Khan Academy – DIY Education


Khan Academy is a website dedicated to giving a world-class education to everyone free of charge. That’s a tall order for just one website, but on many levels it delivers. The site is broken into three main parts: WatchPractice, and Coach.

  • Watch – This section contains over 2,000 instructions videos on topics such as algebra, biology, economics, history, calculus, finance, chemistry, and many more. The videos are well organized and broke up by scope and sequence.
  • Practice – This is the part of the site that drew most of my attention. You can see a screenshot of this section at the top of this post. The practice section is a step-by-step math tutor that begins at basic addition and goes all the way to trigonometry concepts. As students progress on the knowledge map, the site gives hints and links to instructional videos on the current topic and awards students with badges and high scores for getting problems right (this is what has hooked one of my students who simply thinks the site is a game, muahahaha).
  • Coach – Want to use Khan Academy with your whole class? This is where you can set up a virtual classroom to manage what students are working and track their progress. It’s a great way to keep everyone on the same topic, but let them go at their own pace.

With tons of pay-to-use resources out there it’s amazing that something like Khan Academy exists, but I’m glad it does. It allows students to learn in their own time and with over 2,000 videos there is sure to be something that will work in your classroom. It’s a win for everyone, except people who make math textbooks. I wonder what they’re thinking right now…

Worried that computers will one day take over the world? Well, rest easy for now, as they’re just getting to their feet, or in this case, wheels.

Box Car 2D is an online program that uses a genetic algorithm to try and create a car that can go the farthest in a given time (without falling apart). After each round, it creates another car using some random data and also the data from its best attempts. Its selection process for the two parent cars can be changed and you can find more out about the algorithm here.

Not into car evolution? Fret not, you can also intelligently design your own car and choose different tracks from strait speedways, mountains, to even a huge jump.

How can I use this in my class?

This is a great introduction to topics such as genetic crossovers, Punnett squares, and learning algorithms.

Ah, time for the old’ soapbox once again. This time we turn to Sir Ken Robinson who talks about how we still use a school system that was created for the industrial revolution, and the effects that have on our world today. This is a fantastic and insightful video that takes on many issues in a 12 minute time and has created many hotly contested points amongst some educators.

Ever wanted to make a Hipposarusphant? How about an Owligatorantula? Perhaps you’d just like to see how a 16 legged, 8 armed ant-eaters would look moving around. With the Spore Creature Creator, you can make all that and more. Spore, created by Maxis (of the Sim games fame) is a game about life, the universe, and everything. Although the main game includes the full creature creator (and it can also be purchased from their site here) we’re going to look at two free alternatives to making lifeforms.


Spore Creature Creator Trial

This demo includes limited parts to create creatures with, but can still be a great tool to use. Creating a creature is simple (the body can be shaped like clay and features like arms, legs, and eyes are all drag and drop). After making a creature you can ‘test drive’ it by watching how it moves and choose different animations for your creature to act out. How the creature reacts depends on its features.

Here are some video links to get you started on creating creatures:

  • Making a creature
  • Coloring a creature
  • Test drive mode


Spore 2D

While not as impressive as the real creature creator, this online version is easier to learn and doesn’t require a program to be installed to use. It lacks the test drive mode to see how a creature behaves (one of the most interesting parts of the creator), and instead includes a mini-game to hit rocks using the creature.


How do I use this in my classroom?

Having students create a creature to present to the class is a great way to get them to think about how and why animals are classified into different groups. After modeling how the program works and giving time to create a creature, students would be asked to share their creature (the tutorial video shows how to save creatures and load them on different computers quickly) and describe how it would be classified using the following guiding questions:

Is your creature an invertebrate or vertebrate? How do you know?

What classification does your creature fit under? (Bird, fish, mammal, amphibian, etc) Why does it fit in this class?

What does your creature eat? Is your creature a herbivore, carnivore, or omnivore?

What is your creature’s habitat? What makes it able to live there?


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