The Math of Khan

About a month and half ago, I signed up for Khan Academy, an educational website that features lectures and exercises on everything from basic math to computer science. The website, which seeks to provide “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere,” is certainly a step up from Lumosity. Instead of having users play “fun” games that are meant to improve their memory and problem solving, Khan Academy gives users real math problems to solve. And people seem to like this model: Khan Academy’s YouTube channel now has over 1.5 million subscribers, and the highest-viewed video, a TED Talk by founder Salman Khan from two years ago, has over three million views.

Calculators, like this one, are your friend! (Image courtesy of Stock Exchange.)

Calculators, like this one, are your friend! (Image courtesy of Stock Exchange.)

My goal in registering for Khan Academy was to improve my math skills, and it seems like a pretty non-threatening place to practice. The learning model allows users to learn at their own pace: I had the option of starting at square one (basic addition) or jumping right into more complicated concepts like calculus and algebra. And Khan Academy tracks each user’s progress, which means I can go back and look at how I was doing when I started compared to how I’m doing now (as opposed to Lumosity’s “You can’t see how you’ve progressed unless you pay us” model). Khan Academy also rewards users with badges; earning one always gives me a strange sense of pride and accomplishment.

Admittedly, I haven’t logged onto Khan Academy very often since I signed up for it. It’s hard to get motivated to do something that strikes such fear into my heart (i.e. math). However, every time I log in and try my hand at some math problems, I feel good about what I’m accomplishing; I feel like I’m making progress each time I label a graph correctly or identify which fraction in a pair is greater than the other.

Founder Sal Khan has been the subject of acclaim as well as criticism in the media, though. For every article praising Khan for the possibility of revolutionizing the American school system, there’s another one questioning his abilities as a teacher or pointing out his video tutorials' flaws.

The debate rages on, but for now, I'll just keep doing exercises about square roots.

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Janet Goertzen

Janet graduated from Bishop’s University with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2010. She hopes to someday make a living from her words while continuing to avoid the terror of numbers. In her spare time, Janet can be found reading, playing trivia games, watching cat videos, or correcting people’s grammar on the internet.

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