I’ve been teaching math for just shy of 20 years. I love teaching math and always have. about 10 years ago I was assigned to teach two sections of Cognitive Tutor Geometry for a couple of years. I

couldn’t stand “teaching” this particular class. Here are the reasons:

- Our school decided to load the class with all students who had struggled with their previous math class. This was not the intended audience, according to the publisher, for this curriculum.
- Students worked on the computer 2 or 3 days a week and I was not supposed to help them. If they didn’t know the answer, they were suppose to hit the hint button. In theory this was a good idea. Then the computer would know they were struggling and give them more problems related to this topic. In practice, I was bored out of my mind saying, “Click the hint button.” (I love to teach, but I’m not terribly fond of babysitting.) If I’m being honest, I felt like
- I was being wasted in this class.
- Students found ways around doing the math by figuring out the pattern without understanding.
- For Cognitive Tutor’s sake, I’ve heard from other teachers that the online portion improved in the years following my stint in that course.
- We had a computer lab
- and had to share, so we got the lab only 2 or 3 days a week.

Around that same time, I dabbled in trying to make videos for my Pre-Calculus and Calculus classes and also ran across Khan Academy online. I liked the explanations. Usually they were very similar to how I would explain a topic. Even as Khan Academy introduced problem sets and a web of learning, It still was ready, in my opinion to be used in a classroom. Plus, I still had the haunting memories from Cognitive Tutor.

Fast Forward to last year…

Khan Academy has drastically improved their teacher ability to assign things and review student data. I investigated their system at the end of the year and over the summer. In the summer they added some additional new features. This year I decided to use Khan Academy in my classes. Our students all have chromebooks assigned to them for school and home.

I’ll explain why I think it works now and how I’m using it.

In my Calculus class I’ve used Khan Academy Sparingly. I’m teaching 3 sections of AP Calculus AB and I’ve assigned the problem sets in khan academy to my students to get extra review practice on topics. I don’t use it on a regular basis. I like the problem sets given and I think it’s pretty easy to assign review to students on that site. It’s also nice to help these students get familiar with Khan Academy so they can use it as a free SAT prep course.

In my Algebra course I’ve used Khan Academy extensively this year. My Algebra class is called “Intermediate Algebra” and the students in the course have already taken Algebra and Geometry. However, many either failed Algebra or earned a D, some earned credit after additionally going to summer school. These students are not ready for Algebra 2. Intermediate Algebra has topics from Algebra 1 and Algebra 2 and meet the state requirement for topics that must be taught in a 3rd year of math.

- Then students do a problem set or two on Khan Academy that I have assigned them. Each problem set is 5-7 problems and students need to get a certain number correct to move to level “practiced”.
- Then students work on any past problem sets they are behind on.
- Then students do a Khan Academy “Mastery Challenge.” Mastery Challenges give students a set of problems randomly from all the topics they have practiced. If the get the problem correct, then that topic level is raised to level one, level two, and finally “mastered.”
- I predetermine the topics, based on our curriculum, and tell students which specific skills they need to have at level mastered.
- Once students have “mastered” all the topics in a category, they may take the paper test on those topics.
- Test day in this class is on Friday. You may only test on Friday. (I have fudged on this a little as needed.) If you are not ready to take the test on Friday, then you have until next Friday to get there.
- Once I have taught all the topics being tested, I will tell students the first day they could possibly take the test… the next possible Friday.
- After 3 Fridays of making that test available, anyone who has not yet achieved mastery and so, has not taken the test, will get a zero in the grade book. They can still take the test for full points on a future Friday and replace the zero.
- 30% of a student’s grade is time spent on Khan Academy. I’m still trying to decide the best method for this, but it has seemed to work out well so far. Khan Academy doesn’t count their time working if they just have it open on another tab. Students have to be answering problems to get time counted. Also, on the teacher side, I can see data for time spent and exactly what topics students have been working on.
- 70% of a student’s grade is on their paper test scores.

This has worked great for me so far this year. The first reason is that students in this class are at many different levels. I have students who don’t know their multiplication facts to students who already know and remember how to factor quadratics. This system has allowed me to move students ahead that are ready. I assign all students the same topics we’ve done in class, but allow students who are ahead to choose their own extra topics. Typically, this class is a challenge to teach out of a textbook because you spend so much time working with the lower half of the class that there is little time for those who are ready to move ahead. Now, with Khan Academy, those students can take control of their own learning and decide what they want to learn. I know have students who, on Khan Academy, have mastered anywhere from 10% to 80% of Algebra.

Another thing I have loved about this system is that I’m doing short lessons and students are spending way more time actually doing math in class. They are happy to help each other and seem eager to progress through a tough topic. I don’t have to feel like I can’t help a student because I only help a student after they have submitted an answer and gotten it incorrect. Now, Khan Academy knows they are struggling with the topic and I also gotten a chance to help them improve. Now, when they get more of the same type of problems they get a chance to prove they can do them on their own. Many students have said that they have never done this much work before in their math class. When students are absent they also know they are expected to get on and do their assignment and spend 30 mins. on old topics. It’s a great feature because each of my classes has at least 6 students absent every day.

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Thank you so much for sharing! I think a lot of us are in similar situations. Would you mind sharing how you are assessing at the 30% in Khan?

I honestly just use the minutes spent doing problems from Sunday to the next Friday. I thought about some other options, but settled on this one. Because of lessons in class and any other activities, I expect 30 mins. a day for 100% in hmwk.

This coupled with not letting them take a test unless they have mastered the specific topics for that test helps it to work. I also check to see what topics they were working on just in case they tried to do kindergarten or something to get credit. They don’t really try this though because they need to make progress to take a test.