Posts Tagged ‘challenge’

In Drive (2009), Daniel H. Pink tells us that we are not motivated by external rewards (like grades, or money) but by a desire for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Watch the RSA Animate video of his TED talk. It is mastery now that I want to focus on because I have just watched an exceptional TED talk by Salman Khan of Khan Academy.


Khan tells us that a major problem we have in school is that there is no goal of mastery. Students study a topic, a concept, let’s say basic division. They get lectures on it, read a few pages in a textbook, do some homework, do some exercises in class maybe, some more homework, and then a test. No matter how well or how poorly they do on the test, in the following class they will be starting a new topic, let’s say fractions. Now, if you didn’t do too well with division, you’re not likely going to do too well with fractions either. And this just snowballs with time until you get math-phobic kids who maybe wouldn’t have become math-phobic if they had just learned division (or any basic concept) thoroughly the first time.

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Mastery is missing in school, and according to Pink, it’s one of the three things that most motivate all of us, including students. But how can we achieve mastery in a class of 30 or more students? There is a curriculum, there are tests, there is no time for mastery. But Khan says there is. He’s made short videos on 2400 topics from Addition 1 (2+5=?) to Green’s Theorem (is Green’s Theorem hard? I don’t know, I’m not there yet…).

Q: What’s so great about videos?

A: Videos provide time on task. Students can watch the video as many times as they need; rewind, rewatch, review, until they get it right. Videos provide the opportunity for mastery.

Khan suggests watching a video for homework. I’d add that you need to do some exercises right after the video to consolidate what you’ve just learned. If you can’t get the exercises right, watch the video again. Repeat as necessary. Get them all right.

In class, the next day, you do some exercises, and if you get them all right, maybe you can help someone else who is having problems with the same concept. The teacher, who doesn’t have to lecture anymore, can use 100% of her class time in 1-on-1 time with students who need help (compare this to the usual 5% Khan says is standard for most classes). Students can work at their own pace, at exactly their level. Khan found that when students are given time on their own to master a concept, they all eventually will, even if it takes a long time, and they later on catch up to the students who caught on faster. Imagine a class where you score 100% on every test before moving on to the next skill, topic, or concept. That’s mastery.

One of the most satisfying feelings I have ever experienced is reading something very difficult and very interesting. It takes a lot of time to get thru the reading, it’s a real commitment, and sometimes you have to re-read passages and take notes, it feels like your brain is working overtime. But when you get it, you really get it, and what a great feeling it is when you know that you have mastered a difficult concept. Those are my favorite articles and books, the ones that challenge me and force my brain to crunch thru hard topics.

I’ve signed up at Khan’s Academy (URL) and there are two reasons that I did this. One is for my own mastery. I’ve always loved math, and science, and I have been away from them for far too long. The other is my son, who, like me, loves math and science. At Khan’s Academy, I can be his coach, and check his progress, and help him when the going gets tough.

And me, I’ll be looking forward to some tough going of my own at a higher level. That’s when the challenge sets in, that’s when learning becomes its own reward.

I can’t wait to get started… 🙂


Pink, D.H. (2009). Drive. New York: Riverhead Books.