This is Your Brain on Khan – A Math MOOC for Everyone

I spent the last 6 months personally completing all of the math courseware available via the Khan Academy.  Because so many people have asked me about why and how I did it, I decided to write about ‘my journey to calculus’.  I’ll start with an excerpt from the article, then, if you’d like to read more (20 pages total), you can download the rest from this link.

Here's my dashboard from the Khan Academy


This is your brain on Khan

A Math MOOC for everyone

A story of Math Learning

Over 30 years ago, (as a teenager intrigued by the delight of geometry), I asked my math teacher a simple question, “What kind of career could I have if I studied math?”  His answer stuns me to this day, “Oh honey, girls don’t do math.”  Thinking he was an outlier, I got more data by asking my friends and family the same question.  Unfortunately, all of their answers were basically the same, albeit, softened version of the original one, i.e. “that’s not for you” or “why would you want to do that?” and so on.

Fast forward to the present, although I had (unsurprisingly) not continued with any type of math studies beyond the first level algebra during high school, my mathematical curiosity led me down haphazard paths throughout my adult years.  I picked up more math along the way, which served me well until…

Reality Bytes

In early 2013 I found myself up against a math challenge that I didn’t feel comfortable bluffing my way out of.  I had acquired a new Big Data consulting client and part of my job was to be a ‘technical evangelist’ for their predictive analytics product.  Their product was packed with features and I was eager to explore all of them, so that I could apply what had come to be a professional expertise for me – that is, explaining in simple terms how data technologies worked.  I discovered a number of statistical features, and one in particular intrigued me – automatic calculation of z-score normalization.  While I had heard of this term, I was wholly unfamiliar with what it really was. I wondered, ‘how will I learn this?’

I spent a few minutes searching for the term online and found some explanations, none of which made enough sense for me to put to any practical use.  Next I decided to try another option- Khan Academy.  When I looked there,   I found that the topic ‘z-score normalization’ was part of the Khan Academy math courseware.  I had, of course, heard of Khan Academy prior to this particular topic search.  I had even signed up at the site and had casually watched a couple of the site’s math videos previously.

However, now I had a particular motivation to learn at least this one topic.  I had a new client to win over.  So, I watched Salman Khan calmly and clearly explain z-scores in the included videos, and then I tried to complete the topic exercises.  I got required 5 questions in a row correct and was rewarded with a ‘mastery’ designation!  I was ecstatic about learning such a challenging topic so quickly and I shared my happiness with my family.


Shown above is the screen showing that I had ‘mastered’ this advanced topic. This is what I proudly showed to my partner and feeling happy about having learned an important math concept. After my partner saw this he asked me a very effective question, “Why don’t you just do the whole thing?”

So, I did.

To read about how I did it and how you can too, download my article here.

4 thoughts on “This is Your Brain on Khan – A Math MOOC for Everyone

  1. Amazing. I’ve followed your work for years (I first heard of you when you were creating a program to teach kids to code). This story is simply amazing. I can’t wait to share it with my daughter after school today. Thank you for sharing your story.

  2. I heard you talk about learning more math recently, and I was blown away. I became a developer on accident years ago, and I have always had confidence issues about my lack of formal math education. I have also been using Khan Academy to develop a stronger skillet. I can’t thank you enough for sharing your story. I have looked up to you for years and knowing walked a similar path will definitely help me be more confidant about my technical skills in the future.

  3. 500 Hours for all skills at Khan? That’s impressive!
    When I was in school I wasn’t good student but really what happened was that I didn’t put the effort needed for Mathematics and honestly, I didn’t want to learn! But now, and after read the amazing book of The Growth Mindset I really want to complete all skills at Khan academy even when all my life I’ve had problems with the subject. What I like most about Khan is that you can start from basic math until advanced subjects.

    Thanks for your article, it’s true motivation for me!
    Now I’m about 170 hours and 51% completed and I’m going for much more!! 🙂

  4. Thank you for writing this blog! I’m going to use the Desmos calculator and Kahn courses to help my daughters. Very inspiring story.

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