Frank Noschese Aims His Phasers at Khan

Frank Noschese blogs about his experiences in the classroom at

Are you an educator frustrated with the efforts of education reformers to turn our profession into the 21st century equivalent of a correspondent course? Have a bone to pick with how people interpret the Khan Academy as the “savior” of the modern educational system? Frank Noschese might just be someone you should have in your PLN.

Frank is an amazingly reflective educator, who is constantly asking himself, and others, whether what we’re doing both in and out of the classroom is truly helping students. That’s not to say he gets bogged down with over analyzing how he can effectively teach Physics at the secondary level, but he’s incredibly vocal when it comes to educators and others who cheerlead first, but ask critical questions later (or sometimes not at all). Which is what attracts me so much to his theories of educational practice.

Frank often toes the line between putting teaching strategies and ideology first over professional relationships, something that often leads many people who comment on his blog to miss the nuanced critiques he often makes. Don’t get me wrong, Frank values relationships as evidenced by his strong professional learning network on Twitter, but when it comes to Khan Academy, Frank makes no bones about how he sees the “revolutionary” video learning platform in his “final remarks” posted early last year.

In that post, Mr. Noschese points out how the content and format of Khan’s lessons (short content-specific video lessons) aren’t really revolutionary. Frank argues that Khan videos being touted as supplements to typical math instruction might be a decent idea (although he has yet to find any he feels fit well with his curriculum). However he also argues that many people speaking highly of Khan are in danger of using it in terribly inappropriate ways by replacing entire lessons, removing opportunities for student creation and creativity, and simply replacing in class lecture with Khan’s mini lectures.

For setting his phasers on the Khan Academy, and challenging them to “DO BETTER”, I applaud Frank for reflecting on the many aspects of the Khan Academy, not just the videos. Frank blasts holes in the “this is shiny and new, therefore it’s better” arguments by pointing towards the effectiveness of modeling in his classroom. You can view a small news clip of the instructional method below.

Frank also takes shots at the value of engagement through video versus engagement through hands on learning and student creation. The system that Khan Academy has created around its videos follows a pre-determined set of steps through a mastery-like sequence that can just as often encourage “gaming” the system as it does truly engaging the learner to grow. While I’m of mixed minds when it comes to the use of video for the “engagement factor” (personally, I love and become much more engaged in a project if there’s a compelling piece of media accompanying it), I can value the way Frank critiques Khan’s methods in a way that suggest and encourages certain paths and opportunities to improve the system.  He offers suggestions for feedback and student data that Khan Academy’s learning platform could provide him, rather than simply tearing it down.

In short, Frank likes to reflect, albeit a lot more than the average K-12 instructor. And that’s why I had to write this piece today, despite what some might consider as being “stale” (Frank’s final remarks about Khan were posted in May of 2011, well after a lot of discussion had already been tossed out on the subject). I’ve been reflecting lately on my attitude towards other educators championing and cheerleading certain technologies as I still struggle to determine whether they are truly transforming the way we teach, or simply providing a new spin on old tricks, the iPad and the Interactive Whiteboard being just two of the technologies that I often find myself flip flopping about in my mind.

I know that learning is a continuum, and that people must move through adoption and substitution phases of using technology that quite often don’t add any value to instruction. I criticize much too often and harshly on those not yet approaching the transformative ways we can bring about change in education through technology. To be fair, I’m guilty of simply cheerleading substitutional strategies myself  (I question the value of my encouragement of Video Story Problems sometimes), and I beat myself up in my own head. I use that guilt as fuel to push myself further, and find ways to encourage other educators to play around with the concepts I’m developing and wrestling with, and lo and behold they begin to do some pretty transformative teaching and learning that they can then share using technology (examples include some of the “any questions” type of videos on the Video Story Problem channel).

The question I wrestle with then, is how do I stop zapping the educators around me in a very “Steve Jobs” like way, and find constructive ways to build them up? I don’t have the best answer for that yet, but sifting through a lot of comments and reflections on Frank’s blog certainly help focus my thoughts.

Thanks, Frank!



  1. Hi Ben, I am constantly challenged by the need to balance ‘teaching’ with encouraging discovery as a learning guide, and technology is just another tool. A child picks up the new, plays with it, moves on. Education should allow for that sort of fluidity, but schools are (so often) straightjacketed by performance reporting and curriculums they cannot respond to individual learning requirements – (not as I can being a homeschooler, for example). That’s why having access to the Khan Academy, or something like it, provides a useful tool, but certainly not a universal one. Anyway, I’ll follow those links you’ve provided and read the discussion with interest. Thanks for another great post! Cheers, Lyn.

    1. The balancing act between letting learners grow on their own and finding the right time and methods to push them into areas that they may or may not be ready for is incredibly difficult sometimes. When working with other adults and trying to support their learning, it can be compounded even further by egos, emotions, and long-held conceptions of their own self-worth.

      Unfortunately, the straight-jacketing that comes with many traditional schooling environments is tied to the very resources and money from federal and state coffers that schools would need to break away from such traditional methods and still remain viable economically. The Khan Academy offers an interesting semi-solution for both home schoolers and traditional schools alike, and while I’m not entirely against the idea of using Khan for educational purposes, I am very much against what Frank also articulates; the rapid adoption and wholesale cheerleading of Khan Academy as a “magic bullet” that will solve a lot of problems, and truth be told, it really doesn’t.

      I like the point you make in Khan Academy being a tool, but not one that’s universal. Sadly, I fear there are many educators and parents that don’t question tools and others critically enough to be able to recognize tools like Khan Academy as being just one tool in an toolbox full of ideas for helping students learn.

  2. Seems liket the IB Way of Inquiry Based Learning… love it. And I love how the students in the clip seem to know which style of teaching/learning works for them. It would be helpful if all students and teachers knew this.

    1. I’m not familiar with the IB method of teaching, but I love the idea of inquiry based learning, where students have an active role in the learning. Sadly for this to happen on a larger scale I feel as though some of the content and standards would have to be jettisoned to make way for more time spent on more important aspects of learning. Which is to say, that would be a great thing, but not likely to happen in many districts which are focused on preparing students for the test.

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