Free Tutoring from Khan Academy

Free Tutoring from Khan Academy
If you are a home-schooling parent, you may have heard of the Khan Academy. It is a nonprofit online teaching resource founded by Salman Kahn.

Born in New Orleans to immigrant parents from Bangladesh and India, Khan has degrees in mathematics, electrical engineering and computer science from MIT and an MBA from Harvard Business School. He worked as a hedge fund analyst before quitting the business world to become involved in education.

His interest in tutoring grew from helping a cousin in math. As other relatives and their friends asked to be included, Khan started making video lessons for them on YouTube. This informal effort at helping a cousin with her lessons has developed into the Kahn Academy, an online tutoring resource that now boasts more than 3,000 short instructional videos plus various exercises and quizzes.

According to an article in the November 19, 2012 issue of Forbes Magazine, the site is accessed by 6 million unique students each month and is used by teachers in 20,000 classrooms around the world. The videos have even been translated into 24 different languages including Urdu, Swahili and Chinese.

Located in Mountain View, California, the non-profit academy has a $7 million operating budget funded by philanthropic donations. Bill Gates is one of Kahn’s fans.

The Academy’s home page lists the broad categories of
Computer Science
Finance& Economics
Test Prep

Not surprisingly, given Khan’s academic and work background, the offerings are heavy on math, science and finance and rather light on the humanities.

The math lessons are presented without showing the teacher. Most are narrated by Sal Khan himself, in a patient, non-judgmental tone of voice that reminds me of the approach of Mr. Rogers. Whether the subject is basic addition, fractions or higher math, it is presented in a simple, uncluttered manner in a video that the child or older student can play and replay as often as necessary until the concept is grasped.

I was most interested in the offerings for the humanities so I looked at a few of the history lessons. I skimmed three of them: the Sutton Hoo Treasure, the Banner of Ur and the Ara Pacis.

The Sutton Hoo Treasure is a collection of grave goods discovered in England just before the outbreak of World War II. The Treasure is my favorite exhibit at the British Museum. I visited it often when I lived in England. The Khan lesson is narrated by a man and a woman and illustrated with maps and photos of the items from the hoard. The slides of the artifacts are bright and clear, presenting a better closeup than a visitor at the museum can enjoy. The narrators, a man and a woman, talk about the designs and what they may mean.

The standard of Ur is a mysterious object whose original use is unknown. It is covered by representations of people and animals that illustrate both peaceful and warlike occupations of the people who made it.

The Ars Pacis is a reproduction of the Altar of Peace that the Emperor Augustus installed in the Senate House at Rome. I haven't watched the entire video, but I plan to go back and finish it.

Because the site is used by children all over the world, I would suggest that Khan pay more attention to such things as spelling, pronunciation and vocabulary. For example, The Standard of Ur video is interesting and would appeal to a child's imagination, but I was bothered by the way both the woman and the man pronounced the word Ur. The standard English pronunciation of the name of the ancient city is /er/, rhyming with fur. The narrators of the video both pronounce it as /or/, rhyming with for.

The Ars Pacis video is marred by the misspelling of the word emperor.

Even the math video I watched--Basic Addition--used the word avocado in explaining the process. "I have two avocados." Many children, depending upon where they live, would not be familiar with the word avocado. It's a minor thing, but some children would be distracted from the math process if they could not visualize the things being added.

Overall, I can recommend the Khan Academy as a useful resource for home tutoring. As with anything to do with education, however, I would urge parents to check out the individual lessons before turning their children loose with them, especially the lessons in the Humanities section.

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