Monday, November 28, 2011

Kids Learn By Teaching Each Other with Upside Down Academy

Guest post by Jared Cosulich

I’d like my daughter to have the opportunity to spend as much time as possible doing projects and producing interesting work. Knowing that the opportunity to have such experiences was limited in the traditional school setting where students often simply consume information without any practical way to apply it, I considered homeschooling. Like many Dads, I would never have thought of homeschooling my daughter before, but with so many free and open educational resources available for students to learn whatever they want, it seemed like more of a possibility. The question was, is there an easier way to do project-based learning about any topic on demand in the same way that The Khan Academy makes learning feasible for anyone with internet access?

That’s when it hit me, I could simply have my daughter create lessons much the same way Sal Khan or
Eric Marcos’s MathTrain.TV students create their math lessons. She could learn something new, pay attention to what she found confusing, and then try to create a lesson that would make it a little easier for the next person to learn the same material. Such a process could also help her develop a sense of empathy (how do I make it easier for someone else to learn this material) and would encourage both creativity and communication skills.

I realized that having a student try to teach what they are learning to someone else, not only results in thinking about their own learning from a new perspective, enabling the student to more easily identify any gaps in understanding that may exist, but it also creates a resource that someone else can benefit from. Doing this makes it possible for students to take any lesson and turn it in to a project with a purpose.

Realizing this, I came up with the idea for Upside Down Academy. This is a place where students do the teaching, trying to make it easier for the next person to learn the same material the student is currently learning. The process of creating a lesson is a project that works for any material, has a purpose (helping other students learn more easily), and encourages the student to be creative, empathetic, and a good communicator.

As an entrepreneur in Silicon Valley I know these skills are both in high demand now and will be in greater demand in the future. As more people develop the necessary technical skills to be effective in the workplace of the future, those who are also empathetic, creative, and great communicators will be in even higher demand.

Free and open educational resources like The Khan Academy and Upside Down Academy will make it possible for educators to provide opportunities for customized learning to take place. This wealth of student-created material can also be an engaging supplement to any curriculum.

Jared Cosulich is an internet entrepreneur based out of San Francisco, CA. He is the creator of Upside Down Academy, a non-profit that was developed as a way to make it easier for students to take what they are learning and transform it in to a project that helps them develop their creativity, empathy, and communication skills, all skills that he sees in high value in Silicon Valley.


  1. Jared - I love this idea! I've been thinking along similar lines, but haven't come up with anything as clever as Upside Down Academy. I'm trying to collect student-created tutorials about CS concepts @ I'll definitely point any takers on.

  2. This is a new package for an older idea (jigsaw); I think if you make it something that combines the teaching element with some kind of problem-based focus (e.g., adopting a stream as a way to teach chemistry, biology and properties of water) you will have more succes with engagement, retention and application.

  3. Jared! This is awesome. We'll share it with our teens for sure. At our center the community does the teaching; retired professors, local college students, parents of our members, etc.