Khan Academy and Unschooling

Thanks to the Seattle homeschooling community, we received the following links:

Khan Academy – A free education for everyone

CNN article about Khan Academy and Bill Gates’ endorsement

Salman Khan

Khan Academy is the creation of one man, Sal Khan, in a closet with a lot of equipment.  It boasts thousands of 4-10 minute videos explaining a host of subjects from Algebra to Calculus to Banking to Physics to Chemistry, and it even has a growing History section that currently only focuses on the French Revolution and Napoleonic era.  The MIT graduate and father started on a journey he expects will take him to a path where his Academy has tens of thousands of tutorial classes.

For those who doubt the efficacy of such an education, or argue that this is nothing more than a library, we have only to look at the recent work of Sugata Mitra and his “hole in the wall” and “granny cloud” projects to show that digital, student-led learning, especially when the students cluster in small 2-5 person groups, instills lasting retention and understanding of materials.

After all, kids (all humans, really) will learn what they want to learn, and giving them the resources and encouragement to explore can be a better education than many classrooms offer these days.

I would say that yes, these are supplements, but for an education in the basics of each of these subjects–to aid in foundational knowledge–these videos offer an excellent boost to anyone’s education.

What’s missing?  The discussion, which can be provided by having a few students learning at once, peer groups to talk about the films, or even guidance from elders through the learning process.  Such resources don’t need to cost tens of thousands of dollars a year.  Most libraries have conference rooms that would gladly allow a few students to gather, watch a video on a shared laptop, and discuss it.  An elder could provide print outs from a web site with exercises to practice what has been shown.  Or, if library resources are limited, online discussions in forums can be created.  All these resources are free.

Inspired by Sugata Mitra’s talk, squirelflight started supervised* computer use in search of answers to questions posed of her.  In two days’ worth of hour-long sessions, she can now explain continental drift, what Pangaea was (and how to spell it properly), what Ur, Rodinian, and Kenorland were, and who the Brothers Grimm were (as well as many of their stories).

Next week, she’ll be looking up questions regarding the structures of a cell and those of an atom, and be able to label their parts.  Just watch her, she’ll probably have learned far more than that.  She also liked the x- and y-intercepts video on Khan Academy and wants to watch more.  Lots more.

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