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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles:
Teach High School Science
Using Videos in the Science Classroom
Judy Jones

I can remember when we used clunky 16mm projectors to show films that were on big reels. The film was brittle and would break periodically and we would have to splice and tape it together. We had to be certified to use these projectors because it was complicated to wind the film around all the parts-–sort of like threading a sewing machine! Fast forwarding to current time, the use of video for me now connotes tapes that I put into a VCR connected to a monitor! I have even graduated to DVD used in a similar way. But in today’s “techie” world, using video can be expanded to YouTube and other online video sources and can even be embedded in powerpoint presentations.

Teachers use video for many reasons. Sometimes, the teacher just needs a quiet day and chooses a relevant video to teach and entertain the students, while she grades papers or plans lessons on the side. (A couple of days like this over the school year can certainly be forgiven!) But sometimes teachers find videos that are simply compelling and teach ideas and concepts in such an exciting way that it seems preferable to traditional teaching.

Interested to see what research is out there to support use of video in the classroom, I poked around and discovered that most of the current research focuses on a wide variety of technology within which the use of video is embedded.

One source I found quotes James Marshall (Department of Educational Technology at San Diego State).

"Overall we found strong evidence that educational technology complements what a great teacher does naturally. It extends their reach. It also broadens the student experience by taking them places they may not otherwise be able to go," says Dr. Marshall. "With ever-expanding content and technology choices, from video to multimedia to the Internet, there's an unprecedented need to understand the recipe for success, which involves the learner, the teacher, the content, and the environment in which technology is used."

It will probably come as no surprise that the best way to use video is to connect it to your learning objectives and your curriculum sequence. We know that video can spark imagination through use of sounds and visual effects. We are teaching “digital natives” who are used to graphics and clever visual images. I find that these students are not very patient with a dry set of notes consisting of mainly words. They want visual examples and they prefer visual examples that MOVE! Our auditory and visual learners thrive on well-chosen video material. Rather than just putting in a video and sitting back, helping students interact with the video by stopping and discussing the ideas or the images for a few minutes and then starting up again can lead to a much more profound learning experience.

Marshall discusses various learning-theory studies that help explain the effectiveness of using video and multimedia in teaching and learning. One of these is the Arousal Theory which states that different people learn best in different states of arousal. Think about it this way. What do you do to relax? Do you want a quiet evening at home all to yourself or do you want to go out for a wild night on the town with friends? Our students show the same arousal diversity. Arousal involves their intellect, their emotions, and even their state of physical activity.

Another theory is the Short-Term Gratification Theory. Our young people are certainly growing up in a culture where gratification comes quickly and is expected. Now, I could certainly argue that we need to help them develop self-control and lengthen the time needed for gratification, but on the other hand, the use of video fits the need for short-term gratification. We can use video to address their need for short-term gratification, but use it in a way that ultimately takes them deeper and helps them learn the pleasure of a more delayed gratification. Video is a fast and active learning mode that addresses the need for short-term gratification. We can lure our students into a more in-depth learning experience through video.

Finally, there is the Interest Stimulation Theory. Researcher, Susan Neuman (being considered for a position with Obama’s education reform) states that television (one type of video) opens up new learning avenues for children. It gives them a knowledge base that is extremely useful in school. Video media is engaging, it activates emotions, stimulates interest in a topic, and allows students to absorb and process information.

Folks such as me, who are definitely NOT digital natives are probably somewhat concerned about our new video and media stimulated young people, and most could argue that the concern is justified. However, there is no doubt that using video in the classroom judiciously can be useful in engaging the interest of students.

Science is particularly fortunate to have a vast array of video choices for students. As a biology teacher, I use National Geographic, PBS, Nova, BBC, and a slew of other video sources to carefully select videos that accomplish my goals.

Just a few of my personal favorites are:

Cane Toads: An Unnatural History – This clever video by Mark Lewis has a very serious theme – the problems that can arise when non-native species are introduced in an environment. The video explores the delightful relationship that folks in Australia have with these huge toads that were brought over from Hawaii to eat the cane grub (something they never did!) Students who watch this video will never forget these toads--nor the message they bring.

National Geographic Rain Forest – Although this is an older video, it is still a classic. The cinematography is beautiful and the creatures are compelling. When the saws begin cutting the forest at the end, no student is left unaffected. I use this video to teach about a particular biome, the Rainforest, and to teach about the need to protect this resource.

Life of Birds (PBS) – This is a wonderful series. I like to use the video on bird sounds. There are some amazing examples of avian communication. One of my favorites is the lyre bird, a species capable of beautifully mimicking the sound of the electric saws that are demolishing the rainforest! I use this video to teach about instinct and learning.

PBS Evolution Series – This is a series of excellent videos all dealing with different aspects of the theory of evolution. One of my favorites is called “Darwin’s Dangerous Idea.” In this video, the life of Charles Darwin is dramatized and his ideas are presented in the context of his life. I use this video to begin my unit on Evolution.

NOVA Cracking the Code of Life – This video deals with the effort to sequence the human genome and teaches a great deal of genetics and biotechnology. I use this video to introduce the subject of DNA and how it works because I like putting it into the context of the modern history of the Genome Project.

These are just a few of the wonderful videos that are available. Most of these can be purchased very inexpensively from various online sources. You might want to consider starting your own video library or making suggestions to your media center for videos that could be purchased. But some of the videos (Cracking the Code, for example) can be viewed in their entirety online!!! So technology marches on. Maybe we’ll retire those VHS machines and DVD players soon and send them to some technological archive to join the 16mm projectors.

As always, if you have comments or ideas, please share them with me.


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