Khan Academy: How to Calculate the Unemployment Rate

BY Spencer Michels  February 22, 2010 at 4:01 PM EST

A 33-year-old math and science whiz kid — working out of his house in California’s Silicon Valley — may be revolutionizing how people all over the world will learn math. He is Salman Khan, and until a few months ago he made his living as a hedge fund analyst. But he’s become a kind of an unseen rock star in the online instruction field, posting 1200 lessons in math and science on YouTube, none of them lasting more than about 10 minutes. He quit his job at the hedge fund to devote full time to his Khan Academy teaching efforts, which he does essentially for free.

Khan explained how the U.S. unemployment rate is calculated in a NewsHour exclusive video.

Khan’s story — featured Monday on the NewsHour — is inspiring. A math and science graduate of MIT with an MBA from Harvard, he was one of those math-savvy kids who did great in school, and then decided to make some money. As an Indian-American (born in New Orleans), education — especially math and science — were important in his household. But when one of his cousins, a seventh grader, told him at a family gathering that she was having trouble with math — especially converting grams to kilograms — he decided to help her, long distance. He devised a method where he talked to her via the computer, with a blackboard on the screen, and after a few weeks she started to get it. Her progress was speedy, and he decided that the method he’d improvised, would work for others.

So he began putting short math lessons on the Internet, never showing his face, but keeping it simple and direct. He has a great gift for communicating, for explaining math concepts that I used to have problems with, and so did a lot of others. Aware that America lags behind Europe and Asia in math and science scores, Khan figured there was a large market for his lessons, though he didn’t want to charge for them. And that market was not just America, but throughout the world, wherever people could get the Internet.

And he was right: Thousands of students and others are brushing up on their math by going on his Web site, Khan Academy, or on YouTube, to review trigonometry, geometry, basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, calculus and dozens of other subjects. But as a true renaissance man, Khan wants to go beyond math and post lessons on everything from biology and physics to history and grammar.

He’s donating his time at this point, but with the success he’s had, he is expecting a little help from foundations or others soon. He made a special instructional video for the PBS NewsHour about how the U.S. unemployment rate is calculated, which you can watch above.