Who’s Bill Gates’ Favorite Teacher?

by Debra Eve | @DebraEve

Salman Khan, Bill Gates' Favorite Teacher

I received an unusually pleasant task at the day job recently.

I got to call Sara Janzen, Corporate Giving Officer at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco.

“Hello,” I said. “My firm would like to donate $25,000 for a table at your Big Bang Gala next month. Could you me tell how to go about that?”

“Of course.” I could hear her smile. It was 4:45 pm and Sara deals with big sponsors all the time, but I’m sure that kind of random call ended her day with a bang (pun intended).

The Gala celebrates “the leading lights and bright minds making remarkable contributions in the realm of science education – a topic at the core of the Academy’s mission to explore, explain, and protect the natural world” and, of course, raises funds for the Academy’s continued existence. I’m proud my firm supports them.

One of the luminaries caught my eye. Salman Khan

Named “Bill Gates’ favorite teacher” by Fortune Magazine, Salman is the founder and one-man faculty of the Khan Academy, a nonprofit with the mission of providing free, high-quality education to anyone, anywhere in the world. It’s the most-used library of educational videos on the web…

Two years ago, I’d visited Khan Academy. I came away with a reeling head and a bit of envy. In my 30s, after avoiding math most of my life, I’d mastered algebra, calculus, and statistics to qualify for UCLA’s Archaeology MA program. It was very hard.

But I was very, very motivated. I still wish Khan Academy had been around back then!

The Shout Out Heard Around the World

Khan, a hedge fund analyst, created math tutorials to help his cousins back in New Orleans, where he grew up. He posted them on You Tube and they caught on. Kids all over the world started emailing him. Five years later, in 2009, he quit his job to focus on Khan Academy.

Then, at the 2010 Aspen Ideas Conference, Bill Gates announced to the world that his children used Khan’s tutorials. He concluded:

We’ve moved about 160 IQ points from the hedge fund category to the teaching-many-people-in-a-leveraged-way category. It was a good day his wife let him quit his job.

A grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation followed. And next month Khan will speak at a $25,000 a table fund raiser in front of my employers.

What Does This Have to Do with Later Bloomers?

Many, including scientists Charles Darwin and Mary Somerville, taught themselves. Linguist/explorers Freya Stark and Heinrich Schliemann were completely self-educated. Khan’s tutorials encourage curiosity and experimentation. They expect mastery, but allow you to learn at your own pace and in your own time.

Imagine what that does to the adult learner who’s embarrassed to go back and learn stuff that they should have before, before going back to college. Imagine what it does to a street kid in Calcutta who has to help his family during the day, and that’s the reason why he or she can’t go to school.

And Khan Academy has expanded.

Not just Math, but Art, Astronomy, History and more!

I viewed two art history videos on subjects I’ve studied, “The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial” and “The Victory Stele of Naram-Sin.” They’re sound bites, less than five minutes, but solid introductions. In fact, none of Khan’s tutorials clock over fifteen minutes. And all are free.

If you need to review before going on, want to inspire your kids, or just have an insatiable desire to explore, definitely check out KhanAcademy.org.

And no, I’m not invited to the $25,000 a table affair. But Sara kindly offered to give me a tour of the California Academy of Sciences next time I’m in San Francisco. You can bet I’ll take her up on it!

Bonus: Using Video to Reinvent Education

If you’ve got another 20 minutes, here’s Khan’s TED Talk on using video to reinvent education. (RSS and email readers can click here.)

Sources

Bill Gates’ Favorite Teacher: CNNMoney, August 24, 2010
Image via OutlookIndia.com

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Leave a Comment

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave Doolin

Heh, I’d have to admit to a bit of envy as well. Leveraging hedge earnings to finance the startup was brilliant.

Ping me when you’re next in San Fran, I’ll treat you to a cup of coffee or whatnot.

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Debra Eve

Definitely! Don’t know when that will be, but soon, I hope.

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Lindsay

Of all the billion billion places to hang out on the internet, Later Bloomer has a permanent place in my top three. Another great post.

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Debra Eve

Lindsay, you’re so sweet. Thank you!

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Jennette Marie Powell

What a great story! I haven’t heard of Khan Academy. Thanks for sharing!

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Debra Eve

It is really inspiring to see someone get the backing and attention they deserve for educational ventures. Thanks for stopping by, Jennette.

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florence fois

This is all new information for me, Debra. What a great story for people of all ages. When we are motivated to learn it doesn’t matter when, just how hard we can work. The Khan Academy sounds like something that can revolutionize education as we know it :) Thanks.

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Debra Eve

You’re welcome, Florence. It’s being used in classrooms up in Silicon Valley with good results, so we’ll see!

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David Stevens

Thankyou for sharing this Debra…..
be good to yourself
David

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Debra Eve

Thanks for stopping by, David! Hope life down under is treating you well.

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coleen patrick

All new to me too Debra! So interesting–thanks!

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Debra Eve

You’re welcome, Coleen. I was excited to see him go beyond math (which I’ve had enough of for a lifetime)!

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Cathy | Treatment Talk

Hi Debra,

I just saw Salman Khan on a 60 Minutes Segment and what an amazing story. Great way to learn and noticed that they are piloting his program to be used in schools. He has definitely created a new way of teaching. Thanks for sharing.

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Debra Eve

I’m heartened by his story too, Cathy! Anyone who can make math easier gets my vote.

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Louise Behiel

another interesting informative post. We have to re-invent education – because the current system isn’t working. thank heavens for forward thinkers. now i’m off to check out the academy.

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Debra Eve

Thanks, Louise. I think you’ll love it!

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Karen McFarland

Uh, math is so not my subject Debra, but what a wonderful man. And it didn’t hurt to attract Bill Gates either, eh? Good to know that his school is expanding into other subjects. I had never heard of this man nor his school. Thank you for bring it to our attention! :)

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Debra Eve

Math is certainly not my subject, either, Karen! I sure wish Khan Academy had been around when I needed to master it for my archaeology degree. Glad you enjoyed the post!

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Daniela

I’m blown away. All my learning life, I’ve been resigned to living with the gaps in my knowledge base that have prevented further learning, and hopeless that I could ever go back and fill them in. Too daunting a task, for one and fraught with the same process problem that created the gaps to begin with, that forced march to move forward without full mastery. How thrilling Khan Academy is for the lifetime learner! And isn’t TED the best?! Thanks for another insanely useful post.

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Debra Eve

You, Daniela? Gaps in knowledge? You’re one of the most intelligent women I’ve met on the web. But Mayan calendar decoding and the details of string theory can elude the best of us. As a lifelong learner myself, I do adore TED, and now the Khan Academy. Thanks for stopping by!

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