Curious about how to make a solarpowered flashlight, storyboard a film, draw Bugs Bunny or simply kill an afternoon learning to making slime? You’re in luck if you’re looking for a website to teach you all of those things. But only if you’re under the age of 18.
On 20th Street in Mishpot, roughly a dozen employees operate DIY.org and its paid counterpart, Jam.com; educational sites designed to teach kids a variety of skills and allow them to share that knowledge with their peers. Kids on DIY begin by watching instructional videos on subjects like art, science, citizenship, philosophy, engineering and even hacking. After viewing, the youngsters upload videos of their own experiments. In addition to learning, the goal is to earn patches, which are achieved after completing three challenges for a particular skill.
While DIY, created in 2011, is free, two-year old JAM goes deeper into topics at a cost of $99 per year for one course, $240 for all of them. There are nine courses, with plans for expansion, the most popular being Secrets of Drawing, Mad Science, Drawing Bootcamp and Invent Your Own Machines. Each sequence includes a variety of instructional videos. For instance, subtopics under Drawing Bootcamp include shading, perspective and mixed media; machine inventing involves rockets and launchers, marble ramps and robotic arms.
While several company employees work remotely, the instructional videos are shot at the Mishpot site. It’s also where engineering, marketing and design teams reside, as well as the moderators who provide chat forum feedback alongside the videos the kids upload.
“They will go in and make the kids feel at home, let them know they are doing a good job and give them tips,” said Schaeffer Arnold, JAM marketing manager. “This is so they can understand the sharing and community aspect of it but also get some level of comfort in knowing other kids like them are going through this experience. So it is okay to try and fail too.”
The websites are the brainchild of Zach Klein, who co-founded the video-sharing site, Vimeo, in 2004. As a kid, Klein felt authority figures in his life didn’t believe his time spent at the computer was productive, although it later turned out to be a positive for him. On the JAM blog, he writes how difficult it is to predict what skills will be useful in future careers, pointing out that a generation of kids used the game Minecraft to learn how to create three dimensional models on a computer.
“We want to allow kids to be more exploratory and learn things that could be productive and could lead to future jobs,” said Arnold. “But at the very least exposes them to passions or skill sets that they didn’t know they had.”
All the instructional videos are in English; users hail primarily from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia. The site is designed for six to 16-year olds and, at minimum, participants need to be able to upload videos. Most use smartphones or tablets to film and upload; the site can be utilized on a desktop as well.
“A six-year old is going to have a different experience on it than a 12-year old,” said Arnold. “The six-year old might enjoy mostly consuming the video content or looking at what other kids have created while a 12-year old might actually be more focused on doing the creation and collaborating with other people.”
According to Arnold, homeschooled children are a popular demographic for the company. While there aren’t videos on school basics like literature or math, there’s no shortage of courses dealing with arts and science. Many are akin to school electives, like cooking or shop, and subjects one might not get into until more advanced schooling. For instance, the JAM course Animate Your Drawings addresses character development and how to pitch ideas to networks as well as hard skills, like sound foley and claymation.
As for a simpler task of spending an afternoon making slime, according to one young girl’s video, it takes just Elmer’s glue, a pinch of baking soda and contact lens solution, food coloring optional.