The New Math Teacher

19 thoughts on “The New Math Teacher

  1. Main problem with using youtube resources to teach kids: those usually hinge on engagement to teach people, and no matter how humorous or amazing they are, the kids won’t be engaged with something they didn’t choose to watch.

    So I guess khanacademy is going to have to stay out of classrooms.
    Unless you have the best class I’ve ever seen, in which case you don’t need videos to get them engaged.

    1. Khan’s lectures could induce narcolepsy in a caffeine-freak. He has one of the dullest voices and deliveries I’ve ever heard. If the content were actually worthwhile, that would be unfortunate, but could easily be remedied by simply hiring a better presenter to redo the same content. But as the content itself is ill-considered, random, and often inaccurate, the whole project is in serious need of a makeover.

      Then, the only problem would be that it’s simply non-interactive, non-participatory direct instruction using high-tech to deliver the same instruction pedestrian mathematics teachers have been spewing for well over a century with predictably mediocre results for most kids.

      What a breakthrough from “the best teacher” Bill Gates has ever seen, eh? Can you say “Incredible hype from a naked emperor?”

      1. Honestly, I think Khan deserves the merit: It isn’t necessarily that his lectures are particularly good or he has a good voice: it’s that they’re there.
        I’ve learned quite a good deal from his lectures. Why? Because there are so many of them.
        I mean, sure, sometimes you can find a good guide on limits and derivatives, or you can just learn it on school; but for someone like me who is in ninth grade stuck learning things such as quadratic equations, which I learned in ten minutes and then spent another ten getting to the quadratic equation using algebra (not very satisfied with “plug number here, outcome goes here”), spending three months learning how to plug numbers into a calculator isn’t very appealing. I wanted to dig deeper: I always wanted to know more about derivatives and such, but could find no resources. I have a friend who sometimes discussed buzzwords with me like integrals and derivatives, but when I asked him to teach me and showed him what I knew I realized he didn’t actually know much. When I presented him facts he shrugged saying it was the easiest thing ever (“To do a derivative just decrease the degree by one”) but when it came to me asking him to do it himself he refused to saying “I don’t have time for this: I’m gonna be a doctor anyway”.
        That’s when it struck me: If you want to learn outside of school, more often than not, people are not reliable sources.

        So I went to the internet. And I found a video by khanacademy on how to do derivatives.
        Ten minutes. What would have taken me months of school, not counting the preceding precalc and trig, took me ten minutes to learn from a youtube video.

        And that’s the beauty of it: his lectures may not be the most appealing, but he skips the setups and manages to do most things building on knowledge the user already knows. If the user doesn’t know it, they can always go back and watch the other videos on it.

        So I think he does deserve credit, simply for being the first man to walk on the metaphorical moon. So what if he isn’t, say, being the first man to dance in the moon? He’s the first man to walk on it. And that deserves merit.

        (Well this turned out longer than expected. Sorry for the rant!)

        1. But he’s not the first. He’s simply the most-hyped. And he lacks the intellectual modesty or honesty to admit how weak his product is. If someone like Bill Gates publicly called me ‘the best teacher I’ve ever seen,” I would tell him and the public how limited a set of teachers that must be based on and give the names of dozens of superior math teachers. And that would be off the top of my head. Sal is a huckster, sorry to say. I wish he weren’t. He deserves no credit as long as he won’t tell the truth.

        2. Point taken.
          I agree that he isn’t the best teacher out there, but he does have a big collection of things he teaches about. Sure, he may be a bit over-hyped, but you do have to give him credit for the variety.

      2. I’m going to have to disagree with you here–perhaps it’s been a while since you’ve seen a khanacademy video or been on their website, because they have changed a lot. Or maybe it’s just because I’m one of those people who’s motivated enough to choose to watch these videos and I genuinely find math interesting (something I’m sure is common among readers of this blog), but I don’t think his videos are especially dull. He always tries to emphasize important points and certainly doesn’t speak in anything resembling a monotone. One example in particular that’s brought to mind is his video demonstrating one proof that e to the pi*i equals negative one: he gets quite animated as he nears the conclusion.

        I would also like to know what makes you describe the content as “ill-considered, random, and often inaccurate”. I have never seen any content that is inconsistent with my own textbooks, and there is a reporting system for any errors. They do seem to take these errors seriously and re-do videos that are shown to have large errors, and they note smaller errors in the videos with annotations. But if you can show me that factual errors are a large problem in Khan Academy, I will certainly take that into consideration.

        It also doesn’t seem at all random to me. Each section builds logically from one video to the next as well, and I can’t see where you get the impression that his content is “random” in any way. At the very least, it is no more random than a traditional class one would take in school.

        I’ll even take issue with you describing it as non-interactive. It certainly can be, and I would even assume the majority of watchers do little to interact with it–but they are improving this as well. He often encourages the viewer to pause the video and try to figure things out for themself, and when he doesn’t prompt the viewer, it is always possible to do so. And Khan Academy’s entire website is now built around interactive quizzes and tools to aid understanding. It’s still far from the most optimal solution, but it’s equally far from the dismal state you describe.


          Note that Christopher closed the comments on his blog post. Why? Because any criticism of Sal Khan seems to almost instantly attract a bevy of “support” posts that explain why the critic is just way off base, how fine the latest Khan material is, what a swell teacher he is, how the critics are afraid or jealous, asking why the critics don’t produce their own videos if they think they can do better, ad nauseam.

          Things haven’t gone that far here thus far, and I hope they don’t. But I believe the video Christopher and I critiqued two summers ago is representative of how weak Sal Khan is as a pedagogue, how much he needs to learn and hasn’t because he’s not a classroom teacher and hasn’t had to deal with immediate feedback from real human beings. Picking examples at random, in no logical order of difficulty, bespeaks a very ignorant and/or very lazy “professional.” But that’s unsurprising. Sal is a hedge-fund manager with a finance background who “fell into” teaching, such as it is, by accident. You don’t become an effective mathematics teacher that way, though of course you might occasionally luck into a half-way passable video presentation of something.

          People point me to Sal’s work frequently. I’ve yet to see one that didn’t make me want to scream. His voice has no passion, in my experience, and in fact a frequent theme of his is how simple and easy everything is, with a tone that pretty well conveys boredom. Now, of course, when Sal is yakking at conferences with other finance and ed deformer types, he gets more excited, generally because he’s talking about things he knows well and cares deeply about: Sal Khan, Khan Academy, the Khan Academy’s “mission,” etc.

          I know, I know. This is just grossly unfair of me. But I am close to retirement and have nothing to gain financially or professionally from speaking my mind about Sal Khan and his academy. What motivates me is my belief that he’s a naked emperor being puffed up by educationally-ignorant billionaires like Bill Gates and people who, on the whole, don’t understand what mathematics or mathematics education are about. As I’ve suggested often in the past, Khan and his Academy represent the McDonald’s of math. And I very much want to see fast food consumption minimized, be it in people’s actual or their intellectual diets. For a quick review of how to do synthetic division, I suppose Sal’s not dramatically worse than a lot of other things out there. For the slightest understanding of what mathematics is about, try Numberphile, The Singing Banana, G’Day Math (James Tanton), The Art of Problem Solving (Paul Zeitz), and other free video sources done by actual mathematicians. If you don’t think James Grime is 1000 times more fun to listen to than Sal Khan at his most animated, then we’ll just need to agree to disagree.

        2. Thank you, I actually hadn’t seen these criticisms of Khan Academy before, and I will certainly keep them in mind. I have mostly used it myself to brush up on skills before a test or to get a preview of material before learning it in class, and I think it succeeds in these fields. In the realm of actual teaching, I see all of this criticism as perfectly valid, and I certainly agree that he does not deserve the extreme praise he has been receiving.

          Final words on the topic of recommended videos: there are some channels there that I haven’t heard of and look forward to checking out, but I already am a subscriber to Numberphile (which is fantastic). You probably realize this, but it’s really not fair to either of these channels to compare them in any way except to say they have videos about math. Khan Academy is about providing a school-like education, while Numberphile is about random mathematical tidbits. Both are great and have their place, and–this is purely personal preference now–I think the presenting style in each suits the content. I see Sal’s narration as “calm” more than “boring”, which is what I want to hear if I’m watching an hour and a half straight of videos on a topic. James-Grime-level excitement just isn’t suited, in my mind, to the same thing, and would be rather exhausting to listen to for extended periods of time. But I do see your reasoning in bringing up these videos and I am not accusing you of proposing them as a direct replacement for Khan Academy.

        3. As a rule, we don’t replace fast food with gourmet food. We simply try to improve the quality of the typical food people eat frequently. So no, the average K-8 student certainly won’t be drawn to intelligent math videos and neither, probably, will the average high school student. But when you see what’s possible and you look at the McDonald’s far Sal Khan and some of his imitators and admirers serve up or advocate for, there’s a rather enormous gap waiting to be filled. And frankly, I don’t think Sal is the one to do it, for several reasons, not the least of which is, “Why should he bother when he’s being praised disproportionately for serving fast food to the masses?”

          We get what we deserve in education because we’re so easily satisfied and so fearful of thinking.

      3. I have to agree; and the squiggly lines (and squiggly handwriting) made me nauseous. Maybe he’s updated his method since I last saw a video, but whatever drawing tool he used, I hated.

  2. I use YouTube videos in my classroom successfully. Not Khan Academy, though – my kids are a bit young. I teach elementary science and will sometimes show a video clip that demonstrates something I can’t in person (an animation of how a tsunami happens, a scallop swimming away when it’s startled, a time-lapse video of a house being built). The video can’t just stand by itself, though. It fits in with other activities and discussions, and I’ll often narrate it myself as it plays.

    Also, the suggested videos at the end are definitely a distractor! “Can we watch that one next? How about that one?!” helps by taking away some of the other suggested video stuff, though.

    1. YouTube: Best Practices for Teachers…by my friend, Adam McGarity, who made this video for LARC

      …and my notes on his video:

      1.Get rid of floating ads
      1a. Go to browser url and find the bit that reads…watch?v=
      and DELETE watch?v= and REPLACE WITH…v/
      1b. After the video id (which will look something like K6ln2-w9pE8) ADD…?version=3 and reload the video and see the difference.

      2. Write a start-time into the url
      2a. Use & to ADD to what you have already started, so the part of the url following the video id looks like…?version=3&start=750
      2b. The math: (minutesx60)+seconds=the number you use

      3. Write an end-time into the url
      3a. ADD to what you have already started…&start=750&end=821
      3b. Check out your handy work: Reload the video and look for the little start and end markers on the time bar

      ***this next one’s for you Elizabeth!!***

      4. Get rid of the videos that pop up at the end of a clip
      4a. The magical bit of url: &rel=0

      5. Make the video auto-play when you use the url
      5a. ADD…&rel=0&autoplay=1

  3. There are many videos on You Tube of which parents and teachers need to take caution. However, there are also many worthwhile educational sites fro teachers and students: Have Fun Teaching, TED Ed, KidsTV123, Numberphile, Room24Superstars, to name just a few.

    1. I’m hoping that all my comments sections will eventually become nothing more than group recitations of lyrics from Frozen.

  4. @Ben
    May I have your permission to use the Teletubbies drawings in my grad course, Technology in the Elementary Math Class. I’ll credit and include the link. And try not to say a anything stupid. TIA

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