Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

October 17, 2013

Phillips Teachers expand reach online via Khan Academy

By Bill Kirk
bkirk@andovertownsman.com

---- — Local math whizzes cramming for their next calculus exam may want to thank some of the folks at Phillips Academy for offering a helping hand.

The private boarding school in Andover has embraced — and been embraced by — Khan Academy, an online emporium of academics available free of charge to people all over the world.

Staff members in PA’s Math Department have been mining, finding and organizing their favorite Advanced Placement BC Calculus problems to help beef up Khan Academy’s highest-level math offerings as part of an unprecedented partnership with the online learning site.

Since the summer, Bill Scott, chairman of Phillips’ Math Department, has been providing content to Khan Academy. The problems are then uploaded to the Khan site so that they can be viewed and worked on by students.

It is the first time a high school has provided a significant amount of core content to the Khan Academy site, founder Sal Khan said from his Silicon Valley headquarters.

Since July, Phillips’ Math Department has posted approximately 240 problems, which have been tried by more than 12,000 unique viewers. By fall 2014, Scott expects to work with the Khan Academy team to have a complete BC Calculus course up and running on the site.

“We’re thrilled to partner with Khan Academy in developing a BC Calculus course that will reach anyone with Internet access and a desire to stretch themselves in this particular area of study,” Phillips Academy Head of School John Palfrey said. “Sharing the resources of PA — in this case, the talents of our faculty — with those beyond campus fits precisely within our mission.”

The partnership between Andover and Khan Academy began last spring, when Sal Khan, at the invitation of Palfrey, met with students and faculty on campus to explore ways to collaborate. Over the summer, Scott and colleagues Chris Odden and Matt Lisa visited the online academy’s California headquarters, where they met with Khan and his team.

Before the meeting, Scott was doubtful that a collaboration would work; after reviewing the site’s Advanced Placement BC Calculus lessons, he and his colleagues noticed that there were major gaps in the calculus offerings. Scott recalled opening the meeting with that observation and Khan replying simply: “I know. That’s why you’re here.”

“That’s when he basically handed us the keys to the shop and got us under the hood,” said Scott, who then partnered with Khan Academy’s lead exercise software developer, Ben Eater, who created a tool that allows PA instructors to upload problem sets without having to master JavaScript code.

Since its beginning in 2006, Khan Academy has skyrocketed to become the global leader in online education for kindergarten through grade 12, offering students worldwide a free personalized learning experience with more than 100,000 practice problems and 4,800 lessons available. It boasts having delivered 1.3 billion practice problems and 300 million online lessons over its seven years.

More than half of the Phillips Academy Math Department is working on the collaboration, but Scott, who says the project has energized his team, expects that number to increase.

Palfrey said he is proud of the Math Department’s work.

“Sal Khan and his team of developers have been receptive partners and skilled guides as our faculty have devoted themselves to this project over the last several months,” Palfrey said. “I am incredibly proud of their work and excited to see what may come next.”