Let’s teach for mastery — not test scores | Sal Khan


I’m here today to talk about
the two ideas that, at least based on
my observations at Khan Academy, are kind of the core,
or the key leverage points for learning. And it’s the idea of mastery and the idea of mindset. I saw this in the early days
working with my cousins. A lot of them were having trouble
with math at first, because they had all of these gaps
accumulated in their learning. And because of that, at some point
they got to an algebra class and they might have been a little bit
shaky on some of the pre-algebra, and because of that, they thought
they didn’t have the math gene. Or they’d get to a calculus class, and they’d be a little bit
shaky on the algebra. I saw it in the early days when I was uploading
some of those videos on YouTube, and I realized that people
who were not my cousins were watching. (Laughter) And at first, those comments
were just simple thank-yous. I thought that was a pretty big deal. I don’t know how much time
you all spend on YouTube. Most of the comments are not “Thank you.” (Laughter) They’re a little edgier than that. But then the comments
got a little more intense, student after student saying
that they had grown up not liking math. It was getting difficult as they got
into more advanced math topics. By the time they got to algebra, they had so many gaps in their knowledge
they couldn’t engage with it. They thought they didn’t
have the math gene. But when they were a bit older, they took a little agency
and decided to engage. They found resources like Khan Academy and they were able to fill in those gaps
and master those concepts, and that reinforced their mindset
that it wasn’t fixed; that they actually were capable
of learning mathematics. And in a lot of ways, this is how
you would master a lot of things in life. It’s the way you would
learn a martial art. In a martial art, you would
practice the white belt skills as long as necessary, and only when you’ve mastered it you would move on to become a yellow belt. It’s the way you learn
a musical instrument: you practice the basic piece
over and over again, and only when you’ve mastered it, you go on to the more advanced one. But what we point out — this is not the way a traditional
academic model is structured, the type of academic model
that most of us grew up in. In a traditional academic model, we group students together,
usually by age, and around middle school, by age and perceived ability, and we shepherd them all
together at the same pace. And what typically happens, let’s say we’re in a middle school
pre-algebra class, and the current unit is on exponents, the teacher will give
a lecture on exponents, then we’ll go home, do some homework. The next morning,
we’ll review the homework, then another lecture, homework,
lecture, homework. That will continue for about
two or three weeks, and then we get a test. On that test, maybe I get a 75 percent, maybe you get a 90 percent, maybe you get a 95 percent. And even though the test identified
gaps in our knowledge, I didn’t know 25 percent of the material. Even the A student, what was
the five percent they didn’t know? Even though we’ve identified the gaps, the whole class will then
move on to the next subject, probably a more advanced subject
that’s going to build on those gaps. It might be logarithms
or negative exponents. And that process continues,
and you immediately start to realize how strange this is. I didn’t know 25 percent
of the more foundational thing, and now I’m being pushed
to the more advanced thing. And this will continue for months, years,
all the way until at some point, I might be in an algebra class
or trigonometry class and I hit a wall. And it’s not because algebra
is fundamentally difficult or because the student isn’t bright. It’s because I’m seeing an equation
and they’re dealing with exponents and that 30 percent
that I didn’t know is showing up. And then I start to disengage. To appreciate how absurd that is, imagine if we did other things
in our life that way. Say, home-building. (Laughter) So we bring in the contractor and say, “We were told we have
two weeks to build a foundation. Do what you can.” (Laughter) So they do what they can. Maybe it rains. Maybe some of the supplies don’t show up. And two weeks later,
the inspector comes, looks around, says, “OK, the concrete
is still wet right over there, that part’s not quite up to code … I’ll give it an 80 percent.” (Laughter) You say, “Great! That’s a C.
Let’s build the first floor.” (Laughter) Same thing. We have two weeks, do what you can,
inspector shows up, it’s a 75 percent. Great, that’s a D-plus. Second floor, third floor, and all of a sudden,
while you’re building the third floor, the whole structure collapses. And if your reaction is the reaction
you typically have in education, or that a lot of folks have, you might say, maybe
we had a bad contractor, or maybe we needed better inspection
or more frequent inspection. But what was really broken
was the process. We were artificially constraining
how long we had to something, pretty much ensuring a variable outcome, and we took the trouble of inspecting
and identifying those gaps, but then we built right on top of it. So the idea of mastery learning
is to do the exact opposite. Instead of artificially
constraining, fixing when and how long you work on something, pretty much ensuring
that variable outcome, the A, B, C, D, F — do it the other way around. What’s variable is when and how long a student actually has
to work on something, and what’s fixed is that
they actually master the material. And it’s important to realize that not only will this make the student
learn their exponents better, but it’ll reinforce
the right mindset muscles. It makes them realize that if you got
20 percent wrong on something, it doesn’t mean that you have
a C branded in your DNA somehow. It means that you should just
keep working on it. You should have grit;
you should have perseverance; you should take agency over your learning. Now, a lot of skeptics might say,
well, hey, this is all great, philosophically, this whole idea
of mastery-based learning and its connection to mindset, students taking agency
over their learning. It makes a lot of sense,
but it seems impractical. To actually do it, every student
would be on their own track. It would have to be personalized, you’d have to have private tutors
and worksheets for every student. And these aren’t new ideas — there were experiments
in Winnetka, Illinois, 100 years ago, where they did mastery-based learning
and saw great results, but they said it wouldn’t scale
because it was logistically difficult. The teacher had to give different
worksheets to every student, give on-demand assessments. But now today, it’s no longer impractical. We have the tools to do it. Students see an explanation
at their own time and pace? There’s on-demand video for that. They need practice? They need feedback? There’s adaptive exercises
readily available for students. And when that happens,
all sorts of neat things happen. One, the students can actually
master the concepts, but they’re also building
their growth mindset, they’re building grit, perseverance, they’re taking agency over their learning. And all sorts of beautiful things
can start to happen in the actual classroom. Instead of it being focused
on the lecture, students can interact with each other. They can get deeper mastery
over the material. They can go into simulations,
Socratic dialogue. To appreciate what we’re talking about and the tragedy of lost potential here, I’d like to give a little bit
of a thought experiment. If we were to go 400 years
into the past to Western Europe, which even then, was one of the more
literate parts of the planet, you would see that about 15 percent
of the population knew how to read. And I suspect that if you asked someone
who did know how to read, say a member of the clergy, “What percentage of the population
do you think is even capable of reading?” They might say, “Well,
with a great education system, maybe 20 or 30 percent.” But if you fast forward to today, we know that that prediction
would have been wildly pessimistic, that pretty close to 100 percent
of the population is capable of reading. But if I were to ask you
a similar question: “What percentage of the population
do you think is capable of truly mastering calculus, or understanding organic chemistry, or being able to contribute
to cancer research?” A lot of you might say, “Well,
with a great education system, maybe 20, 30 percent.” But what if that estimate is just based on your own experience
in a non-mastery framework, your own experience with yourself
or observing your peers, where you’re being pushed
at this set pace through classes, accumulating all these gaps? Even when you got that 95 percent, what was that five percent you missed? And it keeps accumulating —
you get to an advanced class, all of a sudden you hit a wall and say, “I’m not meant to be a cancer researcher; not meant to be a physicist;
not meant to be a mathematician.” I suspect that that actually is the case, but if you were allowed to be operating
in a mastery framework, if you were allowed to really
take agency over your learning, and when you get something wrong, embrace it — view that failure
as a moment of learning — that number, the percent
that could really master calculus or understand organic chemistry, is actually a lot closer to 100 percent. And this isn’t even just a “nice to have.” I think it’s a social imperative. We’re exiting what you could call
the industrial age and we’re going into
this information revolution. And it’s clear that some
things are happening. In the industrial age,
society was a pyramid. At the base of the pyramid,
you needed human labor. In the middle of the pyramid,
you had an information processing, a bureaucracy class, and at the top of the pyramid,
you had your owners of capital and your entrepreneurs and your creative class. But we know what’s happening already, as we go into this information revolution. The bottom of that pyramid,
automation, is going to take over. Even that middle tier,
information processing, that’s what computers are good at. So as a society, we have a question: All this new productivity is happening
because of this technology, but who participates in it? Is it just going to be that very top
of the pyramid, in which case, what does everyone else do? How do they operate? Or do we do something
that’s more aspirational? Do we actually attempt
to invert the pyramid, where you have a large creative class, where almost everyone
can participate as an entrepreneur, an artist, as a researcher? And I don’t think that this is utopian. I really think that this
is all based on the idea that if we let people
tap into their potential by mastering concepts, by being able to exercise agency
over their learning, that they can get there. And when you think of it
as just a citizen of the world, it’s pretty exciting. I mean, think about
the type of equity we can we have, and the rate at which civilization
could even progress. And so, I’m pretty optimistic about it. I think it’s going to be
a pretty exciting time to be alive. Thank you. (Applause)

73 thoughts on “Let’s teach for mastery — not test scores | Sal Khan

  • July 29, 2019 at 1:52 am
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    Current system = smart people get smarter, average gets left behind

    Khan's system = everyone gets smarter, win win

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  • July 29, 2019 at 3:23 am
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    If you can say 1% of what he said in a job interview, you walked out with the job offer – the great concept of seeing the pyramid in an inverted position

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  • July 29, 2019 at 3:47 pm
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    I am always wondering how come he knows so much???

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  • July 30, 2019 at 5:28 am
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    This voice has helped me remember long-forgotten math concepts so I can help my kids with their math homework! (And it made much more sense!)
    This TED talk was so inspirational, I loved it!

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  • July 31, 2019 at 12:24 pm
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    Einstein said something similar about education.
    He said:
    "It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer."

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  • August 2, 2019 at 8:06 am
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    This is why I'm homeschooled

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  • August 2, 2019 at 10:47 pm
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    He is a herooo..may allah bless him..❤

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  • August 4, 2019 at 9:22 am
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    Sal is my hero. Because of him I just applied to University to study Computer Science. In high school I would have laughed and side eyed my math grades while laughing a bit more at this (then) ridiculous notion. Thank you.

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  • August 7, 2019 at 5:39 am
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    Anyone else thinks he sounds like Obama at times?

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  • August 10, 2019 at 3:51 am
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    But technically the SAT is based on scores lol not what you learn they don’t care about that

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  • August 11, 2019 at 2:35 am
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    The hero we didnt deserve but the hero we needed

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  • August 11, 2019 at 6:39 pm
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    This 100%. I'm about to take my SAT and ive never been more scared.

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  • August 12, 2019 at 1:03 am
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    School knocked any interest in mathematics right out of me, just today I heard about the academy and I'm loving algebra.

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  • August 12, 2019 at 8:58 pm
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    His voice somewhat reminds me of Barrack Obama

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  • August 13, 2019 at 1:26 am
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    2019.08 and I'm here just to praise Sal Khan.

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  • August 14, 2019 at 3:27 am
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    This guy is the reason I am surviving high school
    What a Legend

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  • August 14, 2019 at 1:23 pm
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    Let’s say that we have a force of 5 Newton’s

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  • August 17, 2019 at 11:00 am
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    His voice is so cool!!

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  • August 18, 2019 at 5:17 am
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    Khan academy is my volunteered summer homeschool

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  • August 19, 2019 at 4:24 am
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    Bless this guy 👏

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  • August 19, 2019 at 7:50 pm
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    not to be weird or anything but my man Sal low-key sounds like Obama

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  • August 20, 2019 at 5:21 pm
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    This man helped me through the most of the university.

    Reply
  • August 23, 2019 at 4:28 am
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    This video has truly inspired me. I’m studying for my MCAT right now and needed to hear these words of wisdom.

    Reply
  • August 24, 2019 at 1:34 am
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    That woudl be idea however universities would riot

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  • August 24, 2019 at 1:53 am
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    I need help. What what the central idea of this speech?

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  • August 25, 2019 at 3:47 pm
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    ''let me do this with a different colour"

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  • August 26, 2019 at 5:24 pm
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    Sal Khan deserves a Nobel Prize.

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  • August 26, 2019 at 9:34 pm
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    0:56 common Bengali dilemma

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  • August 29, 2019 at 6:28 am
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    I want to give this a SUPER LIKE or something. He is so right man.

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  • August 29, 2019 at 11:43 pm
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    this is great…. but HOW? How do we implement this? Its one thing to say this is what we need to do., and an entirely different thing to actually present a way to change. A method. A thing that teachers can do to actually implement this in classrooms.

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  • August 30, 2019 at 6:33 am
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    WOW.. WOW.. WOW.. What a beautiful talk.. He is truly the CITIZEN OF THE WORLD

    Reply
  • August 31, 2019 at 12:43 am
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    Thank you Salman Khan!!!

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  • August 31, 2019 at 9:53 pm
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    Legends never die

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  • September 3, 2019 at 5:01 am
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    To be fair though, if 95% wasn't good enough for a student to proceed we would all be 50 years old when we complete our studies. I mean yes we can and maybe "should be" able to get a 100% in our core subjects but when we take a course it doesn't just include the main subjects. If i am studying engineering and i have a class on business I don't think I need to "master it" to proceed. A 100% is just flat out impractical, a kid in a martial arts class doesn't master a technique and get to the next level(belt) . He goes to the next level when he's good enough. When we take an exam its at the upper limit of a students capacity and a student might score very differently depending on the questions of the same subject.The base of a building isn't unquestionably hundred percent, it's just good enough for supporting the rest of the building it's not indestructible or utopian. There is always room for improvement. So even though teaching students individually is a great idea, the notion of needing to absolutely master a class is absolutely impractical and idiotic.

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  • September 4, 2019 at 3:17 pm
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    Wow it's astonishing that i didn't fast forward the video.

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  • September 6, 2019 at 1:44 am
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    I totally thought he was going to be white

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  • September 9, 2019 at 11:35 pm
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    Khan Academy is the best learning tool for me. It has truly helped me to not only learn the material but truly "master" it. Thank you Sal Khan! You're a hero in my book!

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  • September 13, 2019 at 2:05 am
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    SAALLLYYYYY

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  • September 19, 2019 at 9:54 am
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    Who would object to this guy running for president?

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  • September 19, 2019 at 1:47 pm
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    that familiar voice haha

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  • September 21, 2019 at 6:55 am
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    Sal khan for our future presidents secretary of education!

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  • September 22, 2019 at 1:39 pm
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    You are just awesome
    You make us proud
    Love from Bangladesh 🇧🇩

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  • September 23, 2019 at 1:51 am
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    I agree with everything he said in this video. He is correct. However, our system and gov. will not change and transform schools into this way. This is all due to control. Do you remember those philosophers you learned about in school? Why do you think we don´t have people like that anymore(at least, you don´t hear about them.) Well, one they are probably on social media or just not going public about their thoughts. But also because everything is moving at such a fast pace nowadays, nobody wants to sit down and think because they think they have no time. That is exactly what our gov. is doing. They like this tempo because it means that we do not have critical thinkers that might think ¨What if our gov. is wrong?¨ The gov. fears these people because they might try to organize a revolt on the gov. if we had people like this. I know that sounds kind of ridiculous, but that is only because we do not have people like this, so in your head you say ¨Ha, that will never happen.¨And it won´t if we don´t slow down and think. There are a lot of dumb people in our nation(let´s just stick to nation for now,) and PARTIALLY it is not their fault. The gov. does not want people to change. The gov. does not want to cure cancer, because lots of time and money will go down the drain, and the gov. cares a lot more about money than its people. The gov. is brainwashing us, and we don´t even realize it. Why do you think everyone is so lazy nowadays? Due to their devices and their consumption mainly. DO you really think the gov. wants people who are active and device responsible? No, because then they cannot control us. It is all about control. Wake up people. The gov. is not as good as you think they are. THINK.

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  • September 23, 2019 at 3:49 am
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    Wait why does this mans voice sound so familiar??

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  • September 23, 2019 at 2:15 pm
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    Thank you sal for your great website it has taught me heaps!!

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  • September 24, 2019 at 5:25 am
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    He is ON POINT about those gaps! I can't tell you how much of a proficiency difference I have with optimization problems vs. composite trig function derivatives.

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  • September 25, 2019 at 8:34 pm
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    better than my actual math professors

    Reply
  • September 25, 2019 at 10:34 pm
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    I can't quite seem to get these colors right….let me try the orange one.

    Reply
  • September 26, 2019 at 12:41 am
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    my father

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  • September 26, 2019 at 2:27 am
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    Thank you for helping me when the school system would not!

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  • September 26, 2019 at 9:08 pm
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    This guy sounds exactly like the voiceover on Khan Academy

    Reply
  • September 27, 2019 at 4:07 am
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    Khan For President 2020. Gen Z is behind this man 100%

    Reply
  • September 27, 2019 at 4:10 am
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    I owe so much to this one man.

    Reply
  • September 27, 2019 at 6:23 am
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    Thanks 🙂

    Reply
  • September 28, 2019 at 8:19 pm
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    I would die for sal khan

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  • September 28, 2019 at 8:36 pm
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    As a Teacher who had taught in the basic school in Ghana, the first time I listened to Sal, I said wow this is what Teachers and Students in Ghana need to surmount the learning style challenge in the classroom. With the recent introduction of the New Education Curriculum in Ghana, I have just started a project to make teaching and learning easy in Ghana too through free video lessons.Guys, feel free to check it and give me a shout out

    Reply
  • September 28, 2019 at 11:38 pm
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    Oh look, my favorite person

    Reply
  • September 29, 2019 at 7:31 am
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    Thanks ! :')

    Reply
  • October 1, 2019 at 2:38 pm
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    Thank you a little edgier???

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  • October 1, 2019 at 2:46 pm
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    He is unbelievable, my greatest teacher

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  • October 1, 2019 at 8:09 pm
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    There has been a protest for climate change. Now there must be protest for education change.

    Reply
  • October 2, 2019 at 4:07 am
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    This man has started something amazing in education. Bring Khan Academy and its concepts behind educating to public schools EVERYWHERE. Effective, personalized, and its cost effective… what more can you ask for?

    Reply
  • October 3, 2019 at 6:09 am
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    Learning with Khan Academy feels like using steroids 😀

    Reply
  • October 4, 2019 at 3:37 pm
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    Don’t get me wrong I can see how khan is very very important and can be extremely beneficial. However, a student I hate it. It’s constantly shoved down my throat. It becomes homework and becomes a grade. I think schools should suggest it instead of force it.

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  • October 4, 2019 at 7:06 pm
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    I know right. The same would also apply to other subjects. Like a student who doesn’t know the French Revolution is simply rushed through a history class, without getting the chance to get better at it.

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  • October 5, 2019 at 8:04 am
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    I know I'm not the only who said this but, THANK YOU KHAN!

    Reply
  • October 6, 2019 at 6:06 am
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    I’m not gonna lie, I see his point of view but there are some gaps in there. Let’s say a student doesn’t move onto the next chapter until he or she has completely mastered that chapter, and there’s a couple of students in there that are a bit slower in math overall. They’re not stupid, but it just takes them longer to understand each chapter than it takes others. Well that means that as the year goes on, they get further, and further behind. That means by the end of the year they will not have covered the same amount as other students, which is unfair since the slower students had to do less work. Also they will have learned less info which is probably important for next year, so the same problem arises. They don’t know the info from last year so they can’t successfully take that step up in difficulty level, which can seriously affect how well they do in different sections of the ACT or SAT, which can correlate to thousands of dollars for every point they get (especially in the ACT). Another point he brought up was that teachers can easily find videos for each student to watch outside of school to help them learn that chapter. First of all, that is not easy. Finding a video for each and every student of different levels is extremely difficult and time consuming, and there’s a very good chance that the student wouldn’t even watch it anyways cause many students just don’t care. In the contrary, currently if a student is a bit slower than the rest, but they care about being successful in the class, there are plenty or sources that can help them out there. Overall I think his idea is a good conception but it wouldn’t work overall. We shouldn’t overwork our underpaid teachers and in the end no matter how hard we try, we can’t get every student to excel in every subject cause some just don’t care and you can’t change that.

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  • October 7, 2019 at 6:02 pm
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    Two stories – I am Programme Leader for university level learning at an FE college and every year I have 2 or 3 enquiries from older people who didn’t do well at school but as they got into their 30’s then want to study at university level. I interview them and if I believe they are genuinely motivated I set them a Khan Academy course and register myself as their mentor. Half the applicants realise that the can’t get passed their partner’s demands, the dogs and the screaming kids – but all the ones who have completed it have gone on to complete degrees and two, Masters’ degrees in engineering. On behalf of them all I thank you Sal.

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  • October 8, 2019 at 12:33 pm
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    I passed half million energy poimts barrier at khan academy 😎

    Habout you guys ??

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  • October 9, 2019 at 2:53 pm
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    4:20 80% is a C? And 75% is a D+? Damn, this guy's got some high standards

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  • October 10, 2019 at 3:15 pm
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    I always thought that Sal was a white guy, and I always wondered how a white guy could be so smart…. but now it all makes sense.

    Reply

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