Out of the Mouths of Babes

Out of the Mouths of Babes

It’s a simplistic epiphany, but it really is amazing what happens when you ask open-ended questions and then listen carefully.  On Wednesday, Leonard and I randomly chose and interviewed five EA students (*see video).  We made sure to emphasize that we wanted candid feedback; that their constructive criticism would help drive and improve this project.  What amazed us both was that each student hit upon a different benefit of this blended learning approach. As feedback is our collective goal, Ruth, the teacher, also asked the students to give written feedback about what they thought of Khan thus far.

What did we learn?

One mentioned that the interactive feedback made the learning experience a “reflective workspace”- one in which he could learn from his own mistakes.  Another emphasized that the delivery of instruction and the practice exercises spoke to her visual learning style.  Many applauded the gift of time- that they could determine the pace necessary to experiment and practice.  A couple mentioned that they liked the choice aspect.
They were in control of which lessons they wanted to learn or reinforce.  One even liked the fact that there was a game aspect to the practice.  Another student found that the use of laptops was a motivating factor, while still another found that the number of distractions in the classroom was less.   All of their points emphasize how the traditional instructional approach has failed these students in the past; they’re hungry for something different.

With the good though, comes the the what-can-be-improved…

During Day Three we had some technical difficulties with the Khan site itself.  The students seemed less bothered by the glitches than us, adults.

Lesson 1: Have backup plans!  We are going to review other interactive math sites should we have difficulties with Khan again.  Better to be prepared.

Several students had opened other tabs and were listening to music on YouTube.

Lesson 2: If you can’t beat them, join them!  We debated whether or not listening to music might be distracting.  We decided to invite the students to use a site like Pandora, on which they can listen to streaming music but not be distracted by videos.

Ruth, the teacher, broke up the Khan time into two blocks, interspersing some directed instruction on integers (including a catchy song as a mnemonic device).

She then suggested some lessons on Khan for the students to try.

Lesson 3: The students, eager for success on Day Three, focused on pretty basic math skills.  Although this sense of accomplishment is important, we need to find a way to lead students to more challenging Khan lessons.  We’re toying with some sort of classroom incentive chart/recognition system.

We are going to have to start laundry listing all of the suggestions, comments, and questions concerning our approach.  Here are some so far:

  • Some students are easily discouraged when a mistake erases th
    eir streak.  One student shut her Chromebook when she made a typo resulting in an error.  Might there be a “free pass” or two that students can use during a Khan session to keep them from becoming frustrated?
  • One student theorizied that although he could watch a whole video again on a math skill/strategy, the video doesn’t necessarily show him where he went wrong in his problem solving strategies.  Might there be a way to give students feedback on individual practice problems?
  • In the blended learning approach, might there be a way to direct students to certain lessons and exercises before sending them off on their own authentic, individualized paths?
  • When technical glitches occur, how can the teacher keep the class motivation up?

Written by Darri Stephens

Collaborator at EdSurge
& Envision Academy

One comment

  1. Corey from Reno, NV

    Couple of thoughts…

    Regarding bullet point #2: Have you or your students made use of hint button? It should walk the student through the problem step by step. The downside is that it erases their streak.

    Regarding bullet point #1: There isn’t a “free pass” scheme on the Khan site and in my opinion this is a good thing. My thinking is this: If you made a mistake you made it for a reason. Maybe you hit a typo or maybe your logic or execution was wrong. But life isn’t wonderful all the time. Your going to mess up and make mistakes multiple times during the course of your academic career and the sooner you start addressing it the better. College proffesers aren’t going to allow you a do-over if you forgot to carry the 1 on your final exam.

    I think you should emphasize the importance of learning from your mistakes. Its tough to swallow getting 9 problems correct in a row only to forget a decimal and having to start all over again. But the point isn’t to get 10/10 problems correct; its to master the fundamentals of math. If the student need to vent a little frustration then let them. But don’t let them give up on it.

    Regarding the technical difficulties: These things happen and it stinks when they do. But as soon as you find a decent alternative to Khan Academy please let me know. All the competing services I’ve experienced are less than 3rd rate to Khan.

    My one piece of advice would be to do your best to get in contact with Sal himself. I’m sure he’d be humbled at the experiment you’re conducting and would be glad to help. Although that’s just speculation on my part.

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