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The Khan Academy

It started out as a part-time project to help his sixth-grade cousin who was struggling with her math classes. Over the past four years it has grown dramatically into an educational project that helps students from all over the world.

Already this year, Sal Khan and his Khan Academy have been featured on PBS NewsHour, mentioned on stage by Bill Gates at the Aspen Ideas Festival, and this week, were the subject of a full-blown profile in Fortune magazine.

It’s a remarkable story. Working out of a converted closet at his Silicon Valley home, the Harvard MBA and former hedge fund manager has produced over 1,600 educational videos. Concentrating on math and the sciences, the 5 to 15-minute videos cover everything from basic 1+1 math to advanced calculus and thermodynamics.

All the videos are available for free on the Academy web site or on YouTube, where Khan has his own channel with over 66,000 subscribers.

But it’s not just the extent of the video library that attracts so many followers. Khan is a natural teacher, with a conversational manner that draws in viewers that might otherwise be intimidated by the subject matter. Khan never appears on his videos in person. Instead, his calm voice walks you through examples and solutions, aided by simple illustrations and diagrams scratched out on an electronic chalkboard.

On his web site, Khan admits that as a student he was often frustrated with traditional teaching methods. He believed that fascinating and intuitive concepts were being reduced to pages of sleep-inducing text and monotonous, scripted lectures.

His alternative approach has struck a chord with thousands of students from all over the world. Comments and testimonials are full of praise for a teaching style that brings back the joy of learning without compromising on core principles and thoroughness.

Although Khan doesn’t follow any particular curriculum, he does recognize that students need to prepare for and pass exams if they are to advance. There are several hundred videos devoted to SAT, GMAT and other standardized tests.

Khan quit his day job in September 2009 and has since relied on his own savings and the support of a few generous individuals to continue his work. He continues to add videos at a remarkable rate and could reach the 2,000 mark by the end of the year. Volunteers have begun to translate the videos into other languages.

His ultimate goal is to produce tens of thousands of videos across every imaginable subject – a kind of open academy for online learning. In the meantime, if you have kids K through 12 who are struggling with math and/or science, this a wonderful resource for getting them back on track.



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