Common Sense Review
Updated April 2012

Khan Academy

Missions boost math learning with balance of focus, freedom to explore
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Common Sense Rating 4
  • Missions allow students to explore, as well as focus on suggested grade-level content.
  • Within the Mission exercises, kids can access additional information for guidance, along the right side of the screen.
  • Students take a pre-test to customize instruction and unlock new tasks.
  • Detailed reports help students track their progress and address areas for growth.
  • A handy Common Core tool helps teachers plan and monitor standards coverage.
The grade-level missions address nearly all of the Common Core math standards and help focus learning, while the videos offer clear instruction; assessments give teachers valuable data.
Expanded learning content in subjects other than math would be a great addition; some videos could be more thorough in promoting conceptual understanding.
Bottom Line
A solid resource for Common Core math instruction as well as foundational knowledge in a number of other subjects.
Debbie Gorrell
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 4

Interactive math missions have colorful graphics and target real-world applications. Videos are simple, casual, and friendly; badges and points motivate without being too childlike. Lessons that are more experiential would help kids connect.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

Interactive exercises promote kids' conceptual knowledge more than videos alone. The non-math lessons are instructive, but could invite more critical thinking. Consistency throughout all instruction would support learning even more.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students? 5

Exercises include customized step-by-step solutions and supporting videos. An updated dashboard lets students track progress within each math mission. A queue of suggested skills comes from both teachers and the site's adaptive engine.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

For classroom teachers, Khan Academy is probably best used to teach, practice, and review Common Core-focused math skills. The site's other videos can also serve as great supplemental resources in a variety of subjects. The missions are organized by grade level, and an interactive knowledge map has direct links to standards-focused exercises; it's easy to target students' instruction for a particular grade level and skill. If you're new to the site, a great place to start is the Coach and Classroom Resources section under the Learn menu. Here, you'll find great information about how to blend the missions into your classroom instruction.

Once you've got your classroom and student accounts set up, simply find the content that's relevant to an upcoming unit. From there, assign your students recommended skills so they can review and practice the material. Using the site's powerful analytical and adaptive program, you can track students' progress and identify those who may be struggling in certain areas. Use the reports to view the skills your students need to practice more; you could even find and recommend a peer tutor for someone. Challenge your students to complete lessons within a given time frame, or even to complete their grade-level mission by the end of the school year.

Watch this video to see more ways you can use Khan Academy:

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What's It Like?

Khan Academy, a free website aimed at promoting self-paced instruction, houses thousands of academic videos that are often baked into guided, adaptive instruction. With a strong focus on math, the site also offers video tutorials on a variety of topics in science, economics, the arts, and computing, as well as prep for tests like the SAT. Want to learn about the Federal Reserve Balance Sheet, explore the inside of a DVD player, or simply review some pre-algebra skills? It's all here, and the list of topics is enticing. The site has a growing library of five- to 20-minute videos on a variety of basic -- and not-so-basic -- academic subjects. The site's creator, Salman Khan, is best known for his extensive library of math videos, some of which he originally created to help tutor his younger cousins. He's still a narrator for the site today, and his casual, unrehearsed style can make you feel as if he’s right there with you in the room.

The videos are organized by course and topic, and cover upper-elementary through college-level math topics. There are also videos and tutorials on other subjects, including economics, biology, and art history, just to name a few. With a notable update to the site in early 2014, Khan Academy now includes math missions, a framework designed to help teachers and students more easily focus their teaching and learning in math. The videos themselves are the same as one might find in the existing tutorials. However, in the missions interface, expanded math practice plays a more central role, while the videos serve more as complementary supports.

On the whole, these missions can help narrow students' focus while also allowing them the freedom to explore. Students are never restricted on the site; they can always access any math content that interests them, including any tutorial or mission of their choosing. However, teachers can use an assigned mission to guide and suggest, giving students a clearer path to relevant Common Core-targeted skills within a grade level. As teachers create classes and add students, they can request that students accept a specific mission relevant to their course. Students are notified of which mission they've been assigned, as well as the teacher-selected due dates for specific targets. In order to complete a mission, students must master all the skills within and take a series of Mastery Challenges aimed at knowledge retention. Struggling students can work on prerequisites, called Mission Foundations, while also working to complete any other grade-level content. The site's adaptive tool recommends learning content for students based on their unique history on the site; they'll also see a list of recommendations from their teacher.

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Is It Good For Learning?

Whether students are exploring on their own, using the site in class, or using it as a resource for homework and test prep, Khan Academy can be a very useful supplement to classroom instruction and discussion. If used as a primary source of instruction, it's important to note that the videos tend to be more procedural than conceptual. Nevertheless, the site's math missions aim to promote more conceptual understanding, as they challenge kids to practice and master skills on their own, using hints and videos as support rather than as the main source of instruction. And nearly every Common Core math standard is addressed at each grade level, making the website a rich resource for standards coverage.

The missions platform, with its vastly expanded learning content, is a helpful addition for math teachers; think of it as a new way to deliver Khan's grade-level math lessons. Using the missions, teachers can better focus students' instruction. Students get a nice balance between the freedom to explore and the benefit of a teacher's guidance. Overall, students' experience in math is more personalized -- teachers can help them hone in on what's most relevant to their learning. That said, it would be nice to see the missions expanded beyond only math, as having this type of instructional platform across the site would be a huge plus. Also, while the lessons are generally interactive, more of an experiential focus could help kids connect more intrinsically.

Some great features on the site include the ability to turn on subtitles within each video, and Spanish-language users can also enable a sitewide translation option. Students can also use the companion iPad app that allows downloads for offline viewing. The Coach and Classroom Resources section offers helpful tutorials on how teachers, parents, and tutors can best use the site. A collection of case-study videos may be particularly valuable to teachers looking to implement Khan Academy in their classrooms. These videos illustrate the variety of ways in which different teachers and schools have already put Khan Academy's resources to good use.

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