When you ask a student at the Harlingen Consolidated Independent School District what they are doing on their computer, smart phone or tablet, there is a good chance the answer will not be what you expect.

Instead of Google and YouTube, students are using KHAN Academy, which is an online program that offers over 3,000 free instructional videos for all grade levels. Topics ranging from history to finance are available in the blink of an eye. Much like a tutor, the videos provide instructional and educational guidance, and can be accessed any time of day.

“If I need help with my homework, I can go on there and watch a video,” said Cara Cash, sixth grade student at Vela Middle School. “It’s really helpful to use. I like Khan Academy because even though you mess up on a question, they have things that can help you.”

To engage the students, the activities are designed after video games. Students can earn points in related to the questions. As points accumulated, they can redeem them to unlock new levels and avatars.

“I have 53 points,” Cash said.  “It rewards you the more that you get right, and you can change your avatar with the points you get. I have a little purple man and he’s super adorable.”

It’s a completely customized self-paced learning took for students. They they can measure their progress with a custom profile that visually shows what lessons have been completed.

All campuses and classes have the opportunity to utilize the online educational tool. KHAN has found its place at HCISD in mathematics and reading comprehension at the secondary level. Teachers have started to see a difference in the engagement of some students, said Tanya Perez, sixth grade math teacher at Vela.

“Because they get so caught up in it, they just keep on going with their lessons and go past what I’ve assigned,” Perez said. “Yes, we want to reward them with points, but we really want to acknowledge the students that were not as involved but are now actively trying in their academics. They are excited they can do it, and they want to take the challenge.”

It’s not just helpful to the students. Teachers are using the online academy to help assess the academic progress of their students, and customize their learning techniques for each of their educational needs.

“That’s the beauty of KHAN Academy,” said Nelda Alonzo, eighth grade math teacher at Vela. “It’s a quick assessment of their level of achievement, and identifying the students that go above and beyond.”

With the enthusiasm the students, teachers and administration have displayed for KHAN Academy, it looks like the newly used educational tool is here to stay at HCISD.

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