Inspired by the online Khan Academy, the loosely organized, year-old Gunn group aims to offer something similar in the peer-tutoring area by having high school students explain subjects for fellow students.
"We're trying to capture (what) we call the epiphany moment that goes away after you know something for a while," Gunn senior Shilpa Yarlagadda said.
"Sometimes if you understand a concept, you take it for granted and forget to emphasize the points that are crucial to people when they're learning it for the very first time," she said.
Thus, the students seek video-tutors for whom the learning is fresh. Before posting, they ask teachers to review the videos for accuracy.
"We try to re-create the thought process," said Joyce Wen, also a Gunn senior who has contributed a series of videos on music theory.
Club Academia originated last year after Yarlagadda and her friends had struggled with understanding redox reactions for a chemistry exam.
"We'd find online video tutorials but we found it more useful to turn to peers taking the same class," Yarlagadda said. "They had originally struggled too, and they could explain it in a way that made sense.
"So we decided to make video tutorials by students."
Last fall she secured a $20,000 award for the group from the Westly Foundation, which makes grants to students who come up with "creative solutions to community problems."
Asking for help from teachers — including Gunn social studies teacher Ronen Habib and Palo Alto High School journalism and English teacher Esther Wojcicki — led the students to other resources, including licenses for Camtasia software, which they use to record and edit their products.
"We can paint, draw — things like that — and talk at the same time, and it captures everything on the screen," Yarlagadda said.
The teachers also helped them get on the programs of various educational technology conferences, including one in Florida in January and another in Boston this summer.
The students brainstormed to come up with a name for their startup nonprofit, running through with "Mindblown," "Mindstruck," "Brainblast" and "Club Creativa" before settling on "Club Academia."
"We wanted to make it sound really fun so we liked the 'club' part," Wen said. "And it's educational, so we chose 'academia.'"
The students gained IRS nonprofit status with help from a friend who has a law office in Fremont.
"They made us write a paper about our vision, what we were trying to accomplish," Yarlagadda said.
Added Wen: "A lot of our parents help us out, too — they have skills they can offer."
This summer, their days are part work, part social as they gather, usually around 5 p.m., at a Peet's cafe to plan videos and strategy.
"Some of us have other jobs," Yarlagadda explained.
One member of the group, Gunn senior Karan Thapar, is working on a mobile app.
"It will just make the videos more accessible and easier to watch," Thapar said. "I also want to add more features, like letting people make their own playlists and saving certain subjects they want to watch for later."
Yarlagadda chimed in: "Our videos are so short — like two minutes — that you can watch them between classes."
Wen said: "You can watch them, like, right before the final so it's fresh in your mind."
Last week, the high-school students had put together a list of several websites offering video tutorials, including Schmoop, Coursera, Udacity and the Khan Academy.
"We were just looking at other company's in the edtech space and trying to figure out where we'd add value," Yarlagadda said.