EdGamer podcast: Khan Academy, gamification, and constructivism

I was recently a guest on the online podcast show EdGamer with Zack and Gerry, part of the EdReach network. We had a great back and forth on all sorts of issues, ranging from Khan Academy to the gamification of education, and how  constructivism looks in the real world.

It was great fun and I hope you enjoy it!

EdGamer 47: Is Khan Academy a Monday Solution?

A snip from my blog post on KA that gave Zack the idea for the title of the podcast.…This is the Monday… Someday problem – the fact that even if a teacher changes everything in their classroom, nothing else in the system will change. How can one argue for a long term (Someday) overhaul of math curriculum, pedagogy and assessment when you know even if it does change, it’s going to be long time from now, and you have kids coming in on Monday who need to pass a test on Friday that will depend on them memorizing a bunch of facts and skills? What good does it do to fight when the system not only doesn’t care, but will slap you down for it.

Unfortunately, Khan Academy is a simplistic “what do I do on Monday” solution that is being hyped as a Someday solution. If you have a long-term vision that in any way aligns with more open-ended, more constructivist learning, Khan Academy is not a step on that path. It’s a “more us, more us” solution.

You can’t expect an instructionist solution like Khan Academy to pair with, or even more implausibly, eventually turn into a constructivist solution.

Instruction begets instruction.

See more about my views on Khan Academy here: Khan Academy posts: implications for math education

5 thoughts on “EdGamer podcast: Khan Academy, gamification, and constructivism”

  1. They’re not even clear explanations. I watched his “average” lesson, where his explanation of the concept was to tell us that theaverage student would want class to end early (of course, he really meant “typical,” unless the A and F students want to stay…) and that the average “sort of represents” a number. He also called “83 x 4” a sum.

    The handful of other videos I watched had the same “talk and chalk – and I can’t really be bothered to pay attention to detail” that might be helpful if I just needed to be reminded of a procedure… and those were the videos people suggested as good.
    Then I checked out “multiplication 2” to see if perhaps he had some ideas for memorizing the times tables. I didn’t get that far, because when be blithely drolled that two plus itself times one was 2, I had to stop.
    I’m reasonably sure his intentions are good, but much harm is done by people with good intentions. I’m imagining the confused student being told “look at these cool and awesome videos that are revolutionizing instruction!” and when s/he’s still confused, deciding that, well, s/he must just be the stupid one. S/he’s *not* going to say the emperor is butt nekkid.

  2. Sue,
    Yes, I know. But trying to explain that just sounds like more persnickety wordplay that turns people off math in the first place. I don’t understand the pride in being unprepared and sloppy, but I do see that that seems to be part of the charm.

    The whole “good intentions” argument I don’t buy, however. Maybe at first, before it became a runaway train. But there’s been plenty of time to reflect since. I think they well realize that what they are doing is harmful, but instead of changing it, they double down and claim that it will suddenly turn into project-based learning. That kind of magical thinking is attractive only when you want to avoid real thinking about learning and the very real work of teaching.

  3. I don’t think they believe they’re doing any harm. Remember, they sincerely believe that hey, if you just practice the procedures more — and this is free! And you can watch it again and again! — that… the concepts will happen. I just answered an email from a fellow with another math site telling me in happy excitement just how good games were at learning and practicing concepts. I informed him that what research there was indicated that a: too many students just knew procedures (
    http://www.carnegiefoundation.org/carnegie-perspectives/what-were-learning/what-community-college-developmental-mathematics-students-understand-about-math and http://www.resourceroom.net/math/ida_math_spring2011_booth.asp Why Can’t Students Get the Concept of Math?) and … more practice with procedures doesn’t really improve concept development (http://www.statlit.org/pdf/2009CarnegieFoundation-Developmental-Math-CC-Students-Understand.pdf ) …
    … besides, it’s human nature to defend one’s position. THere have been times and cultures that encouraged people to actually question and correct themselves, but in our current culture, dumping money on a possibly wrongheaded idea and saying it’s true really loudly and often is what happens instead of asking intelligent questions about it. Then you don’t have to think…
    My sister just showed me Edward Burger’s lessons, and I like his intro to exponents (he uses dots on squares and cubes).

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