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I just read through Sylvia Martinez's four part blog post Khan Academy and the mythical math cure, and I have to say that I agree wholeheartedly. Posted back in April on the Generation YES blog, she examines the pedagogical effectiveness of the Khan approach while presenting the constructivist viewpoint. As the publisher of a website that promotes constructivism in the classroom, I was embarrassed to have previously posted a somewhat positive review of Salman Khan's work.
Perhaps to my defense, I did not so much as endorse his videos as I embraced the use of technology as an instructional tool. In The Path of Khan, I wrote that the videos provide an option for individualized instruction and that their popularity could be the catalyst needed to digitize textbooks. But while I suggested that Khan's instruction wasn't that different from a classroom lecture, Ms. Martinez astutely points out that this use of technology doesn't either. Whether the pupil is in the classroom or watching a video at home, this approach treats the learner as a passive participant. Again as a proponent of active learning, I regretted my previous words. Maybe I was just glad to see another approach to math instruction gain popularity. I could go on and try to retract my words but let me just say that I agree with what she said.
Constructivism is the belief that learning is best achieved when the individual uses his/her previous experiences to create new meaning, or as Sylvia puts it, "People learn by reorganizing what they already have in their head and adding new information that makes sense to them. No doubt this is at odds with teacher-dominated instruction, but is there room for both? Can a learner take an active and passive role? Ms. Martinez seems to believe that it can't be both and I'm not sure I agree. I think meaningful learning is a personalized process but I don't discount the value of teacher instruction altogether. Would she presume that we can't learn anything from reading a book, watching a movie, or listening to a lecture? To be fair, her points are directed at math learning which leads to a lengthy discussion in itself. I'm referring to the question of what is necessary in a math education, but I won't go down that path right now.
I will recommend her post as a must-read for math instructors (instruction?). Like Dan Meyer's work, I found it further developed beliefs I already had (constructivism?) and provided inspiration for my future efforts. I won't discount Khan's work altogether; his intention is to individualize learning which is a worthy goal. Perhaps what the path of Khan shows us is that pedagogy isn't changed just by using technology. It's going to take more than technology to reform education. I'm just glad we are moving forward.