Rethinking Learning with Salman Khan at Stanford (Full Transcript)

And so I told Nadia’s mother, that I find that hard to believe. And when Nadia woke up, I said, well what’s going on? And she said, I took a placement exam, and there’s unit conversion, ounces to gallons, kilo, you know, kilometers, meters, miles, things like that. And she says, I just don’t get that. My brain just checks out. And I told her, I was like, look Nadia, I’ve had conversations with you last few days. We even did, I remember these little brain teasers while we were waiting for the fireworks over the Charles River. And I said, all of that stuff that we’ve been talking about is ten times deeper and more conceptual than units. And I’m not saying this just as a kind of a pep talk. You can do this. And, and, I think like a lot of, not just children frankly, people who’ve disengaged with some content, they appreciate the pep talk. But they’re like oh, okay, you know, that’s nice but it probably doesn’t apply to me.

And so I said, well, let’s make this happen. You go back to New Orleans. They still lived in New Orleans. And, every day after work, I’ll, we’ll get on something. We’ll get on the conference phone and will use Yahoo Doodle or something, and, and we’ll work together. And she agreed. I think she was skeptical, but she says, oh, I have this cousin, kind of an older brother figure who wants to spend time with me, worth a try.

And long story short, they went back to New Orleans, we started working together. The first month was hard, but she eventually did get past that. And then we started just doing random topics, algebra here and there, and she actually became an advanced math student. And then I’ve coined the phrase I became somewhat of a tiger cousin. Perhaps better than a tiger mom. And I called her school and I said she should retake the exam. You don’t understand what she’s accomplished. There was some resistance on that part and, and I’m like oh then, her mom isn’t telling me this. It’s I’m telling and, but, she was able to take it, and she took the exam and she ended up becoming a very advanced math student. She ended up taking calculus her freshman year in high school. She ended up taking math at University of New Orleans through most of high school, so she became this really advanced math student. That same student who thought she couldn’t get units.

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But I was excited. My day job, I wasn’t able to exercise some of these, these same ideas. So I started tutoring her brothers, things started to go well with them. Then I would call up random family members, and say, can I tutor your kids? And there was kind of a tone like, oh, things must not be going so well at the hedge fund. Sal’s looking for a back-up job. Which is kind of true, I guess. But so that’s what happened.

And you fast forward to 2006 and I had a cohort of about 15 or 18, yeah, about 15 to 20 family, friends and relatives around the country that I was tutoring after work. And it was interesting, I mean, but it wasn’t as good as those interactions with Nadia where it was one on one. I started writing a little bit of kind of fairly primitive software initially, so that I could give them example problems, I could keep track of what they were doing. I mean, it’s amazing when you, as soon as you keep track of things and you see the real-time data, you start saying, why is Ali doing problems at three in the morning? This is, you know, irrespective of algebra, this is an issue.

But I started doing that. And in 2006, the firm I was working for, actually I was working at Wohl Capital Management. It was a two person and a dog firm, the dog was our Chief Economist. And Dan’s wife who, Dan was my boss, his wife became a professor at Stanford Law School. And so we moved the firm out to Palo Alto, actually it was on Menlo Park. And I was based out here. And in 2006 I was having dinner in San Mateo with a buddy from college and I was showing this software that I was building. And it gave you hints and generated problems, and I was telling him about all these — actually I wasn’t making videos yet. I was telling him about these tutoring sessions I was doing. And I told him my only frustration is, is that now when I do these sessions, I do a session with Sasha. I’m like, oh, I wish he was there when I covered that same material with Arman or with Nadia last week or last year. A lot of times when I did these video tutorials, you know, I would ask them, whoa, do you get this? Does this make sense to you? And there would be kind of this pregnant pause and they would say, yeah, yeah, yeah, I get it, I get it. And you know they didn’t, but you didn’t want to push the issue and make them feel weird about it and all the rest. They just didn’t want to waste my time. And you would have these things happening. There was a sense that they had basic questions, but they were afraid to ask. You know, they forgot how to divide decimals even though they’re in ninth grade. And they didn’t want to embarrass themselves, because I’ve been telling them that you’re smart, and you can do all of these things.

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