Data, Data and More Data

Data, Data and More Data

Last week, Leonard and I decided to dive into the teacher/coach’s data- overwhelming to say the least.  The graphs visually are appealing, but we decided that ideally there would be a customized way to wade through the information.  For instance, when looking at the class stats, the green boxes look plentiful- yet when delving deeper, not many correlate to those topics earmarked by the teacher.  The most “advanced” student has passed 63 topics at the proficient level (since June 28th).  Yet only 11 (@17%) were those earmarked by the teacher as being aligned to algebra standards. Could there be a way for the teacher to isolate only those topics to gain a clearer picture of where her students are?  When I first checked on “FOCUS” (how long the students had been working on Kahn), there was quite a range: from 0 minutes to 16 minutes.  Might there be a way to analyze a subgroup of students’ data as needed?  At the beginning of Week 4, I was worried that students had hit that proverbial wall.

For example, one student hadn’t earned a proficient level for any topic since the previous Tuesday (4+ days).  When I asked she admitted to being distracted and found herself procrastinating. She expressed that she wished the teacher would begin the day by having them all work on a particular topic together, all on the same Khan exercise problem.  But she also worried that not all would want to listen to the teacher; she predicted that they would say, “Shut up! Can we do it by ourselves?” She worried about the class’s discipline.

What can we do for those students who sit there stagnant?  

How might they be redirected or motivated in a new way?

When looking at the totals since Week 1, the class has spent 544 minutes on exercises and only 19 minutes in all watching videos.  As an average, that means that the kids have been working on Khan for about forty minutes/day.  Give or take some time for the “Do Nows” and the directed mini-lesson, and that still leaves about half of the time unaccounted for… what are those implications?  Would there be a similar way to quantify time on task for the traditional group though?

We decided to interview individual students; to get their take on what the motivation/lack of motivation was behind all these quantitative data.  Numbers only go so far in the learning process.  We began with one student who had worked on seven different topics in thirty minutes.  For four of those topics, he only had completed one exercise problem.  At first glance, I wondered what was making him seemingly skip around.  The previous student had admitted her frustration with the material’s difficulty, which was leading her to become distracted and to procrastinate… was he suffering from the same fate?  When we talked with him though, he had a definite strategic plan.  He discussed how he does a problem from certain exercises for review before hitting the more challenging exercises. He spoke about trying harder topics (even those not on the rubric like logarithms) because he said, “I know I am going to need them later like in college… (I need to) keep them fresh in my mind.”  At times he revisits previously worked on topics when he doesn’t “get it all the way, so (he does) some reassuring problems.”  Part of his plan is that he’s figured out exactly what he needs to do for these next two weeks in order to pass (a game plan all kids would benefit from).  He’s confident because he’s figured out that he needs to do two topics per day in order to have all the assigned modules done.  He claims, “If you know what you are doing, you have a better outlook… a better idea of what you’re doing.”

Another student talked about liking the choice aspect of the program.  Even though now they are directed a bit, she likes that she can tackle the modules in whatever order off the list.  Like many, she admitted her frustration when a streak resets; it makes her “hecka mad” when she is so “hecka close.”  She confessed that she now often checks a problem two to three times before clicking to avoid becoming so angry; any teacher will admit how difficult it is to emphasize the concept of double/triple-checking work, so an unexpected outcome of this frustration is a trend towards self-discipline.  She admitted to not liking math “at all.”  She explained how she turns to the video instead of the teacher, but does wish that there were videos that give shortcuts or quick tips versus the longer explanations.  She emphasized that she is a big fan of the badges – they are a motivating factor for her.

When I was leaving the classroom with a student, another asked if he could go next… for, he proclaimed, “I have a lot to say.”  He is the first we’ve spoken with to make a case for the traditional model claiming, “I think it is’s easier- you got the teacher in your face telling you how to do it.”  He admitted to not understanding the way Sal Khan explained certain concepts.  He found a disconnect between Khan’s and his own teacher’s teaching styles. Is there a need for alternate explanations for the same concept?  He expressed his frustration about practicing and practicing until he gets it right, but then quickly acknowledged the benefits of not being able to go anywhere until he gets it right (inherent life lesson?)  He proposed that streaks progress with correct answers and level out with incorrect ones- like online SATs or GREs, one would work on problems of a similar level of difficulty until getting it correct.  How could Khan incorporate a way to learn from one’s mistakes while achieving a sense of mastery?  He also made a compelling case for interactive-ish videos, ones that would pause, allowing students to try a particular practice problem, before continuing.  He said, “He (Khan) goes through it so fast… you might miss part of it and have to go back and rewatch it.”  His solution would allow for a “smoother” pace and more of a virtual conversation.  He also suggested that Khan be used at home with support from “notes from human class;” he missed the teacher-student interaction.  We told him that Khan should hire him since he reiterated Khan’s ideal of flipping the classroom!

A last a-ha of the day was unexpected for me.  Throughout this project, I have wondered how we can truly qualify and/or quantify the students’ progress in relation to Khan’s material when they have all been introduced to the concepts before.  Remember, many of these students have failed algebra not only once, but twice and three times over.  I’ve questioned how effective the approach would be with new material, concepts the students have never encountered before.  Yet several students expressed that they actually would be more into Khan if the material was new.   When we asked if they would like to use Khan to tackle, say, Calculus, even the most frustrated naysayers jumped at the idea.

There’s nothing like it when students show they are eager to learn…


Written by Darri Stephens

Collaborator at EdSurge
& Envision Academy


  1. I am curious as to how your teacher “earmarked” selected topics. I encourage students to use Khan during the summer to ensure they are up to speed or to catch up where needed (I posted a list of topics they are expected to be proficient in). However, I would rather have topics earmarked on the site (via my coaching maybe) so that they could be found more easily. I know students are probably frustrated when they log onto Khan in the summer and do multiple sets of problems below grade level (addition 1) because they are unsure where to go.

  2. Thanks for your comment. So our summer school teacher spent quite a bit of time and went through all the topics she thought aligned to the state algebra standards. She then grouped them into “modules,” partly based on Khan’s Star Map connections and partly based on her own expertise. She then gave the kids a paper guide of the modules and topics that they could then check off as they reached a “proficient” level. She suggested an order but has let the kids skip around, which they seem to appreciate. She did have to go back and revise the guide though, because she soon discovered that not all of the Khan topics have exercises; some are just videos (she wanted both). It has seemed to help motivate the students to reach a bit higher as well as help the teacher get the kids on track with the other algebra (non-Khan) class. One interesting note is that I personally thought the kids were languishing on the easier topics because they lacked the motivation/drive to tackle the harder ones. Yet, one of the most poignant moments for me this summer was observing a student doing basic subtraction with regrouping over and over. I thought she was shying away from the more difficult ones, but then she called me over and asked, “Do I start on the right side or the left side of the problem?” It hit me like a ton of bricks that she had honed in on just her level, despite being in an algebra class, because she was lacking some of even the most basic number sense. Hope this helps!

  3. Darri,

    Yes thank you! That was exactly what I wanted to know. I was aware that there were limited exercises on Khan. So, for summer work for my students, I picked out the exercises that I wanted them to have proficiency in and pasted the direct link to the exercises onto a wiki page. They click on the exercises that I want them to work directly from the wiki page. Then, if they need to watch a video they can from the exercise page. My page is here . I really like your idea of a check-list that they can keep in their folder. I think it would help them stay focused and organized. Plus, the check list is goal oriented. I am not concerned with badges, but mastery of certain topics.

  4. Darri and Julie,

    Thanks for the discussion above regarding how you outline for students the activities you would like them to complete.

    Darri-Would you be willing to share the paper guide of modules being used? Also, could you discuss how student’s work in Khan will translate into their final grade?


  5. Mark and Darri,

    A teacher in Dallas ( will be flipping one of her classrooms this year. I’m not sure what videos she will be using. However, she plans to embed the videos onto a website to make it easier to access for her students.

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