Multiplication smackdown: Sal Khan vs Vi Hart—who’s got the ‘insight’?
UPDATE: Google Trends graphic corrected.
One of the things Salman Khan is really fond of saying he tries to show viewers the “bigger picture.” I’ve now watched quite a few of his videos, and I’m having a hard time believing he sees the bigger picture himself.
I don’t mean to continually bash Khan here, but I am concerned at the amount of praise he gets that tout his lectures as “excellent” because they don’t just explain the rote procedure, but really get at the “why” and deeper understanding. I just don’t see this. To me, Khan’s lectures are nothing but procedure, definitions, and formulae, with no regard for student misconceptions or how students learn. I have seen excellent video lectures—my iphone is filled with great lectures I’ve downloaded from iTunesU of Walter Lewin and others, I just haven’t seen any from Khan Academy. And while it may be that Khan is a renaissance man who can learn enough about everything from the french revolution to double replacement reactions to be able to put together 2000 videos explaining these topics, I think there’s no way he can develop and communicate a deep understanding of the “big picture” on as many topics.
Could it be that the larger public and media don’t really know what real insight and deeper understanding look like outside their own fields? Witness historian David Clemmons criticizing Khan Academy’s History videos, but saying they are a “helpful tutor for math and science.”
Let’s take a look. I want to start with something simple. 2 column multiplication. First, Sal’s take:
I defy you to tell me that there is anything here beyond simply talking through how to follow the standard mechanistic process of multiplying two digit numbers.
If you want to see what insight looks like, watch this:
As usual, Vi delivers a gigantic heaping of insight into what multiplication is, why these algorithms work, along with a handful of sarcasm and one of the most important critiques of math education and obsession with notation I’ve seen in the past month or so.
So here’s the problem with math education (and education in general) in one simple graph.
In the blue corner, you’ve got Khan Academy, with its vast trove of videos, designed to help you master the algorithm, learn the notation, answer the question, and ace the test. For most of the media, this is all math education is, so it’s no wonder that the guy who figured out how to put all this on the internet is heralded as a genius.
But in the red corner, you’ve got Vi Hart, who wants to tell you about insight, symmetry, and a love of mathematics, not because it’s going to be on some test, but because is beautiful, and it can change the way you see the world. And right now, she’s not even on the chart!. But as a teacher and a parent of a 7 month old, I’m betting all my money on Vi.
Sure, I understand that no one is going to show Vi’s video to the 3rd grader learning 2 column multiplication for the first time—that’s fine. But if we don’t work to bring Vi’s insight into how we develop curriculum, starting at the very youngest grades, I’m afraid that we will be sadly disappointed when this third grader grows up, attends Khan University, and once released to the working world and asked to do something creative or innovative, starts looking for an 8 minute video explaining the algorithm for creativity.