Over the past decade, the free instructional website Khan Academy has transformed how tens of millions of students across the globe perceive and approach math. Now, it’s pursuing a bigger aim: transforming how students perceive themselves.

On Monday, Khan Academy, a nonprofit based in Mountain View, launched LearnStorm, a three-month pilot math competition for 3rd- through 12th-graders in 10 Bay Area counties. Students will be vying with each other by school, district, even city, as they master skills in math by plowing through Khan Academy’s extensive tutorials and quizzes. There’ll be weekly recognition through online leaderboards, swag bags with stickers, wrist bands and certificates, and fun events at an in-person final event in May.

At least that’s what will attract kids. Teachers may find the LearnStorm competition useful as “a really great way to have fun reviewing math skills” for the first Smarter Balanced tests in the Common Core State Standards, which California students will take this spring, said James Tynan, Khan Academy Partnerships and Community Lead. Khan Academy’s math instruction is aligned to the Common Core.

But its more subtle, larger goal, Khan Academy founder Salman Khan said in a video, is to “help every student appreciate that they really can learn anything.” For Khan, whose website is now translated into 28 languages and offers tutorials in economics, science and art history, that’s not a platitude, it’s a conviction. His belief is borne out by research like a study that Khan Academy did with Stanford University researchers confirming that students’ perceptions of themselves as learners – whether they are “naturally dumb in math,” for example – affects their motivation and their achievement in math.

The aim of LearnStorm is to build students’ “growth mindset,” the term that Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck popularized in her 2008 book, “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.” It refers to the idea that intelligence is not fixed and that talents and abilities can be developed through effort and persistence.

LearnStorm’s strategy for building an awareness of a growth mindset starts with the pledge that students take when they sign up. It reads, in part, “I hereby acknowledge that nobody is born smart, that we’re all born to learn,” “that every wrong answer makes my brain a little bit stronger,” “and that the most beautiful, complex concepts in the universe are built on concepts I can understand, even if I don’t know them yet.”

Salman Khan discusses the Common Core standards  in one of many videos on the  Khan Academy website.

Credit: Khan Academy

Salman Khan discusses the Common Core standards in one of many videos on the Khan Academy website.

LearnStorm will award points for perseverance as well as mastery, making it worthwhile for schools and students to recruit not just the math whizzes but all students – and making the competition a cooperative effort. Taking a lesson from sports, where teammates respect those who work hard, LearnStorm is calling these “hustle points,” “earned for taking on skills that challenge you and struggling to complete them.” An algorithm that Khan Academy has developed will figure out how to award effort. Khan Academy includes hints for solving problems and an instructional video that students can watch when they’re stuck on problems.

LearnStorm will also send out weekly challenges, starting next week, that will encourage students to develop qualities like grit and to adopt study strategies and habits that can help them learn. Khan Academy developed the challenges with PERTS (Project for Education Research That Scales), a center affiliated with Dweck and other researchers. Khan Academy isn’t sharing them ahead of time, but Tynan said an example might be to ask students to watch a video on facing challenges, then cite a challenge they face and two potential obstacles. “We might say, ‘What would you do to overcome them to grow your brain?’” Tynan said, and then ask students to share their insights with others or to write a letter to someone they know is struggling with something.

The idea of a growth mindset to help students get better at math, “just as they would to improve their jump shot or golf swing, is something ingrained in our math department,” said David Cary, a math teacher at George Washington High in San Francisco.

Khan Academy will monitor the results to see which activities students liked and responded well to. Based on schools’ demographics, it may be able to distinguish the impact of the mindset messages on different student subgroups, Tynan said.

Based on participation in MATHletes, a Khan Academy math competition in Ireland, Tynan said he was hoping to sign up 1 percent of students in the Bay Area, about 13,000 to 16,000 students. Already, more than 28,000 have signed up from 1,200 schools, and students can continue to enroll throughout the three months of the competition, he said.

A student answering a math problem on Khan Academy can ask for clues or watch a video explaining the concept by clicking in the key to the right.

Credit: Khan Academy

A student answering a math problem on Khan Academy can ask for clues or watch a video explaining the concept by clicking in the key to the right. (Click to enlarge.)

About a thousand of the participants attend George Washington High in San Francisco, where math teacher David Cary signed up all of his 120 students. Cary has used Khan Academy daily for several years to supplement his classroom instruction and sees LearnStorm “as a good opportunity to further what I do” and to encourage students to explore areas outside of work they’re doing in class to earn extra credit.

The idea of a growth mindset to help students get better at math, “just as they would to improve their jump shot or golf swing, is something ingrained in our math department,” Cary said. But it could be helpful for Khan Academy to reinforce that message, he said.

The importance of motivation and the social and emotional underpinnings of learning are drawing increased attention in California as it shifts away from a strictly test-based accountability system. The Local Control and Accountability Plans, or LCAPs, that districts are creating under the new state funding system require that schools address issues of school climate and student engagement, including discipline policies.

This spring, seven California school districts known as the CORE districts will be field-testing how to measure students’ growth mindset, self-management skills and social awareness. These are three pieces of the social-emotional component of a new School Quality Improvement Index that the CORE districts are implementing as a condition of their waiver from the penalties of the federal No Child Left Behind law. The seven include three of the four largest unified districts in the state: Los Angeles, Long Beach and Fresno.

Promising research

LearnStorm extends Khan Academy’s previous work in growth mindset. Two years ago, PERTS conducted a randomized experiment through the Khan website involving 265,000 students. Growth mindset messages like, “Your brain grows new connections every time you practice. Help your brain grow new connections!” were flashed atop some students’ math exercises while no messages or neutral messages like, “When you get a question wrong, be sure to re-read it carefully,” were shown to the control group.

The growth-mindset messages increased the rate at which students learned fractions exercises by 3 percent, which the researchers considered promising. “The experiment showed us that ‘even a sentence of growth mindset encouragement can help, but we wanted to do something better and more involved – hence the weekly challenges (through LearnStorm) that will involve deeper activities around mindset,” Dave Paunesku, PERTS executive director, wrote in an email.

Two more recent studies, in which students received messages about how math is used to help people, like predicting earthquakes, worked well for some students but not others, said Paunesku.

Last August, Khan Academy began the campaign You Can Learn Anything, a series of messages and inspirational videos that include a Sal Khan tutorial on brain development and an interview with singer-songwriter John Legend on how his failures led to his success. “I’ve been unsuccessful in my career,” he says into the camera. “You just didn’t know about it yet because I wasn’t famous yet and I was trying to be famous.”

Tynan said that, as the pilot, the Bay Area LearnStorm should prove instructive. “If this pilot reveals interesting data, we will develop a deeper and more productive mindset for the United States and the globe,” he said.


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  1. Richard R 1 year ago1 year ago

    Thank you Salman from he bottom of my heart; You enlightened my confidence!!!

  2. Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

    Yikes, at first I had my doubts because Khan is one of those things pushed by a number of the usual suspects who otherwise work to undermine public education. And then there is the way Khan suggests he develops lessons, which is not what most classroom practitioners would recognize as “best practices.”

    But then I saw that well known education expert John Legend was in support. What could go wrong?

    Replies

    • Walter Jackson 1 year ago1 year ago

      Speaking of the usual suspects, I knew I’d find comments from those who spout the same old tired lines, that anything, anyone suggests (charter schools, stricter tenure, more accountability) that isn’t the status quo, is anti-teacher. Well the days of the public just bending over and agreeing to increase after increase after increase in our school taxes with no accountability whatsoever are over. Sites like Khan Academy prove that the teacher-centric model is not the only one.

      • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

        Absolutely. Blind fealty to avoid labels is over. We shall experiment and we shall think and we shall speak. Those forces had monopoly control over everything for decades and it didn’t work. Now they claim to have a new plan but it’s the old plan in sheep’s clothing.

      • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

        You’ve had pseudo-accountability in place in CA since the late 90s and in the US since around 2002. Please list accomplishments.

        • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

          Gary, it's been resisted. Never has any pay been based on it, and we've had 100% LIFO the whole time. The experiment will start when Vergara is upheld and/or Brown works out a compromise on this issue. How have we had accountability? Even if a school is shut down and everyone fired, which happens rarely, all those teachers get the first job elsewhere due to seniority, leading to a dance of … Read More

          Gary, it’s been resisted. Never has any pay been based on it, and we’ve had 100% LIFO the whole time. The experiment will start when Vergara is upheld and/or Brown works out a compromise on this issue. How have we had accountability? Even if a school is shut down and everyone fired, which happens rarely, all those teachers get the first job elsewhere due to seniority, leading to a dance of the lemons. Teachers have never made more or less or had any more risk of termination if they take days off they don’t need or have lower performance. I don’t see how you can claim there has been accountability. Pseudo means false, so yes, we’ve had pseudo-accountability. That is a negative. That means we have not had accountability.

  3. Lan Nguyen 1 year ago1 year ago

    This is a great resource for students who want to improve and succeed in math. Thank you John.

    Lan

  4. navigio 1 year ago1 year ago

    Sounds great (to the extent parents and teachers are not already doing it).
    However I can’t help get the impression that this is just some big science experiment designed to ‘discover’ an education policy. Do we really not know enough about education that we have to simply and almost blindly try things, then check the data to see what happened? Is this really how we develop education policy?

    Replies

    • Walter Jackson 1 year ago1 year ago

      Considering how poorly are grade school students are doing, I’d say we need more experimentation, not less.

      • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

        You understand that US students in schools with less than 10% poverty (as determined by “free and reduced lunch”) are the top performers in the world? US students in schools with 25% or fewer in poverty are on a par with the rest of the industrialized world. Beginning to see a pattern here?

        Aside from the anecdotes and hype from “the usual suspects” just what has Khan accomplished?

      • navigio 1 year ago1 year ago

        "They can just watch those videos. If they're bored, they can go ahead. They can watch it at their own time, at their own pace. And probably the least appreciated aspect of this is the notion that the very first time, the very first time that you're trying to get your brain around a concept, the very last thing you need is another human being saying, 'Do you understand this?'" "A lot of the effort in … Read More

        “They can just watch those videos. If they’re bored, they can go ahead. They can watch it at their own time, at their own pace. And probably the least appreciated aspect of this is the notion that the very first time, the very first time that you’re trying to get your brain around a concept, the very last thing you need is another human being saying, ‘Do you understand this?'”
        “A lot of the effort in humanizing the classroom is focused on student-to-teacher ratios. In our mind, the relevant metric is student-to-valuable-human-time-with-the-teacher ratio.”
        -Salman Khan

        I guess it comes down to whether one-to-one ratio with a video is better than a 30 to 1 ratio with a live human being, regardless of the quality of that human being. My money’s on the computer if only because that’s just not a fair fight. Tamen caveat emptor.

        And I have nothing against experimentation. I’ll just be hesitant to believe it has no ulterior motive until its equally applied to the children of all social and economic strata.

        And note that my criticism wasnt of the khan academy itself, rather this appearance that everything we are ‘learning’ from data today is mutually exclusive from everything we’ve ever known in the past. That seems problematic, especially when the people learning have no experience in education. Perhaps we no longer need education as a field of study. Fine. But if we’re going to act that way, we can at least be up front about it.

        • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

          I think you're really on to something here, Navigio. Who needs reduced class sizes, one of the actual reforms demonstrated by research to improve student learning and have particularly positive impacts on children in poverty. That's all of that old "research stuff" that Sal Khan finds such an impediment. Here's an excerpt from an article on Khan including a quote from him on how he rolls in instruction: "In particular, competent teachers understand that learning research offers … Read More

          I think you’re really on to something here, Navigio. Who needs reduced class sizes, one of the actual reforms demonstrated by research to improve student learning and have particularly positive impacts on children in poverty. That’s all of that old “research stuff” that Sal Khan finds such an impediment.

          Here’s an excerpt from an article on Khan including a quote from him on how he rolls in instruction:

          “In particular, competent teachers understand that learning research offers insights for their own teaching. Sal Khan is on record as dismissing this research. In a recent interview he did with Harvard’s EdCast, he said the following:

          ‘I think frankly, the best way to do it is you put stuff out there and you see how people react to it; and we have exercises on our site too, so we see whether they’re able to see how they react to it anecdotally.'”

          I find this stunning. So much so I’ve had one of those incidents cited by “PIRTS” (above) where: “my mind grew new connections!” (You don’t want to watch this…trust me.)

          This is revolutionizing my thinking on teacher evaluation. Here I’ve been in agreement with experts in the field, like Linda Darling-Hammond, on upgrading evaluation. This would entail multiple measures like demonstrations of student work, highly trained teams of evaluators including teachers in that subject/grade area, video demonstrations of actual classroom teaching, etc. But. what could Linda possibly know about it? She’s a researcher!

          I see a whole new model of “evaluation.”

          Teacher walks into evaluator’s/administrator’s office:

          Administrator: So, how’s the teaching thing going?

          Teacher: Well, hey, I’ve been… put(ing) stuff out there and you see how people react to it; and…(I) have exercises… too. So …(I).. see whether they’re able to see how they react to it…

          Administrator: Wow! Totally cool. Put you down as “exemplary” one more time.

          And, as Sal says, class size is secondary so pump those class loads up and think of the money saved.

          And you can find good research on the efficacy of Sal’s methods sponsored by the Gate’s Foundation. For whatever ‘research” is worth.

          Did I mention that Gates is a heavy funder of Khan? And that Bill Gates advocates raising class size as a money saver too. Just a coincidence, I’m sure.

          Did I mention that Bill Gates (and now his kids also) attended a private school that advertises class sizes of no more than 15 or 16? That class size thing must only work for the very wealthy despite what all that obsolete research stuff says.

          That does’t shine a very flattering light on poor Bill, until you know that another funder of Khan is the Leona & Harry Helmsley Foundation. Remember Leona Hemsley and her concerns about “the little people?” Yea, Leona and Bill both put the interests of the “little people” first and foremost.

          The we have Broad, Reed Hasting (Netflix), Google, and a number of hedge fund guys all pumping money into Khan.

          And I called them the “usual suspects.” What was I thinking?

        • FloydThursby1941 1 year ago1 year ago

          My daughter searches for YouTube videos to teach her concepts in math she doesn't get because her teacher doesn't explain them well. That being said, this will exacerbate inequality, not reduce it. Kids with parents who care and motivation will do this, not necessarily the richest kids but those with the most determined parents and kids who are most determined. Kids need one on one attention. As we as a society … Read More

          My daughter searches for YouTube videos to teach her concepts in math she doesn’t get because her teacher doesn’t explain them well. That being said, this will exacerbate inequality, not reduce it. Kids with parents who care and motivation will do this, not necessarily the richest kids but those with the most determined parents and kids who are most determined. Kids need one on one attention. As we as a society need fewer and fewer employees due to outsourcing and offshoring and automation, and the rich are earning a higher percentage because they own the stocks doing these things and profiting by them, why not tax more and provide every child one on one tutoring for a few hours a week to make up for the unfair advantages rich children have. It would be fair if it created equal opportunity.

    • TheMorrigan 1 year ago1 year ago

      We tried an experiment with Khan and a few flipped Geometry classrooms about two years ago at my school. The results were decent but not stellar for our high achieving students. The results were dismal for our low achieving students. And the middles dipped but not too drastically. Internet-based learning certainly has a place at the education table. The problems are that only a small section of our student population finds it to be … Read More

      We tried an experiment with Khan and a few flipped Geometry classrooms about two years ago at my school. The results were decent but not stellar for our high achieving students. The results were dismal for our low achieving students. And the middles dipped but not too drastically.

      Internet-based learning certainly has a place at the education table. The problems are that only a small section of our student population finds it to be palatable for them, there are definitely unhealthy servings of the stuff, and the hype is nothing more than a bad diet fad for the majority of students out there.

      • Gary Ravani 1 year ago1 year ago

        The research (that old stuff again) on internet based learning is quite flimsy, and even at that, the results are weak. What isn't flimsy are the efforts of the tech and hedge fund guys to get in there and harvest some of those public dollars. At that, there have been some lawsuits filed about internet corporations over-hyping their profit potential and the stockholders are not pleased. Then we have "blended learning, and the best example of … Read More

        The research (that old stuff again) on internet based learning is quite flimsy, and even at that, the results are weak.

        What isn’t flimsy are the efforts of the tech and hedge fund guys to get in there and harvest some of those public dollars. At that, there have been some lawsuits filed about internet corporations over-hyping their profit potential and the stockholders are not pleased.

        Then we have “blended learning, and the best example of that was/is Rocketship. They had kids bent over computers half the day and with Teach for America folks (those poor dupes) the other half day. Even the Rocketship CEO admitted it was a flop.

        • TheMorrigan 1 year ago1 year ago

          What my school did certainly wasn’t “research,” flimsy or otherwise. I would classify it as anecdotal, an even lower form of evidence.

      • Varghese Alexander 9 months ago9 months ago

        We've used Khan Academy as our textbook for Algebra 2 students for the past two years and it has literally changed our curriculum. We don't use it with our "high performing kids", but instead we use it in our Statistics Track. We gutted actually gutted both our traditional proof based Geometry and Precalculus courses and have created a four year program with students taking the AP Statistics test in their senior year. In any … Read More

        We’ve used Khan Academy as our textbook for Algebra 2 students for the past two years and it has literally changed our curriculum. We don’t use it with our “high performing kids”, but instead we use it in our Statistics Track. We gutted actually gutted both our traditional proof based Geometry and Precalculus courses and have created a four year program with students taking the AP Statistics test in their senior year.

        In any event, what KA has allowed for is a student to receive immediate feedback immediately each night. No longer do I have to spend the first thirty minutes of a forty-five minute class reviewing missed homework assignments. Mind you this is not a flipped model. I still present for about fifteen minutes at the start of each class, and then I have my students working on problem sets in class. We don’t have all the answers, and we are fancy boarding school with a ridiculously low student to teacher ratio, but all of that said, kids are excited about math again and I’m having much more fun teaching it.

        For the record, for almost all of them in the 2012, KA was not palatable to them. During that crucial second year, it was amazing because once students put in 1200 minutes, they “tipped” into the camp that enjoyed it. Now in our third year, the culture has changed dramatically. KA allows me to focus on their metacognition which is the biggest difference in my class. I don’t require my students to watch videos, all I require them to do is thirty minutes of math every night, and to write about their mathematical process. Come visit, I’d love to show folks of the potential.

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