Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I finally realized I can learn anything....thanks to Sal Khan

Emmett working on his coding on

Thanks to Salman Khan, I now know that I can learn anything...absolutely anything.  Sad to say that it took me this long to realize, but it needed to be said.  I honestly don't know how I made it to my 40s without knowing this!

I was always told that learning didn't come easy to me...that some of my siblings had photographic memories and that it was harder for me to retain information.  I was told that I would probably "just" get married and have children and not make it all the way through college.  I was told that it is ok, I am just not the type of person to get As.  I am not a straight A student.  I got Cs and Ds and a few Fs math.  I struggled and struggled.  I just didn't get it.  I didn't understand math and I hated myself for it.  And worst of all, there was no Barry Manilow song lyric to address this issue.

Phew.  I said it.  That felt good. Blogging is so therapeutic.  :)

Looking back on those times, however,  I have come to the conclusion that it may not have actually been my fault that I was "bad at math".  Maybe my teacher didn't explain it in a way I could understand. Maybe I needed a different approach.  Maybe I had so much negative feedback at home that I talked myself into being "bad at math".  Maybe I compared my insecure self to my smart friends and felt like I could never measure up.

I am happy to say, though, that I DID prove everyone wrong. :) I pursued higher education, became a teacher and actually made something of myself!  And I am very happy to say that I actually DID get married and have children, too (my proudest accomplishment by far!).

Sal Khan of put out this video called, "You can learn anything".  A short video to inspire.  And that it did.  I shared this video with my children and I was so happy to know that they would not have the preconceived ideas about learning ability that I had when I was a child.  I explained to them that it is through mistakes that we learn and through trying and working hard.  I won't be comparing them to each other or inadvertently limiting their potential with preconceived ideas about how they learn.

Here is the 1 1/2 minute video...

I have been using for two years now with Emmett and now Carmen.  I have to say that I almost gave up.  Emmett, Carmen and I are at a place now that we are completely comfortable with the format of Khan Academy and how it all works.  There have also been many changes and many helpful updates with the website in the past two years.  For example, I never used to be able to tell what in the world Emmett was studying!  It all seemed so random.  I just wanted him to work through a particular grade level or sequential skill but I could never follow what he was doing.  Now it all makes sense.  He works on programs of study and it tracks his progress.  I get weekly updates about what my students are doing because I am a signed up as a coach to them.  I can see exactly how much time they are spending on a topic, how much progress they have made and what areas need more practice.  Programs are separated into grade level and particular objectives.  It shows the percent mastery of the program in a neat little circle that fills in the color blue as you make progress.  

I must emphasize that it was a long process getting to this comfort level in such a new learning format.  There were many growing pains along the way.  Emmett and I had our share of frustrations as we navigated through the learning environment.  It took a while for me to find his "sweet spot" for learning.  Sometimes I had him working above his ability and he cried.  Sometimes I had him on something too easy and he laughed.  Sometimes I felt stupid so I cried.  Not really.  

So here we are two years later cruising right along and loving every second of it.  To think that I almost paid for a math curriculum when Khan Academy is completely free.  (Life of Fred is my next favorite curriculum, though.  We used that last year and I love it.  Worth every penny)  

Emmett is excelling in math and learning anything he wants.  He is also participating in the Hour of Code.  It is an incentive program on Khan Academy to get people interested in coding and computer language and programming.  Emmett LOVES it.  His progress is being tracked, he saves his work, and earns energy points and badges for his accomplishments.  Carmen has started this year and she loves it.  Emmett also loves that she is working on it, too.  It is one more thing they have in common that they can share in and talk about.  Little sisters aren't that bad, after all. :)

I am not a fan of incentive rewards for learning, but Khan Academy does it in a pretty tasteful and unassuming way.  You can earn energy points and badges.  You can also change your little avatar picture that represents you when you complete more challenges and earn different avatars.  It is pretty fun and doesn't detract so much from learning.  

I highly recommend reading Sal Khan's book, One World School House.  If you don't read the book, it is well worth it to check out the reviews on this Amazon link to get an idea of his philosophy.  

Whenever working with ANY technology as learning environment, it is so important to be available to your child the ENTIRE time he/she is engaged with the computer.  Screen interaction is never a substitute for actual human interaction.  I never use screens as a babysitter.  Screens, if used as a tool for learning and NOT a babysitter, are so complementary to the teacher/student relationship.  If nothing else, being able to use technology to look things up in an instant gives me more confidence! While watching the learning videos alongside Emmett, I can learn how to explain concepts that I am not so familiar with in order to help him better understand.  I listen to what the instructor says, pause the video, and make sure I explain and clarify for Emmett.  It is a great experience for both of us.  

So I am happy to say I have found my way with Khan Academy and I am on board with Sal Khan and his mission.  He (and technology), has made it possible for this insecure teacher turned mom to be confident, secure and motivated when it comes to teaching math and interacting with my children/favorite students EVER. 

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