I'm a co-founder and product guy at Portfoliyo. 

Previously 5th and 8th grade school teacher at via Teach For America and Saint Louis University Biomedical Engineering grad.

E-Mail: harsh@portfoliyo.org

Ask me about Khan Academy, remind101, Study Island, anything EdTech related, Portfoliyo, TFAConnect, Code Academy, Codecademy, General Assembly and anything coding related, and you're sure to get me fired up. Go ahead - try it

314-537-1024 (call/text)


Rhode Island Showin' Some EdTech Love

I've been fortunate enough to see educators and entrepreneurs come together at EdCamps across the east coast - Baltimore, New York City, New Jersey, Philly, and Rhode Island. As a former educator turned EdTech-er, never have I experienced more love and kindheartedness than in Rhode Island.

My experience in one particular session at EdCamp RI effectively sums up all that is going on in the EdTech scene there.

The "EdTech in Rhode Island" room was packed full of educators, administrators and EdTech founders - we had to squeeze in additional chairs and there were still people sitting on the ground. Shawn kicked it off with short introductions and dove right in - How do we turn Rhode Island into THE place where educators and EdTech companies can come together to create amazing tools for teachers, parents, and students? In the hour that followed, there was no BS, no frills, no advertisements, no ulterior motives - just straight up honesty, passion, and drive to turn Rhode Island into EdTech central. It was infectious.

After EdCamp, the enthusiasm continued. For Portfoliyo, it came in the form of principals like Don Miller asking me to come show Portfoliyo to his teachers, and teachers like Vanessa Waggenheim (below) using Portfoliyo and sharing valuable feedback. Can you believe it? Things actually happened after the meeting.

A couple weeks later, Shawn organized the RI EdTech Meetup where there were more educators than entrepreneurs present. Crazy. An EdTech meet up with educators? Who would have ever thought? And again, the discussions didn't stop once everyone walked out the door - they continued. One principal connected me with another, who connected me with another, and in a matter of days, teachers all around town began using Portfoliyo, with Shea High School and Lillian Feinstein at Sackett Street Elementary leading the way.

From my experience, Rhode Island educators have their hearts in the right place. They help each other out, and don't care who gets credit - as long as it means more Rhode Island students are succeeding.

They're awesome, and any EdTech company looking for some love from teachers shouldn't underestimate this seemingly tiny state.


Real Value of Khan Academy is Not in Videos - It's in the Exercises!

I have teachers and administrators ask me how they can best use Khan Academy videos in the classroom, and my first question to them is: "Have you tried any of the exercises?" More often than not, the answer is "What do you mean by exercises?" Here's how to make the best of the exercises.

  1. Have students practice whichever exercises you want them to - or all.
  2. Interpret the data provided by KA.
  3. Re-teach specific topics to specific students through targeted intervention.
  4. Repeat.

1. Practice

Here are just some of the 300+ excellent exercises created by the dev team. Just click on "Practice" at the top right to access them.

Telling Time



Divisibility Intuition

Scientific Notation Intuition

2. Interpret Data

After having students practice these exercises look at all the data you can access:

3. Targeted Intervention

Use the data to:

  • Teach a specific topic to a small group
  • Have a student proficient in a topic teach someone who is struggling
  • Re-teach a topic to the whole class

Bottom line: Don't worry about the videos that get all the hot press and criticism, worry about the exercises. This is how kids feel about videos anyway.

Shoutout to Ben EaterBen Kamens, many other Bens, the rest of the dev team, and the interns for choosing to use their brains to create exercises instead of figuring out how to get more people to click on ads. 


Making Khan Academy Truly Multiplayer

Currently, Khan Academy is a very singleplayer experience. Sure students get help from their friends, but in the end, they're earning proficiencies, badges, leaves, and points for themselves. Thus, it's singleplayer. If Khan Academy is going to be super popular with students that are kids, it needs to be a multiplayer experience. Why? Think about what's engaging to kids--World of Warcraft, Call of Duty, Battlefield, Draw Something (See Ryan Kim's article), and sports like basketball and soccer. They all have one gamified experience in common: Intra-team cooperation and inter-team competition. They're truly multiplayer!

So I decided to turn Khan Academy into a truly multiplayer game and am getting other teachers to do the same. Why? Because I want to bring what happens in true multiplayer games...

  1. Positive reinforcement from teammates
  2. Self-motivation to help the team succeed
  3. Organic and genuine leadership roles

...into my classroom.

How I'm Doing It

Students choose to be in teams of 2-4 and give themselves a name. Their team gets a point if and only if everyone in their team becomes proficient in a specific exercise. This drives intra-team cooperation, which drives more proficiencies, and helps students who are already proficient learn the material better by teaching their teammates.

Teams also get a point if say, Student1 in the team teaches Student2 how to do an exercise AND Student2 then becomes independently proficient in the exercise. I display two leaderboards, one for group proficiencies, and one for teams who cooperate the most (do the most teaching).

The rules: 1) You can't do an exercise for a teammate, and 2) You can't lie about passing an exercise. I explained that if anyone breaks one of these rules, the game becomes really boring, and also had the students put their hand on their heart, and verbally promise to follow the rules.

How It's Going

Students are much more more cooperative, they're gaining more proficiencies, and they're getting better at effectively teaching their peers.

How You Can Do It

You don't have to have computers in your classroom to do it. E-mail or call me. I'll help you figure it out.


The Ideal Khan Classroom is Not (Yet) Possible

What's ideal Khan?

We hear Sal and team say this all the time: "The time in class needs is freed up to do project based learning." The higher-on-blooms type level of learning -- creating. Many educators would be thrilled to be able to do this in their classroom. Projects all day every day? Sign me up! Here's what it would, and should look like in order to achieve that goal.

At school: Students working on projects, keeping an online portfolio of projects, like adults do by blogging. Ex. Sahil, Adi, Jesse, Marc, and many others. Edit: Just found this: Make HTML5 websites with wix!

At home: Students working through Khan exercises.

So, what's the problem Harsh?

When using Khan Academy, students first prefer to learn from each other, then the hints, and lastly, Sal through his videos. However, if students are to work on KA at home, they don't have the number one resource they use to learn at their disposal--each other. Khan Academy isn't social or multiplayer. There's no way for KA students to connect to their real-life classmates, or even other students on KA. (Besides the Q&A below videos, which is a small step towards social).

The solution?

Make KA social, or multiplayer. Or create a webapp that allows students in the same class/school/region/country/world the ability to interact live with each other after-school, when they're struggling with school-work independently.




Why Don't Students Want to Watch Khan Videos?


If you've spend some time using Khan Academy in your classroom, you've likely realized that students would rather click through the hints, ask each other, or ask you about solving an exercises rather than watch a video on it. There's even a fancy study from "Blend My Learning" that experienced the same thing.

"We were surprised to find that students preferred to teach themselves or each other through the practice problems and hints rather than watching the Khan videos." (Page 4)

KA devs, do you have data on students clicking for a video vs. students clicking on hints that shows this as well by chance? Just curious.

From the Student's Perspective

Student starts the exercise. "Hmm, I think I know how to do this". Inputs answer. Sad face. "Aw man, then how the heck do you do it?". Student faced with a decision:

1) Should I watch a 5-10 min. video where Sal MIGHT go through this exact problem?

2) Should I click through the hints and see all the work.

3) Should I ask my friend sitting right next to me.  

As with every human being, the student will take the path of least resistance (time). In almost every case, students choose 2 or 3, THEN 1. So really, the hints and other students are teaching students more often than Sal. Uh oh. Let's hope every student is an excellent teacher.

From the Teacher's Perspective

A well planned math unit starts with an assessment. Then you plan what and how you teach the concepts. However, in Khan Academy, all of the assessments (exercises) were developed AFTER all of the teaching materials (videos). Naturally, this means the videos aren't always directly aligned to the exercises. That's why students don't wach the videos. And because they're out to make our lives as difficult as possible. 

What Should We Do About It?

Make example videos for all of the exercises. (I'm workin' on it). Directly based on the exercise. Much like the following video. The teacher can take care of the conceptual understanding in-class (through hands-on examples, models, PBL, etc.)

I'd love to hear your thoughts/comments.  Have you experienced the same in your classroom?