Observations from Khan Academy coaches and classrooms

Posts tagged classroom

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Thanksgiving: Giving thanks in the classroom

Post from Suney Park, Teacher in Residence at Khan Academy and 6th Grade Teacher at Eastside College Prep, CA

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share how I like to give my students regular opportunities to publicly thank classmates who have helped them. This has two great effects: the person thanking acknowledges that they need others, and the person being thanked feels significant and valuable to the classroom community.

How do I do it? Two simple initiatives:

1. At the end of every math session I dedicate about five minutes to Thank Yous, and students rush to put their hands up to give props to their helpful classmates.

2. Once a month my students are randomly paired with one another for a weekend letter-writing homework assignment. In the letters, they thank, appreciate, and compliment one another; sometimes the letters include creative touches such as drawings, stickers, and little snacks!

Once I started doing this, giving thanks and verbally expressing appreciation became a regular part of my classroom culture. Now, my students feel safe enough to ask for help and confident enough to offer it. I was only able to implement my Khan Academy “Need Help/Can Help” board during math class because of this foundation of classroom culture.

Plus, it warms a teacher’s heart to hear students thank and encourage each other so effortlessly and sincerely. Just last week I heard a student say, “I want to thank Nayely for helping me because without her I would still be stuck on finding the least common multiple the long way instead of using prime factorization.”

Filed under suney teacher thanks thanksgiving thank you culture classroom khan academy

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The Value of Failure

Article by Derek Oldfield, a math teacher at Blennerhassett Middle School in West Virginia. Check out his blog at  

Let your child fail.  That was my initial reaction to a recent message that showed up in my inbox.  We live in a “little league” age of celebrating success.  In t-ball, every player gets to bat.  In little league, every player gets a trophy.  I don’t disagree with instructional league rules by any means.  However, at what age does failure begin to have value? I was sitting in a department meeting recently when a district-level administrator asked me if I had analyzed test scores of last year’s students to determine if Khan Academy actually had any effect on those students’ test scores.  I replied honestly, and said that I had only checked on a handful of students’ scores.  But as I continued to ponder her request, I lost my appetite for looking up any more test results.  I realize that no matter what those test results may show, they don’t reveal one of the most important skills being taught in my class.  They might reveal which students learned how to apply the Pythagorean Theorem in a real-life situation, but what is not tested is perhaps the most important.  Tests of that sort do nothing to promote the value of failure. Upon reading that recent message from my inbox, I wanted to shout out “let your child fail.”  The shouting was not due to frustration, rather to be sure that my voice was heard by many.  And when I say fail, I mean fall.  Let them fall.  How can we learn to get back up if we never fall?  Or if someone else always picks us up.  Too often today, students are given every possible opportunity NOT to fail.  But why?  Why are we afraid of failure?  Putting students in frustrating and uncomfortable situations is a tricky part of my job.  I have to find that zone where students are frustrated enough to seek out a solution THEMSELVES.  I hear this a lot, “Well I’ll just get my mom to help me.”  There’s nothing wrong with phoning a friend or a mom.  My message to parents, though, is to let your child fail.  Sometimes teachers put students in a certain situation so they will fail.  Because until they fail, they’ll never seek out that solution themselves.  Tests don’t measure whether a student has developed the fortitude to seek out a solution himself, or whether they’ve developed persistence in problem solving.  Even if a student doesn’t arrive at the correct solution, the journey or the number of attempts is often what is more important.  I always try to make sure that I’ve directed my students to places and opportunities where they can develop, create, or find a solution.  But I try to stop there.  Too often are students lead, directed, and told which solution is correct.  We call it “spoon-feeding”.  And students know all about this.  They know all about it, because it hits them like a brick wall the first time a teacher or parent shrugs their shoulders and refuses to help them at the first sign of adversity.  I want my daughter to be a successful, hard-working citizen.  I know that won’t come without learning to fail, get back up, and seek out a solution.
The picture below is a graph of a student’s last 35 problems on adding/subtracting negative numbers.  You’ll find the number of problems completed at the bottom the bars.  The red bars indicate a wrong answer was inputted first, but eventually the student arrived at the correct answer.  You’ll also see that the student’s longest streak correct was 11.  This particular student has been struggling adding and subtracting negative numbers for quite a while, but has just recently shown some progress.  We’ve exhausted ourselves on learning strategies.  We’ve talked about spending money, owing money, number lines, football plays, temperature, etc.  The student has struggled to find a solution that works consistently enough to stick.  However, it appears the student is finally getting it.  This particular student has learned a lot about persistence in problem solving.  The student has sought out the answer him/herself and used multiple resources along the way.  Consider what this student learned throughout this journey, in addition to learning how to correctly add and subtract negative numbers.  All because she was allowed to fail.


Filed under Derek oldfield failure math khan academy classroom resourceful

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Khan Academy: TEACH Documentary

See Khan Academy Idaho teacher, Shelby Harris, in TEACH Documentary CBS Tomorrow 9/6 at 8pm ET/PT 

Khan Academy will respond to questions LIVE during the show at:


One of our dedicated pilot teachers, Shelby Harris, will be sharing her journey of implementing Khan Academy in her classroom with the rest of the nation in a documentary airing this Friday.  This documentary is the latest project of Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman), and follows the experiences of four exceptional public school teachers throughout a school year.  The 2 hour special is called TEACH, and it will air on CBS at 8pm ET/PT.

Shelby Harris is a 7th grade teacher in Idaho who started using Khan Academy with her students this past February.  Like many classrooms in America, Shelby’s students spanned the spectrum when it came to understanding math.  While some students were comfortable with linear equations, others were still struggling with basic multiplication.

Shelby learned how to use Khan Academy as a powerful tool to differentiate, and her classroom went through a palpable transformation in just 3 months.  Students who used to fear math gained enough confidence to start peer tutoring others.  Students who usually avoided math like the plague were suddenly in deep zones of concentration.  Shelby also went through a transformation of her own—she became comfortable with a new way of teaching that required using data to coach students and small groups on their personal goals.

But this didn’t happen overnight.  It took time for Shelby to become comfortable with a classroom that didn’t start with a lecture every day.  And as with learning any new tool, Shelby had to go through some frustrating moments.  Shelby and many other teachers around the world have had to experience this learning curve, but in the end, they report that the grit pays off.

Shelby has already started a new school year in which Khan Academy is an integral component of her classroom.  Her class is one of many that will be using Khan Academy in Idaho.  Thanks to the efforts of the J.A. & Kathryn Albertson Foundation, over 200 teachers in Idaho will be receiving technology and support to use Khan Academy with their students.  

The teachers who use Khan Academy in their classrooms are a constant inspiration for us.  We encourage you to watch Shelby’s journey on TEACH this Friday, and stay tuned for a firsthand account of her experience.

Additional resources:

See Shelby’s classroom 

For more information about TEACH, click here:

For more information about the Khan Academy in Idaho project, click

For more resources about using Khan Academy in the classroom, click

Filed under TEACH documentary classroom shelby khan academy davis guggenheim waiting for superman an inconvenient truth idaho