Khan Academy vs Accelerated Math, Blog 1 of 3

MG here. Two years ago I blogged "Why doesn't Match use Khan Academy during math tutorial?" At the time, I hoped we'd try it. But nobody on our team really had the bandwidth that year. Tech tools in high-poverty schools usually fail if someone doesn't have the time to really engineer the details. But this year we're tinkering. At our high school, Nedra has been trying out Khan. Meanwhile, Ray and I are working on developing a new school model, called Match Next. This is precisely the stuff Ray is supposed to do: try out ed tech tools in real life, and see if they can either help kids learn more, help our staff have an easier work week, or both. So Ray spent a couple weeks tinkering with Khan Academy, with some of our middle school kids.

What follows is his 3-part story.

(Also, here is one of my favorite former bloggers, Mr. A.B., who wrote up a glowing review of Accelerated Math back in 2007.)

Ray writes:

Pretend you’re a 6th grade math teacher. You know that most of the students were taught how to reduce fractions in Grade 5 at their previous schools. However:

*Some learned it and can still do a problem perfectly

*Some learned it, but have forgotten a few steps

*Some never mastered it in the first place

How will you fill in the holes for all your students?

If you reteach the concept to the whole class, that’s inefficient. But if you don’t, some students will struggle, because math obviously builds on prior knowledge.

Match, as most of you blog readers know well, helps teachers by providing full-time tutors to work with each kid, on a set schedule, 2 hours per day. One of those tutorial hours is for math. This doesn’t eliminate the re-teach challenge, but it does reduce it.

To address these holes, our middle school tutors sometimes use a product called Accelerated Math. I wanted to know: What happens if you replace Accelerated Math with Khan Academy? So I snagged 3 tutors and 6 kids who were interested in trying something new, and we used Khan Academy for a couple weeks.

Today: What is Accelerated Math?

Tomorrow: What is Khan Academy?

Then: How did we ‘hack’ Khan Academy to make it work better in tutorial?

* * *

Accelerated Math

There are a bunch of ways to use this program. Here’s ours:

*Each student gets a custom pencil-to-paper practice sheet. There are math questions that cover anywhere from 1 to 5 different math topics, called Aims. Sometimes there are 10 problems on one sheet. Sometimes there are 30 problems spread out over 5 sheets.

*Examples of Aims are: divide a 3 digit number by a 1 digit number with no remainder in the quotient; generate a table of paired numbers based on a rule; add fractions with like denominators greater than 10 and simplify the sum.

*Since these are all topics that have been taught previously — earlier that year, or in previous years — it’s “review” in a sense. A tutor does not need to, at the beginning, explain each Aim from scratch.

*After tutorial, a kid's tutor types in her answers into her online account. The program then creates a new sheet with more practice problems — naturally focusing on the Aims she had wrong.

*The tutor then helps the kid if it’s a comprehension issue. Or the kid works more carefully, if it was a carelessness issue.

*Once a kid reaches roughly 80% accuracy on a given Aim, that Aim goes into a bucket of ‘testable’ Aims.

*Every few weeks (depending on when the math teacher has time to print), a kid takes a test on these skills. This test is different from whatever the “whole class” is working on. It just covers these remedial/review Aims. If a student succeeds, Accelerated Math removes most of those question types from that child’s future practice assignments (except occasionally).

I.e., this allows a student to keep “climbing the ladder of math review topics” at his or her own pace, even as the whole class forges ahead with new ideas and concepts.

Problems with Accelerated Reader, as we use it:

1. Lots of printing.

2. Inefficient use of time.

Many students finish their Accelerated Math practice problems early. You can’t print more than one practice sheet at a time because the content of one sheet depends on how a kid does on the previous sheet. So if a kid finishes their practice quickly, they have to do something else until the next day, once their tutor has a chance to plug in their answers online and print out the next practice.

3. Teacher labor.

The tutors and kids are dependent on the teacher with an administrative log in, to print out all tests, which creates a bottleneck and extra work for busy teachers.


First, here’s my tech product review caveat: I’m just describing the tool (which we buy) operating in a particular context (ours). It’s hard to separate the “pure value” of the tool by itself from our use of that tool. As always, your results may will vary. Note that above, MG quotes Mr. A.B., a teacher, saying how Accelerated Math was for him a great success.

In our context, the Match tutors I surveyed rated Accelerated Math a 6 out of 10 as a tool. Solid. It’s helpful but not optimal.

At our middle school, a typical kid averages mastery of about 1 Accelerated Math “Aim” per week. So there is progress.

* * *

Tomorrow: What is Khan Academy?

Then: "Hacking" Khan to work well in our particular context.