The most famous teacher in the United States right now is Salman Khan, creator of Khan Academy. Khan Academy is a collection of nearly 3,000 online youtube tutorials mainly about math and science. Bill Gates watches the videos with his kids, and has made Khan a household name. Because of Khan, a new buzz-word in education is the ‘flipped’ classroom where kids are expected to watch videos the night before and then do their ‘homework’ in class, supervised by the teacher.
There are already plenty of excellent math websites out there. Though they are not videos, they have great well constructed examples. One such site is called Purple Math which is a lot like a textbook with detailed step-by-step explanations.
But Khan Academy allows students to watch, rather than read, and this is supposed to make it better. When I watched some sample videos, I was very surprised about the amount of attention they were getting. If a bank of video tutorials is supposed to revolutionize education, they should be taught by an incredible teacher. But what I found was that Khan was just an OK teacher. His examples are not well planned. His pacing is inconsistent. I’d say that at least half the math teachers in this country could do at least as good a job as Khan does. What is ironic about Bill Gates admiration of Khan is that Gates is investing so much energy right now into identifying what makes a great teacher to create better teacher evaluations. Yet the person he considers the best teacher is merely adequate.
So I decided I’d make a video sample to show how an online math video can be much better, including a bit of interactivity. I spent about two hours planning and recording this thirteen minute lesson. You can judge for yourself, but I think that it is much better than Khan’s. And I’m sure that there are many teachers out there who could do better than me.
What we need is a platform where teachers can upload their videos and the ones that are the best can be featured and those teachers can achieve some Khan-like fame. Instead Khan has a monopoly as the one man show.
The lesson that you can watch ‘dueling’ tutors is on using algebra to solve average problems. I chose this one because a principal I follow on Twitter linked to it, and wrote that this would not be an adequate lesson. His lesson has several problems. The numbers don’t work out nicely for the first example. The last example also doesn’t work out well. He skips from an easy concept to a hard one with no transition. Also, there is absolutely no interactivity. For my take on this lesson, I added questions and also put buttons that viewers are required to push when they have answered questions. Though my lesson is pretty good, there are still limitations that I sensed while recording it. When I am in front of a classroom, I gauge the energy level in the class. I look at the facial expressions of the kids and get a sense if they are with me. Also, I get to call on students to make sure they are not being too passive. None of this can be done with a recorded video. Also, this type of tutorial is very low-level and does not encourage very deep thinking, even in my attempt. To see an excellent video, far superior to what Khan or I made, check out the video by Vi Hart, which I have posted after the two tutorials. Her videos have gotten nearly ten million views and they really deserve them. Also, feel free to check out more advanced videos I’ve made about ‘fun’ math topics on my own youtube page.
I encourage you to watch the videos and see which one you’ve learned more from.
Here’s Khan Academy
Here’s Rubinstein Academy
Here’s a gem from Vi Hart