Is Khan Academy Appropriate for a Flipped Classroom?

28 Jul

This blog post talks about the concept of using a Flipped Classroom in general and specifically educators who use Khan Academy as there lectures for the Flipped Classroom.


There has been so much hype about Khan Academy.  Each time I have gone onto the website, I have failed to be impressed.  I will plan a review in another post.  However, leaving those comments for that time, educators say that despite Khan’s limitations, is it still appropriate for a flipped classroom.  For those that don’t know, a flipped classroom is where students get their “lessons” at home via video and then do their homework during classroom time.  The idea is that lectures are not usually dynamic and that students need more help from a teacher during the active part of learning – when they are solving problems and doing their homework.

This brings me to a couple questions –

  1. Should teacher lectures be dynamic?
  2. Can a static lecture produce the same results in a flipped curriculum?
  3. Are teachers using this idea of a flipped curriculum properly?


When I took high school and college classes, many of my classes were static lectures where teachers talked, we took notes, and then were assigned homework.  If the teacher was good enough, your notes allowed you to be successful doing your homework and the next day the teacher went over the homework (all or the ones the students asked about) and moved onto the next lesson.  However, this model never worked for me as an educator.  My goal as a teacher was to make sure my students understood the content I was teaching them.  Therefore my lectures were always dynamic.  Some of this was communicated to me during my teacher education classes while some of it was common sense and instinct.  My lessons looked like this:  Teach a topic, give student problems relating to this topic to try right after the topic demonstration, communicate with students about their success and failure of those problems, teach next topic and continue.  If I just had students watching me do a whole unit on the board of the several topics I needed to cover, I would a) lose the attention of some of the class b) not know if they were understanding the topics and c) not be able to adjust the teaching to fit that classes individual learning needs.

By assuming that a static lecture (even in a flipped classroom) is the best approach, you are taking away so much from the student.  First, who is providing the lecture content?  Khan Academy, in my opinion (review coming) does a poor job of presenting static lectures.  First of all they do not build up concepts in a developmental approach.  Topics should be presented where it builds on student current knowledge.  Easier problems should come first and then more difficult problems should be added.  This helps students be successful and build procedural and conceptual knowledge.  Khan also just demonstrates information without any explanation, I call it “Magic Math.”  For example, I saw them do a lesson on solving inequalities.  They had -5x < 15.  Their first step was multiple by (-1/5).  They just said do this and moved on, doing it on both sides, switching the sign (they did mention because they divided by a negative in passing) and finished the problem.  To a student learning how to do this, knowing to multiply by (-1/5) to both sides seems like “magic.”  WHERE did that come from???  There is no 1/5 anywhere in the PROBLEM!!  There was no discussion of inverses, etc.  Even if a student caught on, do they understand why they are doing it?  Can they apply it to a novel situation?  Helping a student put these pieces together is the responsibility of the teacher.

If the teacher follows a strict definition of the “flipped classroom,” their classroom might look like this:  assign Khan Academy lectures for homework, have student come to class and work on problems in small groups or individually.  Teachers may or may not walk around and help students who get stuck.  As an example, my son’s class did this (luckily, they did their own videos rather than use Khan and the lessons were much better) however, during homework time, there was little interaction from the teacher (as reported by my son.)  When this happens the students don’t get that conceptual understanding, teachers don’t learn what their students’ know and don’t know, and the dynamic process that is so important to learning is not happening.

I believe that teaching a lesson for the first time should be dynamic and by using a flipped classroom, you lose that opportunity to make it that way.  It is even worse if the student is sent home to watch videos from a site such as Khan Academy where the lessons are mostly procedural, not developmental, sometimes have errors, and do not allow for any type of interactive process to happen.  When students come to class to do their assignments, they may be confused from poor teaching standards that are present in these lectures.  Only the brightest students will have success and we will continue to have the many problems we have with our students failing mathematics.  Teachers will need to re-explain concepts from the beginning at a more developmental approach one on one to students who got “lost” during the lectures and this defeats the idea of the flipped classroom.

If there are teacher-made videos for the flipped classroom (and I have seen some good ones), I feel the process can work better.  However, I still think that it is the teacher’s job to teach in a dynamic way and allow the student practice time at home on their own to make sure they have grasped the ability to be independent on the problems.  For example, when you drive with someone in a car and watch where you are going, often you can’t then get there on your own but if you get behind the wheel yourself, you are much more likely to remember how to get there.  The same holds true for math.  If the teacher (or fellow classmates) are holding the student’s hand through the problems during classroom homework time, the student still may be unable to do the work independently come test time.


Written by:  Lynne Gregorio, Ph.D. Mathematics Education

Owner:  Apex Learning Center


Leave a Reply