Last month, Mathematics Department Head Chris Talone received a text message from an unknown number, not realizing that it was from Head of School Barbara Wagner.
“It read ‘Sal Khan just called you a rockstar math teacher!” Talone said. “And I didn’t even know who the text was from.”
Talone’s collaboration with Khan Academy founder Salman Khan on a pilot class during the 2011-2012 school year remains an object of admiration and fascination not only for Wagner but also for the public at large. On Jan. 27, a film crew from the CBS weekly news magazine show 60 Minutes arrived on the Marlborough campus to film the class in action. Created by Khan, Talone and last year’s Guerin Prize winner India ’12, the innovative new class is open to students from Grades 7-12 and introduces new material in ten-minute online videos, followed up with individualized coaching from Talone.
60 Minutes contacted Khan in 2011, saying that they wanted to do a story on him. Marlborough, along with The Center for Early Education and a few schools in the Los Altos School District who are also offering Khan Academy-inspired classes, will be featured when the segment runs on television in April.
Associate Director of Communications Carly Rodriguez met with Talone a few times leading up to the filming day and acted as a liaison and coordinator between 60 Minutes and the School.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for national media exposure for the School,” Rodriguez said. “The work and energy that Talone put into this program has really paid off,” she said.
Talone was interviewed prior to the taping by 60 Minutes producer Sumi Aggarwal. Though students often complain about feeling uncomfortable being observed during the Admissions Office’s Mornings at Marlborough, when prospective parents tour the School and peek in on classes, the girls in the Khan Academy pilot class said they soon adjusted to the awkwardness of being filmed.
“It was great, as a class, that we had Dr. Talone as a role model to bring us back to math whenever we got distracted by the video cameras and microphones,” Bianca ’13 said.
The Khan Academy class allows girls from every grade to work together in modules on a shared curriculum while taking advantage of online resources.
“When I lecture, people pay in and out of attention, but online they’re very engaged,” Talone said. “The bell rings and people don’t want to leave the class. That never happens when I lecture.”
The Khan Academy website is set up much like a game, according to Talone, where students are rewarded when they understand the material and are redirected to helpful videos if they do not.
“Teachers stopped putting gold stars on their papers, but they shouldn’t have,” Talone said referring to the reward system on the Khan Academy website.
Since 60 Minutes is infamous for its shocking exposés, the School was at first hesitant in agreeing to be featured in the segment. The 2011-2012 school year’s Guerin Visiting Scholar, Greg Mortenson, cancelled his appearance at Marlborough at the last minute after 60 Minutes ran a segment that revealed his philanthropic work in Afghanistan and Pakistan to be exaggerated.
“Not everything that appears on 60 Minutes is positive,” Wagner said. “But Sal Khan was enormously complimentary of Marlborough.”
Regardless of potential criticisms, Talone expressed how excited he is to be on the show and how great of an experience the trial run of the Khan Academy class has been.
“I knew this was going to be big when I first met Sal Khan,” Talone said. “That’s when I realized that I couldn’t blow this.”