Khan Academy for Middle School Math (Part 2)

Khan Academy for Middle School Math (Part 2)In Part 1 of Khan Academy for Middle School Math we looked at how Khan Academy was born, how it can be used by students to practice Common Core Standards in math, and how teachers can set up classes and monitor progress.

In Khan Academy for the Middle School Part 2, we will look at the phenomenon that is Khan Academy, some of the data surrounding the use of Khan Academy worldwide, and some student and teacher tips for using Khan Academy to improve student mathematical understanding.

The Phenomenon that is the Khan Academy

The reach and impact of the Khan Academy is amazing and continues to grow.  At the time of this writing, more than 29,000 classrooms are using Khan.  My six math classes have added to this total.  Two to three million daily problems are worked by students and over one billion problems have been answered in 216 countries throughout the world.  There are over 85 million users taking advantage of the free, world-class education that the Khan Academy offers.

Three Core Pillars that Support the Khan Academy

There are three core pillars that provide the foundation for Khan.  First of all, Khan is mastery based.  This means that students must master skills before they continue on in the Khan program.  They are typically required to answer 3 to 5 problems in a row correctly in order to advance to the next level on a particular skill.  If a problem is missed, or hints and videos need to be consulted, the student is required to begin again in obtaining the consecutive correct answers.  Khan then revisits these skills through Mastery Challenges and moves students through 5 levels on each skill before it is considered mastered.

Secondly, the Khan Academy is personalized.  It offers an individualized self-paced program that meets students where they are.  Based on the prior responses of students Khan Academy is programmed to serve up the appropriate next skills for students to continue in their journey toward mastery.

Thirdly, Khan is interactive.  As students solve the problems they receive immediate feedback.  If they struggle with a problem there are hints and videos built in to the Khan Academy that each student can access to help them understand the math concepts.  Students can easily keep track of their progress by monitoring the status bar at the top of their math mission.  Peer tutoring can be encouraged and teachers have the ability to view reports that will identify areas of student struggle.

Unlock Your Learning Dashboard

When students first log into Khan Academy they will be presented with a mission pretest for The World of Math mission.  This pretest includes 8 problems and is designed to determine a suitable starting point for each individual student.  As soon as they have completed the pretest, instruct them to select the specific mission that you would like them to work on.  For example, I have directed my 6th grade math students to select the 6th Grade Mission (currently 152 skills) rather than be lost in The World of Math (currently 619 skills ranging from elementary through high school).  The grade level missions are aligned with the Common Core and do include prerequisite skills from previous missions.

Leveling Up with Mastery Challenges

In Khan Academy students progress through five levels as they pursue skill mastery in a mission (a selected grouping of skills).  These are: Needs Practice, Practiced, Level One, Level Two, and Mastered.  A grid with color-coded boxes at the top right corner of each mission shows the number of skills that need practice and the percentage of skills that have been mastered in the selected mission.  A square for each skill begins as a gray box and becomes darker blue at each level until mastery is reached.  This is a great way for students to visualize their progress and it motivates them to achieve.

As soon as students have completed enough skill practice, Mastery Challenges will become available.  It is only through completing Mastery Challenges that students are able to progress through the different skill levels until they reach Mastery.  Thus, when they attain mastery in a skill, they will have practiced it on multiple occasions over multiple different days.  If all available Mastery Challenges have been completed it may take up to 16 hours for new Master Challenges to become available after new skills have been practiced.

Ways to Measure Student Progress in Khan Academy

So my students have begun using Khan Academy and their results are coming in to my coaching tab.  How do I evaluate their progress?  While I am still considering my question myself, there are three distinct ways that you might choose to measure student progress in Khan.  Choose the one that will best meet your needs and those of your students.

Here are the three ways to measure progress:

  • keep track of the actual time spent by students working on Khan Academy
  • record the number of skills mastered by each individual student
  • see how many “energy points” each student has earned  (Energy Points are earned by students each time they complete a problem set or watch a video)

Personally, I am leaning toward the number of skills mastered metric, although for lower students I might also be interested in charting their energy points since this measures their overall effort in Khan Academy.  The total time spent can be misleading and does not really have much to do with results (skills mastered or tasks completed).

Student Hints for Khan Academy Success

So far my students have done all of their Khan Academy work at home although I am collaborating with my teaching partner about piloting some Khan Academy in the classroom using iPads or Chromebooks.  After talking with students, here are a few Khan hints that can solve potential problems:

  1. Some students, younger than 13, had child accounts created for them (see Khan post 1) by their parents as Khan recommends.  However, some of them started to do their work in the parent account rather than their student account.  This also meant that I could not see their progress since their parent has not joined my class.
  2. Some parents did join my class for coaching which is obviously not necessary.
  3. Students often confused the “Coach” tab at the top of the dashboard, which is used to coach other people (teacher use) with the “Coaches” link in the left sidebar, which is used to join a class and be coached by a teacher (student use).
  4. If a student is stuck on a particular problem on a Mastery Challenge they will not be able to proceed until they get the correct answer.  Since many of these problems are not multiple choice this can stop students in their tracks.  They can read the hints and watch the video, but some will still be stuck and may need to log on to your computer and get help from the teacher for that one problem.
  5. On some problems there is an Acceptable Formats link near the answer box that will help students to understand how to represent fractional answers, mixed numbers, multiplication, and so on.
  6. There is a scratchpad available to be used by students on some problems.  They may choose to use this or may prefer just solving their problems using traditional paper and pencil.  I may be “old-school” but I still prefer the latter!

Teacher Hints for Khan Academy Success

  1. Instruct student on how you would like them to set up user names when they open a Khan Academy account.  I have students use the first initial of their first name and then their last name.  For example, my Khan user name would be “mtully.”  If their username is already taken by someone else in the world, I have them add another letter or two to their first name or add a number to their last name.  The idea is that you want to be able to recognize your students by their user name instead of having to continually cross-reference a list to find out who “ImSoCool42” or “ILoveSkiing” might be.
  2. I already had a Khan Academy account, but I opened up a new one that would have my user name as MrTully and would use my school email address.  I believe the Coach ID is your email address so I did not want my personal Yahoo email showing up to all of my students.
  3. Do not wait until you think you understand everything about Khan Academy before you get started.  Hopefully, these blog posts will help.  However, you just need to jump in, perhaps by choosing one class to work with on Khan, and learn from your experiences.  Our students are often more tech savvy than we are and they can help us learn and show us any issues we might need to address.

Jump In!  The Water is Warm!

Khan Academy is a GREAT tool that will benefit both you and your students.  Whether you decide to have students use this tool primarily at home, in the classroom, or both, I believe that you will find Khan to play a significant part in helping students learn and understand math.

Stay tuned for Part 3 in my Khan Academy in the Middle School series of blog posts.  In Part 3 we will look at different ways to use Khan Academy in your classroom, Khan record keeping, available reports, student recognition badges in Khan, and more.

Happy Math Teaching!









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  1. I am two years removed from the classroom, but at that time, Khan Academy’s problems seemed to be more like step-by-step recipes for solving problems. I’m no big fan of that approach, because it leads to students riffling through problem sets looking for models to plug and chug. Why is KA superior to game practice of math (usually arithmetic) two or three grades below level and inquiry-based praxis for current math? The blog I write for,, is all about clearing the working memory of both math anxiety and poorly assimilated basics. Anyone else sick of seeing middle schoolers counting on their fingers to calculate?

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