Friday, July 27, 2012

Mystery Teacher Theatre 2000 - Episode 2

So when Dave and I filmed the first episode, we actually filmed two. Given where the whole thing has gone, more episodes seem unlikely from us. (Unless we could do something meta with it...)

Of course, this also means whatever you disliked about the first one you will also dislike at least as much in this one. Audio quality, snark, the guy on the left...

Editing this it struck me that really Sal Khan is a tutor. He's like the strong student in the class that is willing to share with other students how he sees it. So his mathematical viewpoint is a bit procedural, and his understanding of the ideas comes across as a novice. A skilled novice, but without depth. It was his discussion of matrices that really sealed this for me. Undoubtedly there are a lot of teachers who see a matrix as just a table of numbers, but there is so much more. It may be a teaching decision to not share that 'much more' in an introduction, or it may be he's just sharing his viewpoint.

If this is your first exposure to MTT2K, there's still time to look away. If you don't, you might want to read Dave's two posts on how it came to be (one and two) or watch the first episode.  I have a (first crack at a) storify with some of the brouhaha surrounding the first.

I'll just say here, I'm not against Khan Aademy, I'm not jealous, and I'm not against flipped classrooms. I am for quality materials, intentional teaching and learning, and open discussion of ideas. I do believe satire is an appropriate response to exaggerated publicity and overhype.  If I could sing, I'd explore a Tom Lehrer style song on the matter. It's gratifying that the first episode started a big discussion, but at some level this is two guys goofing around to make a point about good use of resources.

In contrast to many places discussing Khan Academy, the comments are open. I'll ask you to be as civil as you can, though, please. Snark, satire and sarcasm are strictly permitted.


  1. I suspect you've tagged why people like his videos so much -- he reduces things to that simpler version . Why do evil math teachers try to make it more complex than it has to be?

  2. Based on this video, the following might be summarized as a possible set of charges against Khan. I don't say this is my conclusion, just what it is that he or his defenders should answer.

    1) The overall effect is sloppy and fuzzy.

    2) Sloppy a) interruption in middle not edited out b) error in arithmetic that was caught at his website by viewers and annotated by Khan c) thinking itself and general deportment.

    3) Fuzzy a) Matrix is table of numbers as opposed to an object that has data, procedures, and operations on two or more matrices b) no concept that matrices form an algebraic set with various properties.

    4) The student will likely not come away from this with distinct lessons or take aways.

    5) Even as a procedural video to teach the rule for adding matrices element by element it is not very effective. The sloppiness and fuzziness undermine the effectiveness to such an extent that the effectiveness as a pure procedural video to teach addition of matrices is low.

    6) Khan in effect disrespects the viewers by his fuzziness, sloppiness, lack of preparation, excessive time wasting, errors left in videos, failure to review them for accuracy or clarity, and inability to do a professional job.

    7) There is a lack of a sense of a quality in the professional standard that must be met.

    8) There is a lack of concept of competition challenge from others that has to be met.

    9) In terms of a credentialed professions with standards of practice, Khan does not recognize that teaching or math have such and he does not attempt to meet them.

    10) Khan is not the best teacher in America.

    11) A flipped classroom with this video is a disrespect to students and parents to have their time wasted beforehand.

    12) The video may create substantial misconceptions and class time have to be spent trying to repair those.

    13) Some students will form misconceptions from seeing this video before class that persist after the class.

    14) At least one study I saw stated that weak students taught poor procedural lessons may form lasting misconceptions that are hard to overcome. Khan's video falls into this class. Thus the weakest students who watch these in a flipped classroom approach may be substantially harmed by them.

    I will likely amend or revise this list based on criticism by others. It is just a preliminary draft.

  3. Critical analysis and commentary on the Khan Academy is heating up, and none too soon. The counter-attacks from Khan's volunteer(?) kadre of kritic-krushing kommandos seem stale and desperate and almost always lacking in substance or specifics, though fraught with excuses and nasty personal invective against those who dare to say that Emperor Khan is stark naked. Stay tuned.

    You guys deserve enormous credit for really stirring up debate. The rest of us have taken positive advantage of the huge opening you made with your first video to offer up comedy, serious critical analysis, and examples of how to do better. I'm still waiting patiently for a Khan kounter-kritic to point to an example of a Khan Academy video that's truly exemplary, that they (if they are teachers) would be PROUD to have done themselves. And waiting. And waiting.

    I stated yesterday that there's one I've seen that isn't awful. It's the one Sal put up to replace the horrid one you lampooned. And I would lay some serious cash that he stole it from James Tanton's video on the same topic that has been up for over two years. I don't think Khan himself has ever had an original idea about math teaching (and I don't mean that he hasn't created any new mathematics, but that he "borrows" liberally (;^) when it comes to any half-way incisive teaching he might do). I'm in the process of comparing his video with Vi Hart on Benford's Law with the one that Tanton posted in 2010 to see if there's more evidence of "creative lifting."

    Keep it up. Keep it up. Keep it up.

    1. I love Tanton's work including the video you refer to. I saw that devleopment for a negative x negative used in a program called Project SEED in the 1990s. I am sure that many people used it long before that. Almost everything in school math has been around for ages and we all "borrow" what suits our eye. Neither Khan nor Tanton "stole" anything.

    2. Recent tweet from Dan Meyer (26, July)

      "Welcome to the social. "Stealing" is probably the best word for what we do here".

  4. I'm not sure what would be harder to get through, another Khan lecture on matrices or another MTT2K video on another Khan lecture. The most informative and, yes, entertaining thing for me was your paragraph above that ironically begins with "Editing this it struck me..." where you express your specific concerns regarding Khan's approach. I would be genuinely interested in seeing you explore those concerns in greater detail. And, no offense (which people always say right before they offend you), but for now I'll probably continue to rely on John Stewart as my primary source of satire and on my teenage daughters as my primary sources of sarcasm and snark.

  5. Wow, I'm a d#%k. Perhaps a little too much snark. Conditioned by my daughters, I suppose. But, seriously, I would be interested in seeing you elaborate on your thoughts because, as someone who loved math, had a great deal of math in college, but had my joy of it all but ruined by a few bad teachers, I have a more than passing interest in learning theory, pedagogy or what is probably a more apt and succinct way to describe it - just good teaching, so that my daughters might avoid their joy of math being extinguished and that they are eventually able to appreciate the wonder of mathematics that comes with a deeper and more profound understanding of it. (Okay, now who needs an editor)

  6. As a student, I think there are many people who could learn from Khan Academy, but there are tons of people who'd find even more difficult than normal math class. And even the ones who could learn from it would find it more difficult than a physical school because students need one-on-one help from a teacher (not a parent, though in some cases that might work) when they don't understand something, and while sometimes that can be hard in a physical school, you're still more likely to get a helpful discussion from a physical person than a recorded lesson on a computer screen.