Khan Academy and SBG

@CmonMattTHINK put forth a comment on twitter a couple of mornings ago:

Salman Khan TED-talks about classroom inversion: Very exciting, yes. But I must be the cranky old man and say..
SO much of this (and SBG) is about skill-mastery. If we let our students believe that math = skill-mastery, we’re doing them a disservice.

I think its an interesting point. And I agree that the Khan Academy is absolutely focused on skill-mastery.

Khan Academy

The Khan Academy videos take any and all “color” out of a subject. I think that is what Matt is getting at with his quote about doing math students a disservice. Take out anything interesting about presenting a subject… and you’ve got the Khan video. Relying on Khan videos for teaching math is relying on saltines and water for your survival. Sure it may work, but who would CHOOSE that path? Rarely are there discussions in Khan videos for the WHY of a subject. Even less so the HOW a subject is used in the real world is totally missing. Replacing a classroom with Khan videos would be a travesty, and I’m not sure that Bill Gates and Sal Khan see this.

That said, I haven’t yet written off Khan videos as a supplement to the classroom for students who get lost in the minutiae of math procedures. Its possible that they’ll dovetail with the classroom, for some students, some of the time.

Standards Based Grades

Almost as a throwaway, Matt throws SBG in with Khan videos as a math = skill-mastery problem. I’m really glad he did, because it made a bunch of things with SBG much more clear to me. For instance:

Stuff SBG is (to me):

  • A more accurate representation of where students’ knowledge is, and where it isn’t. After trying SBG out full time this year, I have a much better idea about specifically what they are having trouble with and what they have down cold. This is my viewpoint as a teacher. I am responsible for getting all of my students to “know geometry”. It is important for me to see the class as a whole, to see what topics need more time, and to see what topics can go quicker.
  • Responsibility for the learning is more clearly on the student. They now know where they stand in geometry much clearer than the did in the past. Before they knew if they were failing, passing, or doing very well. Now each student knows what topics they struggle on, and what topics they kick ass at. If this was it, SBG would be worth it. But the students buy cialis Taiwan also have the ability to “re-learn” and reassess topics. They can now fill in the gaps of their knowledge with no penalty. Some students will not take this responsibility, but I’ve seen many more students strive to fill their gaps in, because they now know where their gaps are. Funny thing.

Stuff SBG is not (to me):

  • A way to teach. In no way do I see SBG influencing how I teach geometry. I’m still giving the students geometer sketchpad investigations. I still give the students actual 3D objects to measure LA,SA, and V. I still utilize group work to allow students to observe and try different learning methods. And yes, I still use “old-school” notes for some topics. SBG did not change the how, it only changed the measuring stick.
  • The end all and be all of motivational techniques. No way. I still am failing to motivate all students to learn geometry. No excuses. I still have students failing to do what is necessary to pass the Regents exam. I still have students that choose not to work. I know that if there is no gas in the tank then the car can’t go, but I too haven’t helped pay the gas bill for some of my students. SBG did not greatly affect this problem.

In the end I’d like some feedback from all of you. How do you view the Khan academy or SBG? Also, much thanks to Matt who pushed me to think about this stuff in more depth.

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14 Responses to Khan Academy and SBG

  1. Michal says:

    I’m really glad you took a moment to differentiate between what SBG is and isn’t. As we focus more and more on SBG as a way of giving detailed and effective feedback, it’s really easy to get lost in the specifics of each skill, and how best to assess each skill, and forget about the broader overarching needs, like higher order thinking skills, and possibilities, like interdisciplinary connections.
    I think SBG can be used to inspire, motivate, and keep me, as a teacher, focused. On the other hand, it can, with less effort, support the saltine and water approach to teaching (to use your metaphor). SBG by itself does not a good teacher make.
    I think one thing to be mindful of is the scale we determine for each standard. If mastery of the of metaphor, for example, simply means being able to make a reasonable metaphor like “a sickly green shag carpeted our lawn,” then we are telling students that skills must only be learned in isolation. On the other hand, if mastery is not attained until the student can place that metaphor within the context of a story, or weave, say, a saltine and water metaphor throughout a paper on assessment and education, then we are placing a value, into the structure of our class, on higher order thinking and the making of connections between skills and topics.

  2. CalcDave says:

    Khan, as with most tech support for the classroom, seems like it adds a lot of flash and pizzazz, but is not a replacement. Again, like the smartboards or surveys you can take by texting in with your phone, it’s cute and can be a hook for some students, but gets old pretty quickly and doesn’t actually enhance the learning or make an average teacher much better.

    Both teachers and students cite personal interaction with one another as one of the most rewarding parts of school. Some of these tech supports (powerpoint and prezi included) seem to take some of that personal interaction out of the classroom and can serve to alienate and cause students to be more disconnected than ever.

    Many students will respond to the Khan academy and do well with it, but many will not. It seems a great supplement to what we’re already doing.

    Re: SBG I agree with all that was said there. Personally, I’m using my SBG assessment style to inform my instruction more than I used to with traditional testing (because it’s easier to see where improvements need to be made even for myself). But, as a whole, it’s not all that instructive in and of itself.

  3. Matt E says:

    Thanks, Dan. This is precisely the kind of thoughtful response I hoped for in tweeting that stuff!

  4. Matt E says:

    In thinking about it some more, I’m realizing that my central question is still kind of dangling out there (and now I have more than 140 characters to pose it): Does SBG allow (math) teachers to assess anything other than skill-mastery? While I do care whether they can hammer a nail into a piece of wood, I care more that, when asked to drive a nail into a piece of wood, they reach for a hammer, and not, say, a screwdriver. Is “Uses the appropriate tool for the job” just another standard?

  5. CalcDave says:

    Matt, in my class it is. For example, my last AP Calc AB quiz was called “Integral Zoo.” On it were sections for “memorized integrals,” “solving integrals using area,” “Substitution Method,” “Integration by Parts,” and “Choose your method.” The first few sections asked the students to perform the skill indicated to compute the integral (or describe the process or some of the deeper type questions). The last section just had a bunch of integrals and they had to decide which method worked best and then compute it.

  6. hillby says:

    You tweeted that you wanted disagreement. I’ll give you disagreement!

    You sir, you go too far! Kahn does not take the context out of math. It just doesn’t use that context. Isn’t that better than cramming some BS psuedocontext on problems that rely on gross oversimplification and blatantly ignoring reality for some watered-down math?

    Can you really say that your tangential lessons teach students, but you’re wasting their time! Kahn teaches them exactly what they need to pass the test. Students need all of that time to rehearse those skills. That’s the only way EVERY student will pass. Practice practice practice practice practice!


  7. Dan says:

    @Michal you’re absolutely right about striking the right balance of the size of each standard. Standards shouldn’t be broken down too small, or the interaction of them will be lost (a painting of a single hair on Mona lisa’s head.) Nor should the standards be too large so that all detail is lost in the measurement (a painting of the town where Mona Lisa lives.) We need to find “Mama bear” size standards, not too small, not too large.

    @calcdave My radar is definitely up for the “pretty” tech too. I try and see the use and efficiency of it’s use before diving in. Khan isn’t too pretty in that fashion, but the media is making it out to be the end all and be all of 21st century education.

    @Matt I know what you’re getting at, and it is partly addressed by the size of the standards. The students need to be able to make their own decisions about how to solve problems, and not rely on the name of the standard to give it away. It has been a challenge this year to strike the right balance. I think that I’ve somewhat succeeded, but only time will tell if on the regents and in the future the student can look at a problem and know what to do. I have a pretty good feeling that my kids can do this.

    @hillby I love your use of gasoline on this fire. Burn on!!

  8. Jason Buell says:

    The real question is, “Is Khan Academy better than what we traditionally use?” and “Is SBG better than what we traditionally use?”

    For the first, I’m going to say no, except…… and the exception is that it is better than what some students get. I’m glad it exists but anyone who says it’s replacing meaningful is missing the point. And from I gather, Khan himself said he’s trying to support rather than replace.

    For the latter, I think it’s hard to argue that traditional grading is better in ANY way. Nobody is arguing that SBG is the be and end all of perfect assessment systems. Even me, a passionate advocate, would drop it in a second if something better came along. But, traditional grading simply is awful at everything. You don’t get a big picture view with it. You get a muddled pile of meaningless junk.

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  10. Nordin says:

    Thanks for the thinking about SBG! I too am wondering some days if using SBG is making me focus too much on skills at the cost of concepts. My instinct (early days with SBG for me) is that concepts need to be worked into the standards beings assessed – which will take more work to design and assess – but I think it can be done.

    Where SBG is interesting is when you see a skill/standard isn’t being achieved, a teacher has a choice to either (i) repeat more procedural information/exercises or (ii) ask what is reason for the student not mastering the skill – and the latter often leads to higher level discussion/thinking/learning with the student.

    • Dan says:


      I don’t know if it’s a failing on me, but I don’t have much of a distinction between concepts and standards in my head. They are somewhat interchangeable ideas for me.

      As for your second point, I’ve found this part of SBG really useful. If the class as a whole just isn’t getting a concept in the prescribed 3 blocks, then I can spend some more time on it, and if they’re getting the concept quicker, I’ll speed up the unit. This part of SBG has been excellent.

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