Math help for everyone- with a computer and a connection

I’ve had several friends struggle with the math teachers at Sinclair Community College. Hell, I struggled with some of the professors at Wright State, and- we’re now creating high school curriculum called STEM- Science Technology, Engineering and Math- because Americans are falling behind.

We also spend billions on jet fighters for the Air Force, that have zero competition- and can be shot down with a much cheaper smart missile. So apparently, those in Congress like “Hawk” Mike Turner didn’t do well in math either.

Here’s a solution- and it’s free: Kahn Academy. They teach math from 1+1=2 all the way up to string theory (don’t ask me what that is- I stopped with Business Calc). Note, this isn’t a government program, and the guy who started it- is  a first generation American just like me (for you knuckleheads that forget where your roots came from).

The only problem- is to learn, students need a computer and an internet connection. If we truly are going to be a superpower for much longer based on anything but atom bombs, we need to develop our social capital (that’s you- we the people).

We have an organization in this country making laptops available to third world countries- One Laptop Per Child– but, that’s not a reality for most of the kids in parts of OH-3 and it’s not something Mike Turner gives a hoot about. We’re more interested in creating a business model for textbook manufacturers in this country- who have a new edition of “Finite Math” every other year to prevent a secondary market in something finite. (note I have a copy of the 111th edition of “Finite Mathematics, for Business, Economics, Life Sciences and Social Sciences” from Pearson, Prentice Hall in mint condition for someone- the new one goes for $150, or $115 on Amazon)

We are dramatically behind in wiring our country. Our internet access and speeds (wired and unwired) trail countries like Finland and South Korea- and if you can show me a commercial cell phone made in this country in the last 5 years- I’d be shocked.

For less than $10B we could outfit every k-5 kid with an OLPC and every 6-12 grader with a MacBook. The wires- well, we built and subsidized the national highway system for National Defense, I think this is just as important. We can start by enacting a national sales tax on internet purchases- all of which goes to data highways and digital infrastructure. It’s time to put bricks and mortar retailers in out communities back on a level playing field. We’d also end the stupidity of delivering education materials best communicated in Bits- by converting them to Atoms- that’s digital files instead of oil based ink on dead trees).

I’ve talked about this before on this site- I didn’t just pop up with this yesterday (like Guy Fogle or Joe Roberts)- and, if elected, I plan to move these ideas through Congress (since I won’t take money from the text book lobby, or AT&T’s lobby- or the School Teachers Lobby etc… I may actually represent your wishes- and I’m sure you agree with me, because I think you’re smart).

And, if you need help on how to figure all this out-

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10 Comments on "Math help for everyone- with a computer and a connection"

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Ah, the seductive call of what’s new.
Khan’s website seems womderful, and I’ve been looking for a long time for some computer-based instruction that will pump my math skills all the way up to fractals.
But as a low-cost resolution for the need for math education, it lacks something.  Sorry to say, since I personally am the opposite, but most people will not self-educate.  We know that, for most people, “affective learning” is required.  That means that the person must be in the company of a teacher who has a personality match and enough charisma to inspire the student.  That’s especially important with very young schoolchildren, but it even applies to (allegedly) mature learners–most college students wind up choosing a major because they liked by one of their professors, not because they did a little research and self-testing and found a career that fit their goals and personal aptitudes.
It’s possible that our schools could use Khan instead of a textbook–but they’re still going to need a teacher in the room who knows enough math to give one-on-one to a student with difficulties, and who has the ability to relate to and inspire students.  The only students who might gravitate toward Khan’s materials independently are the top 10% or so, for whom self-paced, self-directed learning is appropriate.  The other end of the ability spectrum–the bottom 10% or so of students who need special education–are also going to continue to need a dedicated classroom teacher who knows the special techniques that are required; Khan is probably useless to them.
We’ve had a “get rid of teachers and use technology” myth ever since programmed learning was heralded in the 1950s.  Since then I’ve seen innovation after innovation come along, heralded by choirs of education theorists and industry PR, only to fade into limited use if not obsolescence when they failed to perform.  Consequently, I don’t get too excited by the next big thing.



they’re still going to need a teacher in the room who knows enough math to give one-on-one to a student with difficulties, and who has the ability to relate to and inspire students

I agree with this to a point.  I really like MIT’s OpenCourseware though.  Strang’s linear algebra class is so good, it feels like you’re in the room and he’s already answering questions before you think of them.  You’re right about the motivation of the student being the critical factor, but a good teacher can make the material sing even over a crappy YouTube video.
To echo your point about “get rid of [blank] and use technology” in education, even though much of the production students will be asked to do after they graduate will be on/with computers there’s still no good substitute for  brain+pencil+paper when it comes to learning lots of stuff.
Thanks for this post David, I added Kahn Academy to my OpenMathTools Google Custom Search Engine.

Ice Bandit

For less than $10B we could outfit every k-5 kid with an OLPC and every 6-12 grader with a MacBook. The wires- well, we built and subsidized the national highway system for National Defense, I think this is just as important. We can start by enacting a national sales tax on internet purchases- (David Esrati)
From Portland Ore to Portland Maine
a revolution’s brewing,
a mass of anti-tax discontent
has the electorate red and stewing.
Yet David E, congressman to be,
thinks what this country lacks,
is a Apple laptop in every home.
so he suggests another tax.
The producers of the nation,
thought it was most unfair,
that when it came to payin’ the freight
they give more than their fair share,
so for tax and spending congressman,
they are sharpening their axe,
yet David E exclaims, “we need more trains”
and suggests another tax.
The polls of Gallup and of Pew
predict a November dire,
for pols who don’t preach tax restraint,
will be cast into the fire,
So woe to thee, oh candidate,
when the Tea Party attacks,
watch someone else take the office oath,
cause you proposed another tax…….

Ice Bandit

I’m not the poet you are,
but I give it my best shot. (David Esrati)
Don’t cut yourself short, David. As spontaneous rhyme goes, that wasn’t bad. And please don’t interpret the Old Bandito’s views as an endorsement for Mike Turner. El Bandito has some proverbial bones to pick with that hombre as well. We are in complete agreement as far as ending corporate welfare, and as poster Steve suggests, you may want to refine your views on agricultural policy, which are of paramount concern to the voters in Clinton county. It is your maddening, persistant and almost Pavlovian reliance on the vehicle of taxation that frustrates many readers on your blog, when taxation may become the backbreaker to candidates this November…..


Eeesh what a nightmare.  Let’s give every kid 5 to 18 a laptop.  Great.  So who owns them…the government or the kid?  If it’s the government then you need a system in place to keep an inventory so they can be tracked for maintenance, software upgrades, refreshes, and depreciation.  Even if the kids own them who is going to manage the following: returns for out of box failures?  software upgrades?  Equipment refresh?  Help Desk issues?
There’s at least 60M kids between 5 and 18.  I’m sure the federal government has enough difficulties managing the IT resources for its workforce so it obviously can’t handle management of another 60M computers. 
Looks like this would be a sweetheart deal in perpetuity for Mark Hurd’s HP, Dell or Apple. 


The OLPC laptop has a Fedora-based Linux distribution (at least according to wiki), so software updates should be auto-magical.  As far as hardware, it should be cheap enough that if it breaks you just chuck it (into a recycling bin, settle down), and you don’t mind just giving it to the child.  That reduces overhead burden of running inventory/returns/etc, and opens the door for introducing new/better hardware as it becomes available as opposed to intermittently which you’d get with a one-time big buy.  Help Desk? Google is your friend, teach those kids to be self-sufficient little knowledge hunter-gatherers.
As opposed to a big federal program though, I’d much rather see some sort of cooperative ‘buy one give one‘ program.  There’s plenty of nerds who would buy one just to ‘hack’ and turn it into a walking, talking coffee pot or some other silly thing.  That’s the cool thing about low price points, you can get silliness and fun to fund meaningful good work.  I don’t like OLPC because it ignores the children in need right here at home (the US is a low priority for them because we already spend bunches of money on education).


Tracking inventory, software compliance, refreshes, upgrades, depreciation and fault in the case of breakage is anything but simple.  IT Departments, Procurement and Accounting in corporations…particularly large corporations continue to struggle to do it efficiently.   And sorry…the government won’t do it efficiently or likely do it well.  
I’m not saying this couldn’t be done.  Almost anything can be done with enough money.   I’m just saying your estimate of 10B is way low!!!!