Archive for February 19, 2013

Why Did Vi Hart Go to Khan Academy?

I love Vi Hart. And with over 300,000 subscribers and 25 million views on her YouTube channel, I’m clearly not alone.

Vi Hart - WikipediaBut perhaps you don’t know who she is. Maybe you’ve been living under a rock. Maybe you’re still using dial-up. Or maybe you’ve just been posing as a mathy folk, only visiting this blog because you think the author is hot. (Of course, you’d be correct in your assessment, but you shouldn’t let hot authors guide your tour through the blogosphere.)

If you don’t know who Vi Hart is, you can check out her Binary Trees video below (from her now famous Doodling in Math Class series).

Pretty awesome, huh?

In the video, she makes the following statement:

…if the [math] curriculum wasn’t so appalling and the teaching methods weren’t so atrocious, you wouldn’t have to entertain yourself with these stories and games.

She also implies that many math classes are

…fuzzy, unfocused, and altogether not very good.

Some educators don’t like these videos. Some don’t like that a brash, young woman is criticizing what they do and how they do it. Some find her statements offensive.

Not me.

I think she’s spot on.

Too many math classrooms still look like the math classrooms of yesteryear, devoid of excitement and technology and filled with endless hours of meaningless practice.

But here’s where I have trouble. On the About Vi page of her site, she says:

I am now a full-time mathemusician at Khan Academy! It’s pretty exciting.

If she is truly opposed to appalling curriculum, why would she work for a company that creates the video version of a 1950’s textbook?

Maybe I’m being too harsh. But I don’t think so. Though she now creates recreational math videos for Khan Academy that are awesome, the vast majority of videos on the site are nothing more than math lectures of topics that probably should have been removed from the curriculum years ago. When I asked a colleague his thoughts, he had this to say:

Vi’s videos show such polish and cleverness, while Khan’s were so obviously made by someone who just took an exercise from a textbook and sat down at a computer and improvised. About the only thing [Khan Academy] has going for it is that it’s free. I suppose it can have some good use in getting kids an opportunity to learn and practice skills they need, but having them practice skills for no particularly good reason… it’s just reinforcing everything that’s wrong with math education.

In her Binary Trees video, Vi Hart makes fun of the boring presentation of exponential functions that typically occurs in math classes. Yet the Khan Academy video Exponential Growth Functions uses the same examples and “atrocious teaching methods” that would be found in many of the math classes that are “fuzzy, unfocused, and altogether not very good.”

So, what’s up, Vi? How can you rail against bad teaching but then go to work for a place that delivers bad teaching in spades? Your work is amazing, and you had such an opportunity. I hope your intent is to make change from within rather than assimilate.

How do you feel about Vi Hart’s move to Khan Academy? And what do you think about Khan Academy in general?

February 19, 2013 at 2:55 pm 24 comments


About MJ4MF

The Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks blog is an online extension to the book Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks. The blog contains jokes submitted by readers, new jokes discovered by the author, details about speaking appearances and workshops, and other random bits of information that might be interesting to the strange folks who like math jokes.

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Math Jokes 4 Mathy Folks is available from Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, NCTM, Robert D. Reed Publishers, and other purveyors of exceptional literature.

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