Jul 2 2011

Opinion: A New Educational Resource for Piedmont Kids?

A letter from Bernard Pech discussing a new opportunity the Internet may offer Piedmont teachers

Our Piedmont Unified School District teachers are confronted on a daily basis with the contradictory expectations of two extreme categories of parents in our well-off community (I exaggerate): those (say type A) who want very structured classes with heavy curriculum and teachers dispensing knowledge; and those (type B) who want very interactive classes where creativity is fostered through discovery, investigative learning, and critical thinking. For the type B group, developing the ability to acquire knowledge is more important than knowledge itself. The Renaissance Man is the ideal of the type A group. In practice, both groups may want to achieve the same goal and some may recognize that the best approach is student-dependent. But they may judge the same teacher as “walking on water” or “totally ineffective”, thereby fostering teacher heartburn and frustration.

But what if teachers asked students to watch the appropriate youtube KhanAcademy videos before teaching a class? Each video is twelve to twenty minutes long. Type A students would get the meat they are looking for by taking the associated exercises, and type B students’ interest would be awakened by the original way concepts are presented. The teacher could then give a more rewarding type B session, meet more of all parents’ expectations and be a hero to all!

Well, maybe it is not that simple! Is it worth it for our education professionals to take a look at?

The web 2.0 movement has not left K-12 education on the sideline. The KhanAcademy is the latest newcomer, following the ancient (by Internet clock) Stanford Education Program for Gifted Youth. “What started out as Sal making a few algebra videos in Boston for tutoring his cousins in New Orleans has grown to over 2,100 videos and 100 self-paced exercises and assessments covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history… The KhanAcademy is about making students truly understand the core concepts behind any subject, so that the resulting joy and satisfaction of true understanding will never again be satisfied with superficial learning… The academy is about placing deep understanding above anything else”. (Bill Gates explaining the program supported by the Gates Foundation.)

I have watched several videos on subjects dear to my heart (math, physics, and history), and have become enthusiastic on the approach. Too bad my kids are already grown up; may be my grandchildren! But could the academy help our district in our constant effort for continuous improvements?

Bernard Pech

(This letter expresses the personal opinions of the author. All statements made are the opinion of the writer and not necessarily those of the Piedmont Civic Association.)

Editors’ Note: The 2400 free educational videos are available on you tube or at www.khanacademy.org


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