At the beginning of May, the William & Mary student who’s been tutoring the boys in algebra graduated and moved on. (The nerve. I can’t imagine why he doesn’t want to stay and teach my children instead of having a life.) In any case, since I won’t be able to recruit another math major until the fall semester starts, we decided to give the Khan Academy a try over the summer.
As a humanities person, I’m always very aware that I’m not doing math justice. We can do math competently enough with the standard texts. But even I know that the field of maths is much bigger, and much more fascinating, than mastery of a set of exercises and concepts. So I’m constantly searching for ways to help the kids think mathematically, rather than just “doing math.”
I think I first read about the Khan Academy in the Wall Street Journal. Salman Khan has undergrad and master’s degrees from MIT and a Harvard MBA; in 2006, he started posting math teaching videos on YouTube to help out a cousin. Now, the Khan Academy provides lectures, demonstrations, and practice in topics from simple sums through calculus (plus science lectures–we haven’t yet tried those.
I can’t evaluate the quality of the math instruction (although I find it interesting that Bill Gates is a fan), but I do recognize good teaching when I see it. The lessons at Khan Academy are clear, concept-focused, and just plain fun. My fourteen-year-old scientist will spend hours working through lessons and problems, absolutely absorbed in a math-world he’s never really visited before.
This is my favorite quote from the site’s FAQs:
What curricula are you following?
The simple answer is none. I believe that someone who truly understands the core concepts will thrive academically regardless of the curricular context. To take it a step further, I believe that someone who experiences the joy and satisfaction of true understanding will never again be satisfied with the superficial type of learning that most students have grown accustomed to. The Khan Academy is about placing deep understanding above anything else.
I like that. So check it out.