with our oldest after a similar experience with Right Start. Singapore has been great with some Life of Fred thrown in for good measure. But we frequently come back to Khan Academy for extra help. I will have to check out the full program!

Karen @ Living Unabridged said...

What a helpful review! We use Saxon but if my husband wasn't available for tutoring the higher grades we would be sunk. (Our oldest is in Algebra 2 now. UGH is all I can say about that.) I have considered Teaching Textbooks for some of my younger kids but I think I will look into Khan first.

jeana said...

Thank you, Heidi! I started the boys on this after reading your post the other day. I had no idea they had added so much and how organized it is now! They LOVE doing their math now! I could just hug you ha!
I was planning to get teaching textbooks next year, but maybe I should just stick with this? Would they go well together or would that be too much?

Heidi said...

Yay, Jeana!! I'm glad it's working for them. I don't know that I would do both Khan and TT. I do have my boys read Life of Fred because it's such a different approach, though. Or maybe Beast Academy or something. But I don't think they'd need to do both Khan and TT as full programs.

jeana said...

Ok great! We have some Life of Fred I'll pull them out. Thank you!

Amanda said...

I'm so thankful for your research and input. We are in CC also, this is our 7th year there. :)

Wondering about grading and whether you'd come across any input on that. I'm beginning to grade things as my eldest will be a freshman next year and so it's necessary. I see how you can read a report on what they're doing, but am not sure how I'd grade things....I love that it's mastery based but this isn't always conducive to grading....

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your experience I have been considering switching from Abeka math to Teaching Textbooks. I have read TT can be behind other programs, but I thought that might make math less stressful for my daughter.

Heidi said...

Amanda~ It's mastery-based, so as long as my student is putting in the time and finishes a level, I call that an A. :) In fact, I think I'd make the percentage of the level completed their grade. So if they finish 88% of a level in a year, they would get a B. I'm mulling this over as my oldest enters high school this coming year...

Elizabeth~ I know a few people who have started a grade level lower for a child entering Khan. That way they are introduced to the program and the concepts at a comfortable level. I definitely consider it more rigorous than TT. The nice thing is that some of the material crosses over to the following level, so a child who finishes 6th grade math will already have a percentage (15 or 20%?) of 7th grade completed when they level up.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great review! Very helpful!!

Shwetablog said...


Casey said...

I've been thinking about switching to Khan from Singapore. What's holding me us is that I'm in a state that requires a portfolio of work at years end. Any ideas what could be submitted as proof of work (need 4-6 samples) while using this program?

Heidi said...

Casey~ I am not familiar with the exact portfolio requirements, but Khan Academy has extensive parent reports. I'd print off a full report for the year and use that for the portfolio. If that isn't enough, I'd have the student complete some sort of "exit exam" on paper to show that he has mastered concepts for that level.

Lara said...

Funny I started with RightStart Math and had the same experience. Then moved to Saxon and hung out there for a couple of years and just recently switched to Khan Academy and LOVE it!

Carrie David said...

Thank you! I've been using Kahn for my three for a few months. They are enjoying math sooo much more. I was concerned about using it as a stand alone program thinking it might not be rigorous enough. I was sort of assuming it was too good to be true. You are making me think it might be ok. I am planning this summer to do some "flipping the classroom" type activities and let them practice on paper what they supposedly have mastered on Kahn. I'll make a final decision after that series of tests to see if we'll go back to Saxon, pick something else for just use Kahn. My youngest (PreK) BEGS to do Kahn Academy math like her big sister and brother. I have to sit with her and help her read instructions but there is a surprising amount of stuff for her to do also.

bluedarling said...

I used Khan this past year when I was considering teaching math. I did all the levels from K-Pre-calc within a few months. I can't imagine this being sufficient to call it all of math for a year. I will definitely supplement with it, but I wouldn't make it my whole program. The main issue I see with that is the child being able to write out a problem and show his/her work. I think that's an important communication/thinking skill that is taught through math. And if they can't do that, they don't really understand the problem. (Despite mastering all Khan topics, I still wasn't fast/experienced enough to pass the teaching test.)

Heidi said...

bluedarling~ Do you have any experience with Teaching Textbooks? If so, would you say that Khan is less or more rigorous and comprehensive? That is a program that many people use as a complete curriculum, and so far I've felt (and several other people who are close to me have felt) that Khan is more in-depth than TT, but I haven't used the higher levels of either to compare specifically. I do know that the amount of time spent on Khan is going to vary greatly depending on the proficiency of the user. The program allows the student to skip the instructional videos (though parents can require it), and the skill practice is designed so that students don't have to practice a skill over and over if they show immediate proficiency. (I know my sons have often had to do many, many practice problems because they could only get 3 or 4 correct in a row instead of 5 and had to start over a few or even several times, for example.)

We'll see how much time it takes for them to complete a level and adjust or supplement accordingly. They do read many living math books (including Life of Fred). We may add practice problems if they are struggling in the higher levels). They also use paper to write out work when needed.

Thanks for your input!

Rebekah said...

Thank you for this affirmation! My 11yo is finally taking off with math due to Khan. I feel great about it! I would like to add that my younger two are doing great with Mathseeds, which is a paid online subscription. I think they will transition well to Khan. Actually, my 6yo is already doing some Khan.

Tania said...

Would you be able to us this from K on? I have a 5,3 and 2 year old and I've been very concerned about how I will be able to give them a good solid math foundation, when I hate math!! Do you supplement at all with worksheets, hands on math etc in the younger years? Thanks for your wonderful informative post!