I don’t homeschool (and no, neither does my wife). I’m not against it as a rule or anything–I think there are some children in situations where homeschooling works best (though I do tend to think that the decision to homeschool should be made with specific children in mind, as opposed to a flat out “homeschooling is better” sort of mentality). But I don’t really want to turn this into a big discussion about homeschooling, mainly because I realize that there are very strong feelings on both sides of the aisle. Since I don’t have strong feelings, that’s one beehive I’ll try to keep my nose out of.
That said, if I DID homeschool, I would read this article in Wired Magazine. Now. And if I were a teacher, I would go read it. Actually, if I were a parent at all, I would read it.
Never mind. Go read it.
It’s all about Khan Academy. What is Khan Academy? Well, it’s not a place where you go to learn all about The Wrath of Khan (although that really ought to be part of the curriculum at any place that calls itself Kahn Academy). It’s the site of a guy who’s started a place where he posts videos focused on basic educational building blocks. How to do algebra. How to understand physics. He records all the videos himself and keeps it going. They’re all lectures, with him doing rough sketches in Paint to explain as he goes along.
That in and of itself isn’t too mind-blowing. But he’s got this whole extra layer that brings it to the next level. He’s devised a system that tests users on content areas. Once you can get ten problems of a particular type right in a row, it suggests you move up to the next level. Right now it’s focused solely on math, but I imagine he’ll eventually start branching out into other areas, as well.
This is cool for a variety of reasons. First of all, it allows you to learn at your own pace. If you learn one concept very quickly, then fine–you can go on to the next. If it takes you forever, then that’s fine, too–you can keep watching the videos to work out what you’re doing wrong. The system even provides hints for you if you get stuck (although that resets your correct answer streak).
Second, it lets teachers (or parents) see what students are doing–how much work they’ve been doing, in which subject areas, how quickly or slowly they’re moving, where they’re stuck. It just provides the instructor with (what seems to be, at least) a really good overview of what their student is doing. Very granular–lots of detail.
Third, it uses game mechanics as a motivator. You earn points for effort. You earn badges for doing great work. You can share these badges with others, to show them how you’re doing. So you in essence gain levels by doing well. Cool.
I’ve tried it out some to see just how it works, and I came away very impressed. Is it perfect? No. But it’s also based mostly on the efforts of one guy to this point. It’s a proof of concept, and I’m excited to see where it goes from here.
I plan on showing this to TRC and getting him going with it as soon as I have a moment to breathe and collect my thoughts. (Probably not this week.) And that’s the thing with this: homeschooling or not, parents can and should take an active part in the education of their child. Know what they’re learning. Sit down and study with them. Help them with homework (don’t do it for them–but help reexplain concepts they’re struggling with.) The Wired article talks about how successful 1:1 teaching is, and how unattainable that is in a typical public school setting. Yet, each parent can do that all on their lonesome with some supplemental instruction after school. (Yes, that presupposes you actually know more than your children, and that you’ve mastered the material first–but who says you can’t use something like Khan Academy to stay a few steps ahead of your kids?)
Also check out the sidebar in that Wired article, which has some other valuable online teaching tools.
Bottom line is that I’m amazed sometimes by all the innovation happening in the world today. In some ways, there’s so much of it going on that it’s difficult to keep track of all of it. Something like Khan Academy can be out there for years without you being aware of it. Unless you know something’s there, Googling it to find it can be very difficult. At the same time, you can use the crowd-sourcing effect of the internet to follow certain blogs and stay on top of information in any area you can think of. These days, ignorance of a certain topic is no longer really excusable with any other reason than “I didn’t have time to learn that.” Anything you want to learn can be taught–and lessons are waiting for you online.
If it’s like this already, where will we be in another ten years?