The Math of Khan (Academy, and Other Subjects)

You might have heard of Khan Academy on 60 minutes. Or CNN. Or from your cool teacher friend. And you might have said, “Eh.” But if you said, “Eh,” then you probably haven’t actually looked at the website. Do it now. Yes, now: I know it’s exam time, but do it anyway, and consider some of the many ways you might incorporate Khan into your instruction next year. I offer several suggestions at the end of this blog.

Before I can tell you that story, I have to tell you this story,
Khan Academy started with one dude, Salman Khan (seen here on, creating a mini tutorial on his computer for his cousin, who was having difficulty in her math class. Not everyone has a cool uncle who can create computer tutorials, so Khan’s little videos became popular, and then good old Bill Gates wrote him a check and said, “Make  7 billion video tutorials so all the world can learn stuff for free.” He didn’t really say that, but the site hosts a lot of videos, and they are all free.

You can see the result on the website. Endless videos in math: pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, statistics, trigonometry, calculus. But Khan has branched out into the sciences: physics, biology, chemistry, astronomy, computer science. And social studies: civics, economics, finance, banking. It has lessons for SAT, art history, and health care. It even explains the Geithner Plan!

The brilliance of these lessons is that they are short, simple, and amazingly clear. And they are FREE (have I mentioned that?) and accessible online or by iPhone app. I know you are irreplaceable; I promise to punch anyone in the nose who claims otherwise. I also know that Khan Academy is a useful tool that many of us can, and should, make available to our students. Here are some ideas:

Post links to your Website/Edmodo Page
Wouldn’t it be nice to know that kids could receive nightly tutoring on their homework assignments? Try posting to your website or Edmodo page a link to a Khan Academy tutorial that matches the day’s instruction. That way, if students get stuck, they can watch an explanation until they get it.

I Learn from an iPod
Khan Academy apps can be downloaded to iPads, iPods and iPhones. It is a good tool for the students to put on their phones, but we can also add the app to the class set of iPods available in the library. That way, students can watch lessons independently in your class. More on this idea below.

A Substitute for the Substitute
It is difficult to find a substitute who can teach about home equity loans or plate tectonics when you are stuck at home with a feverish child. Try having your substitute teacher play a Khan Academy video off the computer in your absence.

Heal the Sick (and Suspended)
Ok, so you won’t actually heal them, but you can try to keep them from falling behind. Khan can’t replace your explanation of absolute value equations or Punnett squares, but it’s the next best thing. Try referring students to a specific Khan Academy video to make up what they miss.

Differentiate Lessons for Depth
Every teacher struggles with pacing when some students are ready to move forward after 30 minutes of instruction and practice, while others need to hear the same lesson 17 more times. Khan Academy provides so many videos, especially in math, that it might just become a useful tool for differentiating instruction. While you provide a group of students extra attention on a basic concept, those who have already mastered it might explore the topic in greater depth by watching a Khan video on a computer. Or, while the you push the rest of the class deeper, those requiring remediation might watch Khan videos on iPods. That way your class can stay on the same topic while each student maximizes growth.

Respond to Benchmarks
Benchmark assessments frequently reveal that students have different weaknesses. Some might struggle with the branches of government while others fail to grasp supply and demand. Teachers don’t have time to re-teach evertudent every topic, but we can become more efficient by differentiating review lessons according to students’ weaknesses. As students begin to review for tests or exams, or after benchmarks reveal their needs, try assigning each student a sequence of Khan videos, along with a simple assessment to check for understanding.

Practice Makes…
Click on the Practice tab on and explore the web of practice choices. Each one presents questions, offers hints, and links to videos that might help. They become self-guided and self-paced opportunities to learn, and they might just be a useful way to help students advance at their own pace. Could it be classwork? Could it be homework? I think so.

Khan for You
I’m not too proud to borrow from a colleague. Khan’s explanations are lucid enough, that, were I to teach a lesson on sp3 Hybridized Orbital and Sigma Bonds, I might just watch the video as I prepare my own lesson. And some of the lessons are interesting just for the sake of watching. Try this one on the Fibonacci Sequence.

As we head dreamily toward summer break, I wish I could offer you a vacation to Hawaii or French Guiana instead of a website. Forgive me.


One Response to “The Math of Khan (Academy, and Other Subjects)”

  1. Russell Knight says:


    I was actually exploring iTunesU last night on my iPad and did a search for Khan Academy lessons and found quite a few. This was the first time I actually watched a couple of lessons and was quite impressed. Even topics like SAT & GMAT Prep were covered.

    I saw the 60 Minutes story and was skeptical at first, but by the end truly believed that this project may be the start of a major revolution in the way technology is used in education. Definitely worth checking out!!