The story begins with a conversation I had with my friend’s daughter, Sania (10), who attends the Khan Lab School in Mountain View California. She and her older sister, Aisha (13), both had trouble with math and didn’t enjoy the subject. They’ve attended good public schools and one of the top private schools in Silicon Valley. But math seemed to be their least favorite subject. In fact, they hated it. Their parents put them in the Khan Lab school in the fall of 2015, impressed by Sal Khan’s (www.khanacademy.org)) vision of schooling, and just a few months later, Sania mentioned that she and her sister now love math. I was blown away! I asked her why.
Here’s what she told me: It was the school’s system and teachers that helped figure out what gaps she had in her math understanding and then gave her the time to work on those gaps. Pretty simple. There was no stigma associated with working on fundamentals that she ‘should’ have known in her earlier classes. There was a recognition that each student learns in their own way, and most kids will ‘get’ some things quickly and will need more time for other subjects. Given the extra time and this understanding attitude, she was able to pick up the concepts and now is confident in her ability to learn more math and apply it. I love this story because it really highlights the strengths of self-paced learning and showed to me a very different attitude that Sania now has towards learning. She now feels ownership of her education which in my mind was the biggest transformation in just a few months.
I wanted to see this for myself, so at the end of last year I spent a day at the Khan Lab School. And here’s what I saw:
- Kids were part of a self- paced learning environment, individualized to their needs with the help of technology and teachers.
- Mixed-age groups allowed kids to learn from their peers.
- Emphasis on project based learning meant that students were applying what they learnt in building things.
- Group projects were teaching kids important social emotional skills, such as empathy, collaboration, and communication.
Was everything perfect here? No, but the idea that you could do so much more with the school day was what excited me.
Flying back from San Francisco to New York, I decided I want to build a network of schools along the same principals. And that’s what we’ve set out to do at Portfolio. Everyone in our team is excited about making this change and working hard towards it.