Biotech giant grants $3 million to Khan Academy

Jen Ellison, a technology teacher at Phillips Elementary School in Napa, begins a typical class with a lecture, then hands out iPads or laptops for her students to access an instructional website called Khan Academy for lessons in biology, math, computer science, art, history, English, or finance.

When Ellison was first developing her curriculum for her students, she discovered no guidelines existed for teaching subjects like Computer Science to third graders, which led her to use Khan Academy, a decision that changed more  than her curriculum.

Ellison told SFBay:

“For me personally [Khan Academy] has transformed the way I think about everything.  …  My students have come to rely on their Khan Academy accounts even after they leave my class.”

Earlier this month, South San Francisco biotech giant Amgen, announced a three-year, $3 million grant to Khan Academy to develop more advanced biology videos featuring content directed towards high school students, including advanced placement biology lessons.

Amgen originally awarded Khan Academy a pilot grant of $700,000 in 2015.  Amgen has operated a science education program called the Amgen Biotech Experience since 1989, but Jeanette Schulz, lead of K-12 STEM initiatives at Amgen Foundation, said they wanted to use Khan Academy to reach more kids and advance biotechnology education:

“Some of the limitation we have had is that you can only get to so many kids and so many schools. …  So we wanted to complement that with Khan Academy to reach more students who might not have all the resources needed to learn sciences.”

Khan Academy was started by Sal Khan more than a decade ago as a way to help a family member who was having trouble with sixth-grade math.  According to their website, Khan Academy now has over 57 million members.

Khan said:

“Thanks to the Internet you get a pretty clear vision of what videos are in demand. … I can imagine that in ten years if everyone has access to this material, maybe we will get another Amgen so we can really advance biology.”

Ellison’s use of Khan Academy might has shifted over the years to using more than one subject to engage her students, but she says it has been indispensable tool that keeps her students collaborating with each other.

Ellison said:

“I like the idea of getting students collaborating experience and [Khan academy] has added a lot in the last few years. …   Their favorite course is Pixar in a Box which is a joint course between Pixar and Khan that teacher animation.”