From YouTube Pioneer Sal Khan, A School With Real Classrooms : NPR Ed Sal Khan, a pioneer of online tutorials with his successful Khan Academy, has established a private brick-and-mortar laboratory school in Silicon Valley. He plans to share its lessons with educators.

From YouTube Pioneer Sal Khan, A School With Real Classrooms

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Sal Khan, the founder of the Khan Academy, has helped hundreds of millions of people around the world learn math, science and other subjects, all for free, all on YouTube. But these days, if you walk down just a flight of stairs from his Silicon Valley office, there is a real school - a brick and mortar experiment that is very different from his online lectures. Eric Westervelt with the NPR Ed team reports.

SAL KHAN: So the last couple of seminars, we've been talking about technologies that will potentially change the world.

ERIC WESTERVELT, BYLINE: On Fridays, the lunch menu at the Khan Lab School in Mountain View, Calif., includes a Socratic dialogue with the founder and CEO himself.

KHAN: We did self-driving cars. We've talked about virtual reality. We talked about life extension, robots.

WESTERVELT: On a picnic table, a group of seventh and eighth graders eats their lunches while debating this week's seminar topic - the prospects and perils of artificial intelligence.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: How do you know that it'll listen to you? If it's a human brain, sometimes I don't listen when people tell me to do things.

WESTERVELT: The discussion is quintessential Silicon Valley - self-referential and self-important, yet compelling, engaging and genuinely different.

KHAN: You think intelligence and ego is correlated?

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENT: If we eliminate all our bias and our ego - I mean, I have some ego (laughter).

WESTERVELT: Just another lunch chat at Sal Khan's Lab School. The kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school currently serves 65 students. Inside, there's a big, open classroom. The school's ethos of playful inquiry gives it a Montessori-meets-Willy-Wonka feel. In one area, students talk politics while drawing flags and maps on a poster board. Elsewhere, students are rehearsing "Shrek," the play.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Singing) Oh, what a lovely day. The sun's so big it hurts my eyes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) But really, that's OK.

WESTERVELT: A growing number of schools make personalized learning part of the curriculum. But the experiment here, in many ways, is how to make personalized learning into more than a nice slogan.

GURSHAN JOLLY: I like it a lot, mainly because we get to take responsibility of what we want to do and where we want to dive deeper.

WESTERVELT: That's student Gurshan Jolly. Students here are grouped not by age but by independence level. There are no grades and no grade levels or traditional homework.

GURSHAN: I spend at least half-an-hour every day coding. So I do JavaScript, and now I'm just starting to learn Python.

WESTERVELT: Gurshan is 10 years old. At times, the classroom looks like controlled chaos, but the emphasis on students taking charge, Sal Khan says, helps foster creativity and collaboration.

KHAN: Look, we don't want to start just another progressive school that caters to people in Silicon Valley. We want to create something that has to push the envelope and then share that with the rest of the world. I never viewed technology as a replacement for the human experience. I viewed it as something that could liberate the human experience.

WESTERVELT: Technology as a tool for liberation - it's a Silicon Valley ideal, but it's not clear Khan's Lab School, as yet, is helping reach for another ideal - narrowing the education equity gap between rich and poor, a prime motivation of his virtual Khan Academy when that launched a decade ago. His laboratory school is not for profit, like the virtual Khan Academy just upstairs. But it is an exclusive, highly selective private school, not like the Khan Academy slogan, a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. Actually, the Lab School's slogan could be, a world-class education for $25,000 a year for Silicon Valley elites. Khan disputes that. He says the point is to experiment and share everything with educators everywhere.

KHAN: If there's a practice that we think is really powerful that's happening in the - in the physical, our designers and our engineers can start to say, well, can we create some version of that in the virtual?

WESTERVELT: It's early yet. The school's barely two years old. But Khan is betting that the cross pollination of the virtual and the real proves fruitful. His challenge is to scale it, to spread what really works educationally beyond the 65 lucky students at his Lab School. Eric Westervelt, NPR News, Mountain View, Calif.

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