George Lucas Educational Foundation

Blended Learning Energizes High School Math Students (Tech2Learn Series)

Educator Peter McIntosh helps his students to take ownership of their learning by using interactive subject-mastery tools like Khan Academy. 
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Blended Learning: Re-Engaging Math Students with Tech Integration (Transcript)

Peter McIntosh: For whatever reason, kids come to us with some significant gaps in their math. But more important, they come to us with some poor math habits. What we're using Khan for, basically, is it's a way of reengaging them in the math.

Peter: I'll leave that up there, use that as your model if you need it. Go into Khan System Elimination 0.5. If you do that easily, if you finish that, move onto the Elimination 1.0.

Peter: These are primarily sophomores; they've taken algebra before and did not pass. We started out with some relatively easy problems, systems of elimination. This is 0.5. There's a model on the board for them to sort of follow, talk to each other if they need a little bit of help, ask me if they need a little bit of help. When they're in Khan, basically a problem is presented and they can choose to watch a video or more often what they'll do is choose to see hints. The hints are basically the steps. It's not uncommon for a problem to be broken down into five or seven or eight steps with some brief explanations about what each step is.

Student: Yes, so what I did was take a hint. So like, what it basically says, "Beginning by moving the Y term in the second equation to the right side of the equation…"

David Castillo: And you can ask for a hint. You can watch a video. You can ask a peer. So you've got three opportunities to try and help yourself and then after that, you raise your hands. The teacher is working with the students that he or she needs to be working with at that time. And other kids, for the most part, are engaged in doing what they're doing. So it really changes the dynamic between the teacher and students in the classroom. Peter: And I can see where they're proficient and where they're not. Peter: The teacher has access to something called Coach Mode and it allows us to go in and see a variety of things. At a glance, I can see it for the whole class, you know, how many exercises they've completed, who's progressed and who hasn't. And there's a variety of other ways I can go in and get a quick assessment of where students are.

Peter: If I want to pick a particular exercise, I can go in here. And see this student has some difficulty; watched the video, took a number of hints. Peter: When I'm working with a student one-on-one, I can go even deeper and see the specific problems they've tried. I can see the steps that they took. I can get some sense of where they went wrong.

Student: I could definitely do the work.

Peter: So here. So write down the problem.

Peter: Historically, it was really hard to get the kids engaged. They couldn't get the help right when they wanted it. There was no immediate feedback if it was right or wrong. It was easy for them to sort of get lost and just sort of drift in class. Well, now they have to keep moving because they know we're keeping track of the problems they're finishing and they want to see the progress bar move; they want to see themselves become proficient in the exercises.

Student: I hope I'm getting two Ys.

Peter: Yes, you plug it in the...

Student: I know.

Peter: Trust me, you got it.

Student: I know.

Peter: Previously, we had a hard time getting the kids to do homework. Well, now with Khan, it's a little bit easier to get them to do that work. There's less wiggle room for them to sort of back out, because they've got hints they can take or videos they can watch and you're measuring the work they're doing.

Student: I kind of don't know this...

Peter: And they're doing many more problems this year than they did last year. And there's no substitute for practice.

Student: And the good thing about it is it tells us when we need to review it and we could go back and take hints again or we can just keep on going.

Peter: Their behavior, their habits were changing. We started to notice these kids were staying engaged. We'd look at screens of our coaching data and see kids repeatedly trying. Watch the video here; he's taking some hints. They're taking ownership and they're developing more of an attitude of "I'm going to figure this out."

Peter: Move on to adding segments. I'll pull one of those up shortly too, okay.

Peter: But then what we started to notice too was a real difference in their test scores. The average score is up about 30 to 40 percentage points and many, many more students in the advanced range.

Peter: Multiplied by negative two.

Peter: What is it about Khan that works? Part of it is the fact that it's simply a computer and there's something engaging about anything on computers. I think that it's an important part that it's one on one, the fact that they can get help right now on this problem at this step. So that immediacy, that individuality is a big part of it. But I think something about the design of Khan in particular, you know, it's not multiple choice so you can't guess your way through. The problems are randomly generated so you can't copy from another student; you would have to do the work. Student: I was doing the top one here.

Peter: Okay. Student: But then I did the bottom one right there.

David: It shows us that every single student, when given the chance, wants to learn. They want to be successful. We're seeing students just turn on, you know, left and right.

Peter: We see more focus. We see more attentiveness. We see more engagement. We see the kids this year less apt to give up in the first couple of seconds and the basic skills are also better because they've been engaged, they've done the work and that's the real magic.

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  • Producer: Zachary Fink
  • Producer / Director: Stephen Brown
  • Director of Photography: Mario Furloni
  • Editor: Jacqueline Santillan
  • Title Sequence: Randy Murray Productions
  • Digital Media Curator: Amy Erin Borovoy
  • Executive Producers: Erin Crysdale & David Markus
  • Thanks: Chris Fitzgerald Walsh, for help finding the teacher profiled in this episode.

Produced in partnership with the Teaching Channel.

This 2012 work by The George Lucas Educational Foundation & Teaching Channel is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Creative Commons License

Tech2Learn Video Series

Our video series goes inside the classrooms of educators who use technology tools in their lessons every day. Learn from their challenges, celebrate their successes, and share their resources in every episode.

This series is a co-production with the Teaching Channel.

Additional Resources and Tools from Mr. McIntosh

Visit the Tech2Learn series page to see more resources.

Comments (1) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Michael Metcalf's picture
Michael Metcalf
Senior High Mathematics

Khan Academy exercises are based on repeating a procedural process over and over again to gain mastery. If you don't understand the problem or make a mistake one can access a text explanation which is not student friendly. It's more of written textbook step by step solution explication. From my limited investigation of the website, one can also play videos which are mini-lessons with text and voice over verbalization of the process. What purpose does this website serve? One could argue it is a useful supplementary resource. I liken it to playing exercises on the piano thereby strengthening my fingers and increasing my manual dexterity. Playing all the scales and familiarizing myself with key notation and some basic sight reading skills. At the end of the day, where's the music? Be it interpretation of a written piece or better yet improvisation, how am I as a student of music using my developed skill sets and understanding of the language of music to play music--a real world exercise. I believe the same question can be asked here. Where's the problem solving within the context of the real world? Where's the creativity? Where's the investigation and discovery? Where's the frustration and excitement which comes with the learning process? How is one developing as a better practitioner of mathematics? In light of the common core present day assessments, basic procedural execution won't cut it. Common core is geared toward the "proficient" math student. How many of those students are out there? Maybe about as many as can play one of the more challenging etudes by Chopin.

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