A Mountain View man who turned his tutoring lessons for his cousins into a not-for-profit educational program is now piloting it with Los Altos schools.
Khan Academy is a free educational website with videos, virtual lessons and other resources for learning various subjects. It's gotten a lot of buzz in the past year, because of its accidental beginning that has burgeoned into a full-time enterprise.
Salman Khan, the founder, has talked about the 's pilot program at his appearances.
Most recently, he spoke about it at the March 26 TEDx in San Jose, an independently organized off-shoot of the exclusive TED ideas conference. The theme was "people, passion and possibilities," making the personable Khan an apt speaker with his goal of spreading “world-class education” for free.
The Los Altos School District began a pilot program with Khan in November in five classrooms across two elementary schools, Santa Rita and Covington, and at , according to Alyssa Gallagher, assistant superintendent of instruction.
“We’re experiencing great success in the five classrooms,” said Gallagher. “Right now I’d anticipate more classrooms having the tool next year, but I’m not sure as of now what it will look like.”
Mark Goines, vice president of the school board, brought the program to the attention of the district’s staff after he had used the resource for his high schooler and sixth-grader for the past two years.
“Khan’s goals and the district’s goals are the same,” Goines said. “Both want to use technology to provide more engagement and progress with different learning stages and levels of the students.”
Goines said he is “very optimistic” about the program. “So far it looks very good, but it’s still early in the process," he added. "Also, it’s still early in development on the side of Khan. It’s a very cooperative relationship with Khan.”
One classroom at that uses the tool is filled with excited students learning on their laptops every day.
“I liked math before, but this makes it more fun for me, at least, because you can make goals and venture out to new stuff,” said fifth-grader Arianna Schmulbach.
Rich Julian’s fifth-grade class at Covington is abuzz with students learning at their own pace, as well as a teacher enjoying the new resource and its tools.
“This is the missing tool I haven’t had over all the years I’ve been teaching,” said Julian. “At night I look at where the students are (in their progress on Khan) and it helps me plan for the next day.”
Julian has been a teacher for 21 years, but this is his first year at Covington and his first in the district. He has also been a math coach in the past.
He assigns his students to work on Khan during the first half hour of every 1½-hour math block, each on individual laptops shared with the other classrooms.
Julian said he is able to see each student’s individual progress and struggles with the way the program is laid out. He then takes time to pull struggling students away from their desks and work with them individually or in small groups, while the rest of the class is still on the laptops working on Khan.
“If I didn’t have this, I wouldn’t be able to challenge the kids that needed to be challenged also,” Julian said. "Some of these students are at middle school and even high school math levels on here now. The feedback is instant; that’s what’s great about it. It makes me more relevant, allows me to know weaknesses of kids and address them immediately.”
Julian added that Khan Academy does not replace the math curriculum, but instead is an added tool that complements it.
The seeds of Khan Academy started as Khan, founder and executive director, began making YouTube videos to assist in tutoring his cousins in 2006, according to Shantanu Sinha, president and COO. The two had first scheduled tutoring sessions the regular way, but scheduling became difficult. Hence, the videos, which Khan reasoned would be easier for his cousin to watch when she could.
His cousin began to prefer the videos to Khan himself, he ruefully told a 2011 TED gathering. And then he started getting "thank-you" emails from people who had stumbled across his YouTube videos.
The Mountain View resident quit his job as a hedge fund analyst in 2009 when the videos began to get more and more hits.
In 2010, the company received funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Google, Sinha said. A number of schools had expressed interest in developing a relationship and a pilot program, but Los Altos schools are the first.