Khan Academy helps kids overcome math phobias, mental blocks

(Originally published March 14, 2011)

The way most schools work, children are kept marching forward through math regardless of whether they master concepts at each level. Because math builds from one concept to the next, if one is not understood, then those that follow won’t be either.

When this happens to kids, their math education, like Swiss cheese, is riddled with holes, and true understanding is never achieved. Kids become frustrated, secretly give up and suffer through math until the earliest possible moment they can opt out.

Several years ago, hedge fund trader Salman Khan saw the problem. He was asked to help his young cousins overcome their struggles with math. They lived in New Orleans, and he lived in Boston. To help them out, he started posting math lessons on YouTube. Before long, his lessons began drawing a following, and today they have blossomed into the Khan Academy. Khan, who holds three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard, has now made the Khan Academy his life’s work. (If you like what he’s doing, then donate! He’s relying solely on contributions to sustain and grow his work.)

Today, if your kids are having trouble with anything from addition through differential calculus, they can work through lessons on their schedule, and they can keep at it until they truly understand the concept they’re trying to master. Interestingly, several classroom teachers around the country now use Khan Academy lessons to teach math concepts, which frees them to use class time to work individually with students. These teachers are finding that over time, nearly all their students can master math, whether they’ve been labeled slow or not.

Khan Academy has expanded its offerings. Today it has posted about 2,200 videos covering everything from math to chemistry to physics to history and financial concepts. Adults and children alike can benefit from watching Khan Academy presentations.

If your kids are struggling with math or other subjects, let them start working with Khan Academy videos. And if you see yourself as a lifelong learner, dig into a few yourself. You’ll find them to be an education.

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