I found this amazing online learning tool called Khan Academy a while back and am obsessed with it. It’s a free online learning tool with an online community of five million students right now. Since it’s a non-profit, it’s free, and they don’t spam you or sell your information, either. It’s tagline is: “A free world-class education for anyone anywhere.” (Okay, really, for anyone-who-has-access-to-a-computer anywhere). It’s so good, in fact, that Bill Gates’ kids use it. That’s saying something! The man who founded it, Sal Khan, has two degrees from MIT and one from Harvard, and is the kind of teacher who makes a difference, who kids love, and whose breadth of knowledge on topics from art history to ancient history to physics and computer programming inadvertantly makes me feel downright stupid.
“The two biggest factors that determine student success are 1. eating dinner with parents, and 2. getting enough sleep. Not how much time a child spends doing homework.” – Sal Khan
My kids enjoy using it, most of the time, and I can keep track of what they’re learning, how much time they’re spending on a topic, and where they are struggling or excelling through my nifty parental dashboard. The dashboard makes me feel a little Wizard of Ozish. It empowers me because it organizes data for me so I can keep track of things, and I have terrible ADHD so for me this is huge.
K.A. has this amazing clickable knowledge-map on it where you can see all the math your child needs to learn from simple arithmetic to calculus and beyond. You can either work your way through structured content to the bottom or “higher levels” of content, or if you get bored you can click elsewhere on the knowledge map to try new things. If I need a refresher on a topic like estimating square roots, I can type it into the search engine and read up on it or watch a quick video so my children don’t think I am as math-challenged as I really am.
We’ve used it to make six-folded symmetrical snowflakes, to learn about why Leonardo’s Mona Lisa is as famous as it is, and to learn how to write basic programming code. We’ve mostly been using it for math and to learn a little bit about world history. But Fiona, my tween, says she doesn’t need help on these subjects.
She sent me an email today (which I think was a Cry For Help):
“i don’t need help with math or langwedg just spelling.”
Khan Academy doesn’t seem to have any spelling classes so we’ve been using another great online tool, Spelling City. Since Fi is a Montessori student and Montessori students seem universally to be abominable at spelling (is it because they don’t have tests? is it because they learn phonetically? is it because there is something lacking in Montessori with regards to children knowing how to spell properly? is it something worse? I don’t know!) Fi has been practicing her spelling (which is truly abominable, by the way).
And today I said something to her that I probably should not have said, but I did:
“If you are going to use bad words, you should at least know how to spell them properly.”
So she plugged a list of “bad tween words” into Spelling City to see if they exist in the dictionary and if she could test herself on them (apparently a boy in her class thinks “Louisville” is a bad word, so who am I to correct her? Or – gosh – maybe it is an actual bad word, a really really bad one, and now I’ve taught her how to spell it? I’ll worry about it later.) Meantime here is her list:
I know it isn’t very parent-like of me but we had a real giggle as she thought up her list of “bad tween words” and plugged it into the spelling test. It said that “booger” is not a word (! oh yes it is!!!) and neither is “upchuck” or “hork” so we had another giggle trying to find new words to use instead:
Anyway we are having a lot of fun geeking out with these great online learning tools.
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