“Students who only know how to perform well in today’s education system—get good grades and test scores, and earn degrees—will no longer be those who are most likely to succeed. Thriving in the twenty-first century will require real competencies, far more than academic credentials.” Tony Wagner, Most Likely to Succeed: Preparing Our Kids for the Innovation Era
Last week I was up in San Francisco and met with Chalon Bridges, the Director of Learning and Partnerships for DIY.org, my favorite, favorite kid’s site. I’m so excited and impressed with what they are doing – adding FUN and AGENCY to online learning for kids.
Here’s what they do:
DIY.org lets kids look through over one hundred different skills – from Baker and Beekeeper to Beatmaker and Bitster (electronic making). And each skill has 7+ individual activities for a kid to do, related to that skills.
Once a child has baked their loaf of bread, or tried beatboxing (see above), they can take a photo or record a video of their work, and upload it. And then a real, live, person will review it and either approve it or advise what’s missing in order to achieve completion for that activity.
And DIY.org is completely free – you can buy a t-shirt or patches for skills (once you’ve completed at least 3 activities under it), for a few bucks, but you don’t have to.
Here’s why I love it:
- It’s helping me get some insights into what each of my kids is interested in doing. This is important to me, as I see part of my parent job as putting opportunities in front of them to follow their curiosity, build skills/expertise in something they LIKE, that can ultimately turn into a path for contributing to the world as an adult (whether they decide to be computer programmer or choreographer or chemist or carpet salesman…)
- It’s giving my kids easy, fun ways to exploring possibilities in new domains, and expanding their awareness of what’s out there.
- It’s not ‘school-ified’ aka someone else telling you what you’re supposed to do, and someone else deciding when you do it – whether you’re enagaged or not.
- It’s actually getting the OFF THEIR SCREENS and into the real world – apart from some of the computer-related activities, my kids are drawing, baking, crafting, playing, videotaping, making pinatas, costumes, designing.
- My kids are not passively being entertained, nor are they playing Agar.io – they’re creating. They’re using their imaginations, creativity.
- It’s self-driven. Even if I tell them to go do something on DIY – they can choose from 700+ activities, that align with their personality/curiosity, rather than mine.
- They get recognition and – posting their projects, getting it okayed by a grown up, getting comments from other kids – I see their satisfaction and confidence in what they’ve done.
How do they make money?
DIY.org has over 400,000 kids on their online platform and a growing staff of 30+, so I was scratching my head on how in the world do they pay for it all, and how will they make money? There’s no way that $4 patches are funding them. I know they’re venture-backed (aka got a lot of funding), but is this company sustainable?
I asked Chalon about it, whether they’re planning to charge in future. She said NO – they have a second site, www.jam.com, where activities go more in depth and there’s a $99/year fee per project/child. The idea is that www.diy.org lets kids explore all sorts of activities, and THEN when they’re ready they can head over to jam.com for deeper learning, more mastery of a particular topic. JAM.com has 7 in depth ‘Jams’ so far (take a look). So Jam.com will fund the entire organization including DIY.org.
I also found an old article about one of their co-founders, Isaiah Saxon, where he says: “We decided to structure DIY.org as a for-profit startup because we know that if we create a tool that boosts kids’ creativity, that will be of tremendous value to parents. Rather than being a non-profit and begging wealthy donors to fund us, we aim to build a great service that parents are excited to pay for. We’ll never sell information about our users to advertisers and we’ll never allow advertising on the site. ”
The founders of DIY.org are Zach Klein (co-founder of Vimeo) and Isaiah Saxon, Andrew Sliwinski, Daren Rabinovitch.
Chalon also told me that they haven’t really marketed DIY.org at all – the 400,000 kids grew by word of mouth, by the community sharing with friends, etc. They’re doing some marketing now for www.jam.com.
Why DIY instead of something else?
Let me see…most learning sites for kids are either gameified school – games that help you do math, learn vocabulary, or memorize state capitals OR they’re like Khan Academy – quality lecture, but still lecture! Very little interaction or creation. (In fact, most of the ADULT learning sites are the same! Lynda.com is quality lectures, with little interaction or application or path to real world mastery. Don’t get me started..)
“Developing creativity, persistence, and the skills for patient problem-solving, B.S.-detecting, and collaborating may now be more important than knowing the key dates and battles of the Civil War…” Will Richardson. Will Richardson is an Educator, Researcher and Author of Why School? How Education Must Change When Learning and Information are Everywhere
Anyway, most ‘educational’ sites for kids try to make fact acquisition fun or at least easier, and don’t go further than that. DIY.org is better because the biggest gaps in formal education today are around critical soft skills (see my other pages on this site!) including problemsolving, ideation, creativity, communication, self-directedness. DIY.org helps kids own their own learning, and develop a LOVE for it.
That’s why I am fascinated by and enthusiastic about DIY.org. Imagine if FORMAL schooling took on this kind of approach to learning – teach math, physics, writing, speaking, reading through a student’s interests, and micro-projects. Kids wouldn’t be delighted to get out of there for the winter break or summer vacation, I can tell you that!
Now, who wants to help me figure out a DIY.org equivalent for college? or for Adults? Imagine if adults were able to pursue their dreams and interests in the same way. Anyone over at Novoed want to give it a shot?