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How I Leaned On Khan Academy

As I already said, days and events are jumbled up, but that’s not significant. Let me tell you one more thing about the lessons, and then next time I’ll wrap up this pain-in-the-back story.

1. Grace Over Grades

Our grading philosophy for the last ten weeks of the school year was grace over grades. I am proud to say that our school system explicitly set that as our guiding philosophy for distance learning during the COVID-19 shutdown. Our kids were under a huge amount of stress, and jumping on them about lessons and homework and tests would not have been helpful. So we didn’t.

We weren’t alone in this. Although I heard of many distance learning teachers that did have daily interactive video sessions with the entire class, most of us did not, because many of our kids have no laptops and no internet at home.

In the end, there was much grace dispensed from my grade book. Just today I got a thank you note from one of my students who had expected to fail the class but didn’t, because they were on track to pass originally and … grace over grades.

2. Distance Teaching

Our weekly Algebra 2 lessons mostly consisted of a two sets of notes (PDF files) with several brief videos of me stepping thru the notes (for example, this video) and then some traditional homework, which the kids turned in by snapping pictures of the work they did. The kids didn’t really have to read the notes. All they needed to do was watch me talk about the math — kinda like what we did in the good old days.

Preparing for each week was therefore an exercise in writing up the notes (which used color and cartoons just like in the good old days) and doing about a half-dozen screencasts. To start with, I’d embed a picture-in-picture video of me into each screencast where I’d be talking and making faces. But in the end, I found that doing that only on the intro video made it easier for me to get things done. There’s something about your face showing up on every minute of every screencast that makes it easy to procrastinate. #COVIDhair

You’d have to ask my students, but I think it went pretty well. It was a simple way to deliver the lessons. It allowed them to do all the work on their own schedules. And they still got to see the little cherub face of their teacher at least twice a week, albeit crammed in that picture-in-picture.

However, there was one weekend when I knew I wasn’t going to be able to pull that off.

3. Relying on Khan Academy

I have talked about how there was one night where I burned the midnight oil to pull off those lessons. Not long after that, there was another where it was clear by Sunday morning that things were not going well with my back. There would be no writing of notes. There would be no sitting at the desk making screencasts. I needed another plan.

I used Khan Academy. I have a teacher account there, and I had already assigned some Khan Academy material to my pre-AP students. I figured I could grab some stuff there and maybe from other online sites. I could pull together links to some videos and articles as a substitute for my hand-crafted notes and videos. Indeed, some teachers ran their classes this way the entire time. I started Sunday morning. (No more waiting until after dinner!)

It took almost all day. Because so many videos and articles covered concepts we didn’t. And because of so many (non-Khan Academy) videos were just plain lousy. And finally because of my bed-ridden horizontality with laptop angled toward face as I pecked awkwardly at the keyboard. Still, at 7:00pm, the lessons were ready to post to Google Classroom.

I had found what I needed — collected links, written instructions, and created homework assignments. I was relieved, because I had been running for the cliff again and wasn’t quite sure it was all going to come together. Until it did. And the sun hadn’t even set, yet.

Or at least I think it came together. You’d have to ask the kids.