Education Opinion

Should Khan Academy CS be the Model for Khan Academy Maths?

By Justin Reich — August 15, 2012 2 min read
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Khan Academy launched a new Computer Science learning platform today which looks really fun and well-suited to promote inquiry, exploration, and experimentation. (Two great posts are up from two members of the design team: John Resig and Jamie Wong)

The core system has three main parts. There is a code window pre-populated with programming code, and then a “results” window where the code runs or error messages pop up. Below each code window is an audio track, where Khan intern Jessica Liu provides a walkthrough of the program, where she changes things and the results window updates in real time.

Users can run through lessons, create their own programs, fork off other programs, share their programs, and so forth. I used a very similar system to learn HTML through W3schools.com, and it served me well as an independent learner.

Of course, I have the conversations sparked by #MTT2K on the brain, since today is the deadline for submitting videos for prizes. What strikes me most about Khan Academy CS is that it promotes an approach that’s inquiry-driven, practice-driven, and authentic-performance-of-understanding-driven. People can jump in, play, code, tweak, experiment, and use Jessica’s audio lectures as a supplement. It sounds very much like the learning model that Dan Meyer calls for in his #mtt2k submission: which encourages play, experimentation and feedback before explanation.

Khan Academy Does Angry Birds from Dan Meyer on Vimeo.

One of the central critiques that runs through the #mtt2k conversation has to do with the primacy of lecture in the “suggested Khan Academy use model.” The most widely presented Khan “flipped” model calls for students watching lectures at home (getting explanations first) and then doing the electronic worksheets in class. As Dan points out, this put explanation before play, experiment, and feedback (and several other #mtt2k videos address this concern).

It seems like the CS platform is better suited to inquiry and exploration, and it also seems like there is an interesting tension between the math and CS models, which could lead to some really productive discussions.

My big question then is: how could Khan Academy’s maths platform take on more of the characteristics of the new CS platform? To what extent can the CS teams’ work inspire new models for the core maths product (or for other math education platforms)?

If that’s the wrong question, I trust my math ed colleagues will set me straight.

For regular updates, follow me on Twitter at @bjfr and for my papers, presentations and so forth, visit EdTechResearcher.

PS. As a parent of a 2 year old girl, it’d be awesome if Khan Academy did some kind of intro video with Jessica Liu, so we can see her face and meet her. Young female role models in computer science FTW.

PPS. Referring to math as maths in honor of London 2012.

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