Idaho State Journal - Math pays off for Grace students

Original story by:
Michael H. O’Donnell, Idaho State Journal

Friday, May 23, 2014

You can view the original article here.


POCATELLO — Stretch limos and a lunch at Pizza Pie Cafe added up to a good time for 10 math whizzes at Grace Lutheran School Wednesday. The students finished tops in a pilot program that used Khan Academy lessons to boost student scores.

“We’re excited. It’s been a fun day,” said seventh-and-eighth-grade math teacher, Katie Grant.

Grant and fellow math teachers, Diane Williams and Kristine Casselman, also joined the stretch limo ride courtesy of Colonial Funeral Home and Wilkes Funeral Home. The excited students piled into the limousines in front the school about noon Tuesday and were taken on a tour through Pocatello.

Students who made the limo trip for a pizza lunch were sixth-graders Dylan Kearl, Sean Devine, Joel Besel, William Yik and Zachary Traul; seventh-graders, Maddie Phinney, Lillee Casselman, Jace Horrocks and Emily Tibble; and eighth- grader Hannah Kemp.

It was their payoff for completing all 30 “playlists” of Khan lessons during the year.

“One student said, ‘This is totally worth all the time we put into it,” Williams said.

Khan Academy is a nonprofit website developed by a former hedge fund analyst Salman Khan back in 2006. Initially focused on mathematics, Khan developed videos of mini-lessons from a small office in his home. Khan Academy has now produced more than 4,800 video lessons on a variety of topics and the website is offered free to anyone in the world.

To take advantage of Khan lessons, Williams, Grant and Casselman wrote a grant application for $50,000 from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation last year and it was approved. The money was used to purchase 70 Chrome Books with charger carts and allowed the teachers to provide students with incentives for meeting goals.

Students in their classes were given one hour each week to participate in Khan video lessons. Their performance was monitored and data was shared in a project administered by Northwest Nazarene University.

Idaho was the first state to become a pilot project for the math lessons using Khan Academy materials and Grace Lutheran was selected as an outstanding participant. Grant and Williams will be attending an all-day awards and work session for the program in Boise today.

“I think we have a really dynamic program here,” Williams said. “I’m thankful to the Albertson Foundation.”

Williams said math teachers at Grace examined their math curriculum carefully each week and decided which of the Khan playlists would fit best into that week’s lessons and math concepts.

“It was all data driven,” Williams said.

This allowed teachers to evaluate weaknesses in individual students and help address those shortcomings quickly. It also allowed them to set up mini-lessons tailored to different groups of students within their classrooms.

“Sometimes I threw in something completely new and allowed students to figure it out with the help of Khan,” Casselman said.

The results were clear. Students loved the math exercises.

“It’s been far more successful than I though it would be,” Williams said.

One of the keys to success was securing parental buy-in, according to the teachers. To accomplish that they held several days of orientation for parents at the beginning of the school year.

The result was enthusiasm and support.

“One father has said it is the most fabulous thing he’d ever seen his son do,” Williams said.

And another male student who “hated math” spent time on weekends at the Marshall Public Library so he could get Internet access unavailable at home to work on Khan lessons.

That same youngster was smiling as he waved out the window of a limo Wednesday afternoon.

Math had paid off.

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