Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The One Where I Truly Differentiate Math Instruction

Updated on 3/11/2014 - Check notes at the bottom

Have you seen the newly revamped Khan Academy website? Most of us know of The Khan Academy as "That place with all those Math Videos". While it still has those easily accessible - the site has completely re-imagined the way in which math can be taught.

When you go to www.khanacademy.org you sign up and then add your students (or own children). Each student then logs in and takes an 8 question math test. Some of the questions are very difficult and some are relatively easy. If one is too hard for them, they click a button that reads "I haven't learned this yet." and then it asks them an easier question.

Once the test is finished, it "levels" the student at where they are in general math knowledge. From that point, students work at their own pace through thousands of lessons. In each lesson, it will ask them a series of questions about a certain topic. If they are confused about the topic, they have the option of watching a Khan video during the lesson to help them with the concept. The site has a depth and breadth unlike any Math site I've seen. As I told my own sons when I signed them up "It is a marathon, not a sprint".

One of the reasons I like the site is that it "scores" the students equally. Meaning my lowest students that are taking Khan lessons on concepts like 2 digit addition are scored the same as my gifted students that are studying concepts like dividing with decimals and scientific notation. Each student can earn the same amount of points for correctly answering questions. About a week in, I discovered a way to sort the students by number of points they have earned (they earn skills points each time they get a question correct). When I sorted the list, the top 5 names were of the five best math students in my class. No surprise there. However, the 6th name was of my student who struggles the most in Math! When I read the list of the top 6 names aloud - #6 almost jumped out of his seat. I'm pretty sure his name has rarely ever been associated with the top math students in his class - but today it was! The excitement all over his face was truly priceless!!!

Another reason I like the site is that it works on multiple platforms, not just on a PC-based web browser. It works 100% on the iPads, iPods, Laptops, etc. Having 1:1 iPads in my class helps with this because each student has complete access to Leveled Math Content whenever they need it. There is NO downtime in my classroom!

I also enjoy the site because of the amount of data it gives me on each student. For any given student in my class, I can see:

  • Skills they have mastered
  • Skills they are struggling with
  • How much time they have spent on the site during school hours
  • How much time they have spent on the site at home
  • Each individual question they answered in each lesson
  • How many seconds they spent on each question
  • How many attempts they gave on each question
  • If they used any built in hints for the lesson
  • If they watched the Khan Video to help them in the lesson
  • and SO MUCH MORE!

I also use Khan at home as a parent of two school-aged boys. When they want to play their video games, I ask them to do 5 lessons on Khan first. We have repurposed our laptop (which has been rarely used in the last couple of years) and have it set up at a table in the dining room with Khan Academy ready to go!

Finally - I have seen my student use Khan for the last few weeks and it is amazing to watch how it differentiates for EACH student in the class. It is truly amazing and - if I haven't mentioned before - it is completely FREE! I would be glad to help anyone get started with their class or own children.
Updated 3/11/2014

Does Khan work? I think so, I had (nearly) all of my students improve significantly on their Winter MAP Math test. The two student I have had using Khan the longest (and had already had extremely high scores in the fall) earned scores of 251 and 258! Not bad for 4th graders.

If Khan isn't working or if you want a change of pace, try the App Front Row Ed Math or IXL Math.


  1. Agree with Garrett! The revamp Khan site is AMAZING! I connected all my students to it two weeks ago! So cool to see how they progress without even have me to direct them!!!

  2. Garrett, I also love to use the Kahn Academy site in my own classroom. It really helps my math students understand exactly where their at and let them know where they need to go next.

  3. While I don't use the site regularly in my ELL classroom, I do still use it, and recommend it to students who want to get ahead in math (especially for ACT/SAT practice & to prepare for future math classes). Personally, I am addicted to it. If I turn it on at home, I can get sucked in for hours. It's one of the best educational websites I know.

  4. Have you seen the TED talk from Khan himself? Really interesting story about how it got started and how it works for those who are unfamiliar. http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education
    Also, I LOVE how you have it set up both in the classroom and especially at home! Can you imagine if all of our parents did that for their kids? What a utopian dream that is!

  5. I've just recently learned more about the Khan Academy after watching this video from youtube:http://www.ted.com/talks/salman_khan_let_s_use_video_to_reinvent_education. It's a great explanation of how it all came to be and its growth since its impetus.
    Also, I LOVE how you've utilized the website not only at school with your students, but also with your own kiddos at home. What a wonderful world it could be if all parents did the same sort of thing at home. It'd be a math utopia!

  6. I've visited the Khan academy website but have not set up an account with my class. I was curious on how to set this up for second graders that do not have an e-mail account. The differentiation for math instruction would be great!

  7. Angela - I would talk with Monica Evon or maybe Michelle Klamm to see if they set it up in theri 2nd/3rd grade classrooms and how they did it. It technically is geared more for 4th-up, but I've know 2nd and 3rd grade teachers that have used it. Another one you might try is Front Row Ed. It is similar, yet different - doesn't require eMail accounts for students. Teachers track progress easily and get TONS of data. Aligns with Common Core standards which, even though we don't use them in NE, is not necessarily a bad thing. We've been using Front Row Ed more lately as a change of pace from Khan. There is also one called IXL or IXM that I was shown at the last iPad Academy training that is geared more for K-6.

    I hope this helps!

    1. Hi Garrett and Angie,
      I set up the accounts for Michelle's students. Since they did not have their own gmails at the time, we set them up with the parent e-mail addresses. It was easy to do and I would be happy to show you Angie!

  8. I agree that Khan Academy is amazing. I have tried it out briefly with my own children. I know your test scores have sky rocketed! I am sure this site along with your instruction your students only have room to keep growing!

  9. I've have recently been exploring the new-and-improved Khan Academy website myself. While I loved the old site, I am so impressed with all of the new "tools and gadgets" this new site has to offer. I have just plugged my students into the system, and am excited to get them going on this. Thanks for the info!

  10. I love the new Khan Academy. It is a great way for students with deficits to work through the areas that they need extra help on. It is also a great way to easily progress monitor students that you are working with. thanks for all the information!

  11. Great post! I am using Khan as well and love it! We have set a class goal and my students earn Husker bucks for every 5,000 pts they earn. I then draw names and they earn lunch in the classroom. It is challenging for students that need to be pushed and it provides extra help/support to those that need it. I love that it tracks data, provides hints/helpful videos, and that I can assign tasks for my students based on what they are struggling with or I can assign a concept that we are currently working on for some extra practice. Thanks for posting so much valuable information and your experience with Khan so far!

  12. Thank-you very much for sharing this post. After I read it, I started using it with my students in resource and in a modified math class that I teach. The first day that I started my math class on the site was amazing! I had left the page displaying points projecting on my board. My most difficult to motivate student (a senior who hasn't been successful in math) was suddenly so excited to earn points by the "easy" math problems. At this point, I hadn't even offered a positive extrinsic reward for points. He was simply motivated by watching his point total rise! It was awesome! I plan to keep using Khan Academy to supplement my math instruction. Thanks again!