Math students profit from Khan Academy

Photo Elliott Burr/ Town Crier Egan Junior High students Devon Nemelka, left, and Jennifer White work on highest-common-denominator problems through Khan Academy, an online teaching tool that the Los Altos School District is piloting in several classrooms. In the background, the class' energy (participation) points are mapped on the screen.

On a typical day at Egan Junior High School this semester, students who struggle with math cheer at their laptop screens when they successfully complete 10 exercises and advance to the next concept.

Seventh-graders in the Prealgebra Readiness class have been working with Khan Academy, an online educational tool, since December – with winning results.

“Traditionally, these kids aren’t real motivated math learners, so to see them plowing through this – it’s really exciting to see them this engaged,” said Courtney Cadwell, the Egan instructor overseeing the pilot program.

Khan Academy is a not-for-profit organization with the mission of providing a world-class education to anyone, anywhere. The curriculum comprises more than 1,800 videos covering content in math and science, one concept at a time.

Concepts are arranged on a “Knowledge Map” that builds from the most basic mathematical ideas to more complex theories reserved for high school calculus. Each concept is presented in digestible 10- to 15-minute video segments followed by practice exercises and tutorials.

Mountain View resident Sal Khan founded Khan Academy and authored the tutorials. The academy has earned national recognition lately, receiving mentions in The Gates Foundation’s “Gates Notes” and at the TED conference, which addresses “Ideas Worth Spreading.”

In the Los Altos School District, the tool is being integrated (at no cost to the district) in two fifth-grade classes at Santa Rita School and the seventh-grade prealgebra classes at Egan.

“Each week the kids make a goal and work at their own pace to achieve those goals,” Cadwell said. “I help them when they need remediation, and they use the videos to re-explain things they didn’t understand in the first place.”

In addition to mastering the concepts, students earn incentives. As they view videos and complete or attempt some of the exercises, they earn “energy” points and badges.

“The boys really love the badges and the energy points,” Cadwell said.

The software suggests next steps for students and provides teachers with a wealth of individualized student data on both concepts mastered and areas of struggle.

“The Khan Academy is helping me address the needs of each individual student rather than boring the entire class on a topic that only three students need help on,” Cadwell said.

With the use of Khan Academy as a hybrid-learning model, students can work through new material at their own pace during a portion of every math class. Teachers use the data generated via Khan Academy to group students according to their needs and provide targeted math instruction.

Cadwell said she uses Khan Academy data to tailor her lesson plans to focus on topics most challenging to students.

“The technology just by its very nature is much more engaging,” she said. “The students don’t want to open a textbook and read from it or do 20 problems.”

One of the curriculum’s major advantages is that students are able to personalize their learning.

“The students are in control and are in the driver’s seat,” Cadwell said. “They can find the video that goes with what they are struggling with. They can pause the video or rewind. They can learn at their own pace. This really lets them customize their education.”

Cadwell said the data enables students to help each other. When she notices that a few students are proficient in a topic, she’ll pair them with others who have not yet mastered the concept.

For more information and blog entries on the local pilot program, visit To try Khan Academy at home, visit

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