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 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:
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):
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.