Why I Am Skeptical of Sal Khan

I suppose the title of this post says everything: I am skeptical of Sal Khan and I am worried about the influence he is having on education.

Now, if you’ve read this blog before (thank you, if you have), you might be wondering why I’m saying this. I am teaching a flipped chemistry class…his big point is that a flipped class is more effective than traditional classrooms because of 24/7 access, etc, etc.

I agree 100% with those comments.

So, why am I skeptical?

I’m skeptical because I’m afraid the flipped model is becoming a fad in the United States. I’m afraid its a buzzword that teachers (who don’t always understand the true working of the model) are going to start using to stay “current” or to keep administration happy.

I’m all for availability of material, and the volume of material that Mr. Khan has created and catalogued blows my mind (over 2,200 videos and counting). But, I’m concerned that teachers are going to turn these amazing resources into pop-and-play video lessons just to say they use them. I’m afraid that the power of the videos will be lost by just handing out an accompanying worksheet to fill in and get graded. I’m also afraid the availability of most curricula high schools offer will tempt teachers to sit back and stop teaching.

Again, I’m all for availability of resources, but there is also something to be said about learning from your teacher…not just a disembodied voice on YouTube.

So, I guess I should have titled this “How Do We Keep the Flipped Class From Becoming Ineffective?” It’s not what Mr. Khan is saying that worries me…its what the people that are listening to him will ultimately do with this idea. What I would like to see is more everyday teachers getting the focus. There are hundreds of teachers in the US alone using a flipped class…but they don’t get invited to do TED Talks or speak at keynote conventions.

I am convinced the power of flipping a classroom lies in the word-of-mouth transmission. We need teachers using a flipped model to step out and become more vocal about their methods. There are people like Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams (the guys I learned from) in Colorado, working very, very hard to promote the flipped classroom. We need to organize meetings, classroom visits, tutorials, webinars…anything that will help spread the word on how to effectively use podcasting in the classroom.

If you want more information on flipping your class, a good start is to visit The Flipped Class Network.

Terminal Velocity

This week, my students are about to finish unit 7, thermochemistry. Looking back one year, I was a little bit further ahead (in terms of content) but this same chapter was chapter 6, not chapter 7.

That’s a very roundabout way of saying this year, using the flipped model, I’ve been able to add an entire unit of study just by flipping the class. This blew me away when I realized how much time I had gained.

Then, I began to think about how I was able to move through the content so quickly. Did I add to student misconception because I was so caught up in wanting this flipped model to be “more” successful because I could cover more material? Right now, after using this model for the past year, I would say no. But, thinking about my motivations as I started this model, I’m afraid to say it probably was a major factor in my decision to switch.

As I’ve learned more about student achievement and how the content isn’t as important as teaching the student, I’ve taken a major step back to think about my motivations. Sure, it would be great if I could move through the material faster, but only if students are performing at a higher level. Have I sacrificed student understanding to reach a specific end? I hope not.

The whole point of this is to say that technology is great and its easy to move through the material quickly because it is available 24/7. But, that does not mean that we should move at the speed of light through the content. Take time for supplemental activities and outside information. Take time for fun activities and keep the students interested in what you’re doing.

Don’t use technology as a means to reach content’s end.

Evidence of Learning, Part 2

A few days ago, I wrote a post about a particular student, “Anne,” coming to grips with a very difficult topic to discuss…evolution.

Even though I was only the substitute teacher for the day, I gave them a homework assignment asking them to reflect on the discussion. You can read their responses if you’re interested.

Back to “Anne.” Her response was actually very short compared to the rest of the class, but again, I think it has profound depth despite its conciseness:

Yesterday, in Biology, I learned to get out of my narrow mind and think about evolution. I began to actually question my beliefs. It was challenging but a good experience. Questioning myself isn’t something I do regularly; I felt like yesterdays discussion was important. Whenever people ask me about my faith, I can never really answer them. I always grew up learning that God created everything. Yesterday, I learned that I will never know unless my faith grows. The discussion helped me a lot. I am still a nonbeliever in evolution.

The depth of her thoughts really stood out as she recognized that questioning her own beliefs aren’t something she does regularly…but who really does?

As teachers, we should be pushing students to think about hard topics.  We need to remind them that the world is not cut-and-dry nor black and white by any means.  How often, though, do we provide those opportunities?  Or even worse, how often do we see those opportunities and move past them in lieu of getting more content in?

Let’s not do our students a disservice by moving past the tough discussion to get more content in.  While it may be especially difficult with state tests and mandated benchmarks for students, it is not something we can afford to drop if we want to provide quality education for all students.

New Look, New Blog

Welcome to the new-and-improved blog (previously Mastering Chemistry).

As I’ve gotten more and more involved with the technology, almost by default, I became more and more spread out across the internet on different servers and host sites. After talking with Jeff Utecht at the EARCOS Teacher’s Conference, he strongly encouraged me to set up my own name domain on a dedicated server…so, brianbennett.org was born.

This is merely the blog portion. I’m still working on a catchy name, but the theme of the blog will remain the same. I will continue to post thoughts on education philosophy as the 21st century marches onward and how we need to meet students where they are in the digital age.



Before - Mastering Chemistry


After - brianbennett.org/blog

The sister site to this one, brianbennett.org, will be the more “professional” side. It is still in its infancy, but my goal is to have a comprehensive professional portfolio that will also host (or link to) all materials I’ve used or seen used in the Flipped Classroom and Mastery Learning model.

Currently, I have videos posted on my YouTube channel and I will be adding a dedicated playlist soon (hopefully in the next week or two) walking interested educators through production and sharing of podcasts and how to manage a mastery classroom.

As you look through the post, please feel free to comment on any functionality issues you are having

Thanks for all the comments and thoughts over the last week. I’m excited about the turn my career has taken and I’m looking forward to continuing to network and connect with educators interested in challenging and building 21st century learners.