Saturday, July 30, 2011

Big Math

I recently discovered The Khan Academy ( - a website designed to help teach people math and other skills.  There are over 2,400 videos on the site that explain concepts, you work through concepts and after you get 10 right in a row you're considered "proficient" in the topic.  You can also get coaching or ask for hints.  (Hints reset your "streak.")  You earn badges and "energy points" and can go back and look at stats about your own progress and how much time you spent on each module and how much time you spent watching videos and stuff.

There's a couple of videos on the homepage where you can learn more.

The week before last, I started Rachel on them.  She made quick work of addition 1.  Completing the module earned her a Starbucks, so early Saturday morning we walked to Starbucks.  It was a great bonding time, it probably took us 30-45 minutes each way.  I thought "This is awesome!"  This will be great bonding time.  We will turn this into a habit, a ritual, a chance to talk and that will help as she gets older to have a habit of being able to talk to old dad and maybe not think he's quite so clueless about everything.

But I was worried, there never seemed to be the right time to do any more work.  We had looked at addition 2, but she struggled.  And then there wasn't a good night.  We had stuff going on, or she had a bad day and it would have been fruitless to try to even suggest it.

I thought about how we could work on the concept and came up with a worksheet. Here's a piece of it (click to enlarge):

And then I waited.  Finally, there was a day where she had done well during the day, Ben had gone to bed a little earlier and she was still in good spirits, not too tired, had gotten ready for bed herself (washed her face, brushed, flossed, was in pajamas).  And so we sat down and looked over the worksheet and worked through a few problems together.

At first she strugged with working right to left but reading the final answer left to right, but she was remembering to add the carry.

The first page of the worksheet has the arrows on the blank ones on the left and examples on the right.  The second page (which I printed out multiple columns) has no arrows.  She doesn't like that I forgot the equal sign but I thought she showed great restraint by not writing it in.

So she picked up the concept pretty quickly and was off.  She used a pencil, but then would retrace some of the things with pen, alternating colors based on carry color.  Later she decided to use the colored pens even more specifically, suggesting that she wasn't having to use all of her mental power just to do the math part.  A few times she wrote in the answers and the carries without writing in the problem itself.  All the whole while telling me that this stuff was really easy.  It was awesome to see that kind of clicking going on in her head.  (Lori's caution is that she may get set in her ways and want to use the boxes in school and have a problem if they tell her she can't.)

So now she's earned two more Starbucks and I learned today that because we had left the website open in a tab, she had gone back and was working on Addition 4.  Only it looks like she needs new worksheets, these are resulting in 5-digit answers.  She's been adding her own boxes to the worksheet.

It'll be interesting when we start looking at multiplication and subtraction, but I think it's adding fractions that are going to give her trouble.  I think she's going to claim it's "not fair" - I'm not sure exactly what the reasoning will be, but it will have to do with how the problems are presented on screen (I don't like how they're presented)   That will require new worksheets, but hopefully I can head off some of the unfairness with how they're designed.

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