Archive for December 5th, 2011

December 5, 2011

More classrooms trying Khan Academy, finding it better than group projects

by Grace

Last week I criticized what I considered the hasty proclamation of a Khan Academy (KA) classroom pilot as a “colossal success”.  Nevertheless, because I am a big fan of Khan Academy and believe in its potential, I am happy to see this.

This semester, at least 36 schools nationwide are trying out Mr. Khan’s experiment: splitting up the work of teaching between man and machine, and combining teacher-led lessons with computer-based lectures and exercises.

The results so far make me feel cautiously optimistic.

It is too early to know whether the Khan Academy software makes a real difference in learning. A limited study with students in Oakland, Calif., this year found that children who had fallen behind in math caught up equally well if they used the software or were tutored in small groups. The research firm SRI International is working on an evaluation of the software in the classroom.

But look closely at what was happening in this class before KA.  Students would work in groups for days at a time trying to solve just one problem, an exercise that didn’t seem to help them master the fundamentals.

In the past, math class at the Summit schools was always hands-on: the class worked on a problem, usually in small groups, sometimes for days at a time. But getting an entire class of ninth graders to master the fundamentals of math was never easy. Without those, the higher-level conceptual exercises were impossible.

So what exactly were they really getting out of this teacher-supervised, time-consuming group work? This is a question many parents and mathematicians have been asking.

KA offers students a new, engaging way to learn the basics.  It also tracks data that provides teachers with precise individualized information on each student’s progress.  Good, because this allows teachers to do what they can do best.

Ms. Tavenner says she believes that computers cannot replace teachers. But the computer, she recognizes, can do some things a teacher cannot. It can offer personal feedback to a whole room of students as they work. And it can give the teacher additional class time to do more creative and customized teaching.

The thing is, I’m a little wary of giving teachers more time to oversee days of creative group projects with questionable learning goals.  I’d rather see teachers focus on taking advantage of Khan data to proactively address individual learning gaps, letting them be the expert humans interacting with and teaching students in ways no machine can.

December 5, 2011

‘College Savings Drop Off as More Parents Feel Pinched’

by Grace

Wonder how much parents have been contributing recently to their kids’ college-savings plans in this fitful economy? Short answer: Not much.

Just ask Michael Heenan, a Sacramento-based communications consultant.

When the economy was growing in 2006 and 2007, he and his wife were contributing a stellar $24,000 a year to the 529 college savings plan for their daughter, who is now 11.

“We wanted to be able to say, ‘Honey, if you want to go to Harvard or MIT, you go!’ We were a couple of years away from being able to take a huge financial concern off the table.”

But his income dipped along with the recession, and paired with the tanking stock market, it “brought annual contributions to a halt,” said the 48-year-old. “One time I opened a statement, looked at the number, and thought, ‘Well, to hell with that’.”

Many of us are in similar circumstances.

Heenan’s not alone in shying away from college savings, as a result of being spooked by a wildly gyrating stock market and rising tuition bills.

New figures for the nation’s 529 plans are in from Boston-based Financial Research Corp., and there was a $354 million outflow in the third quarter. The last time parents pulled cash out of college-savings plans, rather than putting in: The fall of 2008, when the financial crisis was at its height.

The middle class, who should be doing most of the saving, is feeling more pressured than ever. People are saying, ‘What are we going to do?”‘

That might be why parents are now coming up with only 37 percent of the total college bill, compared to 47 percent last year alone, according to the Sallie Mae study “How America Pays for College.”

If money is tight, parents are doing the right thing.

After all, college savings should not be the foremost priority of cash-strapped parents; retirement, emergency funds and insurance should all take precedence. He makes the analogy of airplane travel with kids: “You need to put on your own oxygen mask first.”

Here’s some some advice for parents of high schoolers facing the high cost of college.

%d bloggers like this: