The Coast News Group
Sixth-grade students at Olivenhain Pioneer put together videos for Kid Akademy, a spin-off that promotes personalized learning. From left to right: Ella Soth, Emma O’Connell, Rachelle Jones, Kaiti Walsh, Justin Luban, Jack Loudis, Austin Nicholas. Photo by Jared Whitlock

Kid Akademy aims to change learning with student-made tutorials

ENCINITAS — The website Khan Academy popularized go-at-your-own-pace learning with free instructional videos. And Kid Akademy, a locally grown spin-off, looks to improve on the concept for elementary students.

Khan Academy contains thousands of videos with a voiceover describing how to solve math problems while hand-written formulas appear on screen. Videos can be paused or watched repeatedly, encouraging people to view them on their own time.

Kid Akademy features similar math explainers, with a twist: the content is developed by kids, for kids. And that’s a distinguishing quality, a group of sixth-graders at Olivenhain Pioneer, where Kid Akademy originated, said last week.

“In Khan Academy, it’s an adult talking,” said sixth-grader Rachelle Jones. “Sometimes it just gets really boring when adults are talking and they use really huge words that we can’t understand.”

Adding to that thought, sixth-grader Austin Nicholas said students try to keep the videos interesting by making the explanations relatable, their voices energetic and the backgrounds colorful.

“You learn a lot more when it’s interesting to you,” Austin said. “Adults think they know what’s interesting, but most kids would rather listen to someone they can relate to.”

The Kid Akademy videos are designed to supplement traditional lectures, said Jeanne Benowitz, a sixth-grade teacher.

“When a student goes home and they forgot a concept they learned, they can pull up a video a classmate made,” she said.

“Education is becoming more personalized and this is the latest,” she added.

The program was born last year when Benowitz challenged each of her students to put together a movie walking peers through a math concept.

“The movies were amazing,” Benowitz said. “One of my kids said ‘this is like Khan Akademy, only better.’ And I thought, this is calling to me.”

Later, she registered, where all of the videos are available.

A technological jump paved the way for Kid Akademy. EUSD (Encinitas Union School District) gave many of its students iPads two years ago. As of this year, nearly every EUSD student has an iPad, allowing them to record and edit the videos with programs like iMovie and Sketchbook.

Proposition P, a $44 million facilities and technology bond that passed three years ago, paid for the iPads.

For students, the process begins when they develop a script outlining what to say and how to illustrate the concept with computer-made drawings.

They have to follow a few rules when producing the videos: they’re supposed to be no more than three minutes, logical and to the point. The idea is to present information in bite-sized chunks so students stay engaged throughout.

After a student wraps up a video, fellow students and Benowitz critique it and submit suggestions to be incorporated into the final version.

“Collaboration is a big part of this,” Benowitz said.

The best videos are then shared on the Kid Akademy website. Like Khan Academy videos, the kids don’t appear in the clips, only their voices and drawings explain an equation.

In addition to helping viewers, producing a Kid Akademy video demonstrates mastery of a concept, making it a viable alternative to testing in some cases, Benowitz said.

“If you can teach it, you own it,” Benowitz said. If they can show me that they can teach a concept with a video, what better testing of knowledge is there?”

As far as Benowitz is aware, Kid Akademy is the first program of its kind. Because it’s still new, not many beyond district officials and her class are aware of it. Eventually, she said the goal is to bring more attention to Kid Akademy and branch out into other subjects.

Sixth-grader Jack Loudis suggested that his classroom share the program with lower grade levels at Olivenhain Pioneer, followed by other EUSD schools. And then maybe others outside the district will catch on.

The demand for educational videos is certainly there — Khan Academy’s YouTube channel, which launched five years ago, has more than 325 million views to date.

“We want kids from all over to watch our videos and learn,” Jack said.