No Frills Videos – Focusing on the Content – Ch. 3-4 – One World Schoolhouse #Engage109

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-Khanphotodescribed 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 artpallettededicated 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,personalize 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 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




7 thoughts on “No Frills Videos – Focusing on the Content – Ch. 3-4 – One World Schoolhouse #Engage109

  1. Hello Dr. Lubelfeld!

    The 10 minute length with no frills really struck me too! I think as elementary educators we always appreciate the fact that our small people need to move and change focus on a consistent basis. No one would expect a 9 year old to sit and listen to instruction for an hour. The “change ups” Khan discusses on page 30 are a great example of how we as teachers intuitively know this, and practice it. We may have a math period for 60 minutes or more, but we are DOING many things in that time frame: whole group—-change up to small groups—–change up to a Kahoot to assess—–change up to lesson closure. Boom! That works. All of these are made easier in our classrooms these days with the technology that we have. I can change up what is going on based on individual needs using technology which frees me to work with other kids on skills and needs. I am not replaced but able to find meaningful, individual tasks for students. It is a wonderful thing.

    • Amy,

      Good connection to practice. Technology is not going to replace great teaching. It is a way to enhance the impact of great teaching.

  2. Hello Dr. Lubelfeld,

    Thank you for time and your terrific post. What stayed with me in these chapters and in previous ones is how Mr. Kahn truly showed how every problem has a gift for you in its hands. Each time he faced a problem he stuck with it until he found the gift. Whether it was how to fund his enterprise, how to best help his niece or to determine the length of his lessons, he was undaunted and finally met with success. That is a lesson I hope to share with my students everyday when facing a challenging problem.

  3. Dr. Lubelfeld,

    Thank you so much for writing a guest post. We appreciate your support and willingness to jump in. I love the Longfellow quote – I think this is more important than ever now that we have more content and choices than any other time in history. Helping students to target and focus in on making the complex simple and attainable is something I think is at the heart of the work Khan Academy is doing.

  4. Thank you for these thoughts Dr. Lubelfeld!

    What I enjoyed most about both of these chapters was how Khan described the learning experience he created with his niece. He talked about how intimate it was as he was able to talk WITH his niece instead of AT her. He also described his desire to create a, “safe, personal, comfortable, and thought-provoking experience.” (page 18). Now that is how I want my classroom to function!

    So how do I continue to allow my students to feel so valued and comfortable that their voices are heard more often? How do I help them understand that learning can come from a natural flowing dialogue between students rather than just a script where questions are asked by a teacher and answer are given only when students aren’t, “embarrassed to communicate what they do and do not understand.” (page 23). Well I think Khan Academy might be a good place to start. By embracing this form of technology, “[using] it wisely and sensitively, [this form of] computer based lessons actually allow teachers to do more teaching, and the classroom to become a workshop for mutual helping, rather than passive sitting.” (page 36).

  5. Dear Kipling Friends,
    Thank you for reading and for your comments! Thank you for your reflections and for your thoughts.

    I was helping my 3rd grade son with math homework today and when we were “stumped” with rounding I suggested we look at a Khan Academy video. My son uses Khan Academy in class, so he was familiar with the modality.

    After watching part of the video we completed the homework with ease. It was another cool reinforcement that a few minutes of video from a guy who set out to teach his cousin – is impacting people everywhere, in “real life”!!

    I applaud you all for taking the chance to learn publicly, for taking the chance to dialogue in a different than usual venue, and for pursuing innovation and joy every day!

    Keep up the great work,

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