It’s an honor to be a guest blogger with the Kipling School faculty and staff as part of the book read/study of Sal Khan’s The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined! I’m a guest blogger and I’m proud to serve the Kipling Krew and the rest of the Deerfield Public Schools District 109 as the Superintendent of Schools. My part of the book study is sharing thoughts about No-Frills Videos and Focusing on the Content, found in chapters 3 and 4 of Part one of this outstanding and thought provoking book.
Khan starts chapter 3, No-Frills Videos with a quote that I read over and over and over: “In character, in manner, in style, in all things the supreme excellence is simplicity” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Khan started out tutoring his cousin and using basic technology for the purpose of assisting his efforts at tutoring. He did not set out to become a phenomenon, though he did! Khan aimed to bring back fun to learning. The chalkboard (represented virtually by the black background on which he draws) symbolizes perhaps a simpler time when school was fun. My hope is that school is fun everywhere and every day! My hope is that Khan’s influence in bringing fun and joy back to school permeates the walls of our district and districts all over.
Khan’s videos started out as “no-frills” in part because he was simply tutoring a few people and in part because he is a self-described austere person (page 27). What flows throughout the book (and not to get too far ahead of my part here …) is a research and evidence base. Khan’s work and the successes he and the Academy enjoy are actually grounded in research, evidence, study, and affirmation. Though he appears to start out whimsically, he shares small nuggets of evidence and research as the base for his decisions. For example, in this chapter, he spends a few pages identifying why the length of his videos rests around 10 minutes.
At first the limit of 10 minutes was imposed by YouTube as a length limit. Khan then shares that this time actually turned out to be the right length based upon a research study published by two university professors in 1996. Khan also refers readers to an earlier study from 1985 showing how students respond better to chunks of materials in shorter time segments (pages28-29). The points are that Khan is himself a student of learning and teaching and his curiosity and interest. His fascination, interest, passion, and his calling for teaching and learning allowed him to engage in a journey of discovery and accomplishment as well. Khan’s no-frills approach resonates with me as an educator and as a parent.
As an aside, I have used Khan materials in a previous school district (for a 2nd grade curriculum pilot), and I have blogged about the Academy in the past. And as a parent of two school aged children I have used Khan materials to both help my children and myself!
In chapter 4, Focusing on the Content, Khan begins with another awesome quote (in my opinion): “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.” – Pablo Picasso
I love this quote for so many reasons: first, I truly believe that teaching is an art and a science (from nearly a quarter century dedicated to public school teaching and administering I draw this belief). I also love the inclusion of A for art in the district’s recent STEAM push for integrated science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, as focus areas. Finally I see an artist’s pallette as a great metaphor for a teacher’s lesson plan/toolkit – he or she needs many colors on many days for their many “faces” and learners!
Back to my task at hand … Focusing on the Content, chapter 4. Khan refers to “serendipity and intuition” as driving many of the actual and ultimate successes of the Academy. He points out that for technological reasons at first the videos were austere and crisp – no frills as we see in the preceding chapter. He goes on though, to make the points that I interpret and internalize as a focus on personalizing education for the learner vs. personalizing education for the content.
Khan writes that “tutoring is intimate. You talk with someone, not at someone” (page 33 emphasis from Khan). He wants people viewing the content to feel as if he is with them “elbow to elbow” and that he is engaged with them and with the black, austere chalkboard image, they are focused on the content (and not his face or the lighting or a piece of broccoli in his teeth, etc.). Again, Khan masters simplicity and impact through basic, easy to understand concepts.
Khan finishes the chapter with an oft highlighted paragraph. I know this since I downloaded the book via Amazon.com to the Kindle app and I read the book on one or more devices. I share this as a relation to the quote which I’m about to share:
“This suggests something that is at the very heart of my belief system: that when it comes to education, technology is not to be feared, but embraced; used wisely and sensitively, computer-base lessons actually allow teachers to do more teaching, and the classroom to become a workshop for mutual helping, rather than passive sitting” (page 34).
For a quick 3 minute video showing a no-frills video, check the YouTube video below:
As a leader who helped usher in the Technology Age in the school district, it will not be a surprise to those with whom I work and serve that I have a deep appreciation for and respect of the power of technology. I support using technology tools to impact and reach every learner.
I enjoyed reading these two chapters and I’m honored to be part of the Kipling book study! I look forward to reading the posts of more of my colleagues’ during this book study/blogging experience.
Thank you again for allowing me to join this professional learning community!
Michael Lubelfeld, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Deerfield Public Schools District 109