Khan Academy

Post date: Oct 27, 2014 11:46:13 AM

Have you heard about Khan Academy? Perhaps you've come across a Khan Academy video tutorial for maths on You Tube? You might have even thought, I must show that to the class when I'm doing that topic.

Khan Academy is much more than a free collection of video tutorials for maths. It covers many other subjects including science, computer programming, economics, arts and the humanities. However, since most of these are more relevant to the second level programme and beyond, I am going to focus on what it offers primary level students, parents and teachers.

Firstly, I must admit that I am still a relative newbie to Khan Academy; I had dabbled with the site earlier this year during the first Mathletes Challenge, but I've delved much deeper into it this past month after attending the first ever Khan Academy Symposium in Dublin at the end of September. Since then I've registered my own children (1st class and 4th class) as well as my entire third class.

But why did I need to register students for a video tutorial site? To explain more, Khan Academy is much more that just video tutorials; it also operates like an online maths subscription site, (similar to Mathletics, Manga High, Splash Math,, etc) in that a teacher (or parent) can set up accounts for their students (or own children) and can receive ongoing feedback about their progress, skills practised, skills they're struggling with etc. However there is one major difference between Khan Academy and the other aforementioned subscription based sites; it is completely FREE and promises to always be.

Another advantage that Khan Academy has, over some of the other subscription sites, is that, usually when registering for the other sites, the teacher must select the level/class/grade for their class/students. This can then mean that certain students may be on a level that is too difficult or too easy and depending on the site, they may have to stay on this level or teacher involvement may be required to adjust this. On some of these sites, (eg Manga High) the teacher also has to make sure that the children have sufficient challenges set for them and this needs to be monitored, all of which eats into a teacher's time.

In contrast, Khan Academy quickly adjusts to provide questions that suit the ability of the student. The children can do Mastery Challenges where there is often a mixed bag of questions; if a child doesn't readily know the answer, they can ask the computer for a hint, watch a video tutorial or just tell the computer they haven't learnt that skill yet. The computer then adjusts the level of the questions presented accordingly.

However, I must admit that there is one significant negative to Khan Academy; registering your students is not as easy as some other subscription sites. If you've ever set up a class/school account for Mathletics, Manga High, Splash Math, etc., you only had to import a class list and these sites automatically generated usernames and passwords for you. Khan Academy insists that there must be an email address associated with each account, and since under 13s are not usually encouraged to have their own email account, this means getting details of a parents email account. Khan Academy has produced a parent permission form (that can be downloaded here); however, in my case a small number of parents didn't have an email address themselves. To overcome this, I produced my own version of the parent permission letter (click here to download) where I asked the parents to allow me permission to use a school based email address if they didn't have one (I just set up a generic class gmail address for this purpose only).

Then, because this information, i.e. user name, password, email address and DOB, all had to be entered manually for each student, it did take much longer than just importing a class list as I've done on other sites. However, once set up, a child's account details can stay with them indefinitely, meaning that in a school situation this would only have to be done once and would not have to be repeated each year, or if they move class, school etc.

Also it is worth mentioning that in comparison with a highly colourful site like, for example, Splash Math, Kahn Academy's interface might not be as attractive, but it would be very comparable to that of or Mathletics.

After all of that, do I think it's still worth doing? Yes, definitely! The fact that children can progress through it at their own pace, while being encouraged and monitored by the teacher are big plusses for me, and especially the fact that it's all free.

Here are some of my tips setting up your class/school:

  1. Start by going online to register as teacher: Once registered you become both a coach and a learner.

  2. Print out and send home the Khan Academy Permission form, either their version or mine

  3. Use the Khan Academy resources for teachers ( to get help on how to set up your class.

  4. You will be prompted to select a mission for your class; I have third class this year and I selected Early Math as I felt the next level (3rd Grade US) didn't suit the 3rd class curriculum (eg in 3rd Grade US they do place value to ten thousands , whereas 3rd class here only do hundreds, tens and units). Therefore, my personal recommendations are:

    • 1st-3rd class to do Early Math

    • 4th class (depending on ability) to do Early Maths initially and then move on to 3rd Grade

    • 5th class to do 3rd and/or 4th Grade

    • 6th class to do 4th and/or 5th Grade.

    • However it's worth mentioning that more able students can progress onto the other grades themselves when they've completed their assigned mission, and struggling students will be directed to more appropriate tasks by the computer

    • I put both my own children onto Early Maths; the 4th class girl could probably have gone onto the 3rd grade level but I just wanted her to work through the Early Maths first, just to familiarise herself with the site and the type of questions etc; plus revision is never any harm! The first class girl is also progressing well through the Early Math mission; however I will admit that she sometimes struggles with the language of the written problems. If you have 1st class and wanted to use Khan Academy it might be worth recommending some of the easier counting and numeration skills initially, for them to practice, and tell them that if a problem is too difficult to read, not be afraid to hit the "I haven't leant that yet" button.

  5. Encourage the children to do the mastery challenges initially as it's performance here that allows the computer to identify the level of the student. You can also make coach recommendations ( for your students, e.g. if you had been doing place value or teen numbers and you specifically wanted the class to practice those skills, you can recommend those. Then, the next time the student logs on, they will see those recommendations on their dashboards.

  6. Encourage ongoing involvement. Last week, I promised prizes for those children in my class who were most active on Khan Academy during just that week. In the student progress tab of the Coach Dashboard, I was able to identify those children who had been on Khan Academy for the most minutes and who had scored the most points. And, as I have my class grouped for maths according to ability, there was a prize for the top child in each group, rather than the top 5 in the whole class. This encouraged involvement across all ability levels.

  7. If you have any very able children in your class and you're looking to challenge them, you could encourage them to try out the computer programming section; it brings them step by step through the basics of programming, coding etc.

Have you been using Khan Academy yourself? Do you have any other tips for new users? If so please leave a comment on the Primary CPD Facebook page, or send me a tweet on Twitter!