Let’s face it, the videos that “blow up” with millions of hits on YouTube are rarely educational. Nobody will argue that Harlem shakers, aspiring teen pop stars, and cute animal vids have much place in the classroom, (except perhaps in a sociological study of the entertainment habits of millennial citizens). I definitely used to view YouTube as an educational abyss.
But, as Albert Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change,” and change I have! YouTube is now a go-to resource for my lesson planning, teaching, and differentiation. If you’re not yet a YouTube convert, read on for some classroom-tested tips to put this free resource to work. And if YouTube is already your friend, please share your tips for teaching with YouTube and your favorite channels! Next week in Part 2, I’ll share ideas for active learning with YouTube, as well as a sampler of YouTube videos I use throughout my curriculum.
Video in the classroom is nothing new. I remember when my teachers would roll the clunky AV cart into my elementary classrooms and use grainy old “films” to spice up a lesson. Nor is YouTube the only place to turn for educational videos. Some of my favorites include BrainPop, Flocabulary, StudyJams, TED, and Discovery Education. (For a longer list, a blogger at Edudemic has compiled an annotated list of 100 video sites for educators.) However, YouTube is not only free, the user-created content can inspire agency in our students. And never before has so much video been so accessible to our students all the time.
These days, YouTube feels hegemonic — with over 70 hours of video uploaded onto YouTube every minute, chances are that you can find a video to match your lesson with a single search. This isn’t to say that the resources available on YouTube are always the best — I still scan the gamut of education media sites — but I feel that YouTube merits its own treatment in this discussion.
Perhaps you’re wondering why we should use video at all for teaching. After all, our kids certainly spend enough time staring at a screen at home. Isn’t it a better use of school time to have the students interacting and creating, not consuming even more digital content?
Let me be clear. I am definitely not advocating that videos take over our lessons — hands-on, inquiry driven, face-to-face learning should always be a pivotal part of our classroom practice. But speaking from experience, a three minute video clip works wonders to pique students’ interests about a new topic, to quickly review at the end of the lesson, or replace the “direct instruction” portion of a lesson when the teacher would be presenting content to the students.
Videos can also be used to present more advanced content as enrichment, as a point of entry for below-level readers who need additional background before tackling an assignment, and to take students on “virtual field trips.” YouTube videos also can be assigned for homework, leaving extra time in the classroom for group work and discourse rather than content delivery. For more ideas about how to use YouTube beyond presentational teaching, check back for my next blog post about active learning with YouTube.
Preview any video you plan to show ahead of time! This one may sound obvious, but if you don’t watch the video clip in its entirety, you may miss some erroneous information, inappropriate content, or a great teaching opportunity you can plan for.
Download the video ahead before class. Then save the file onto a flash drive or local hard drive. Nothing derails a lesson faster than technical difficulties, and the WiFi gremlins love to crash our network just when I need it most. Plus, we have a pesky YouTube-hating firewall at school. Here’s an up-to-date article with suggestions and directions for downloading YouTube content. I always download the videos I want to teach with at home, and then bring the files to school.
You don’t have to show the entire video. Sometimes a 30 second clip can do the trick — especially to make a visual point. For me, a very short video with a very long discussion is ideal.
Make ‘Pause’ your friend! Our students can watch YouTube videos at home; in fact, video viewing makes a fabulous homework assignment. So, if we’re taking the time in school to watch a video, what are we teachers adding to the experience? We can pause to add explanatory narration, to answer or seek questions, to have our students turn-and-talk to share their thinking, to clarify new vocabulary, or to invite our students to quick-jot their thoughts.
Sometimes a very short video is worth watching a second time. The first time through, the students are just “taking it in.” For the second viewing, you can provide a focus question or idea for the viewing. Or better yet, teach your students how to create their own focus questions for the second viewing.
Try a video as a fast-finisher extension activity. No, YouTube shouldn’t become a babysitter in the classroom. However, sometimes there are awesome videos that enrich a lesson but I just don’t have time to share with my students. Occasionally, I allow students who finish their assigned work to grab a pair of headphones and watch that extra video. Then they can share what they learned with the class.
Create YouTube playlists to organize the videos you want to use for teaching. It took me a while to figure this out, but after searching for the same video the umpteenth time, I realized I had to get organized. Simply login to YouTube (your Google login will work) and then click on the “Add To” button below any video. Name your playlists — I use subject areas — and save the videos accordingly.
Check out YouTube for Schools. This is a fairly new initiative by the Google/YouTube folks to help make YouTube browsing safer and less cluttered for our students, and to help us dodge the YouTube blockers on our school servers. Per their website, “YouTube for Schools is a network setting that, when implemented, allows your school to access the educational content on YouTube EDU while limiting access to non-educational content on YouTube.” The New York Times just wrote an article about YouTube for Schools, and I am hopeful that districts that currently don’t allow access to YouTube will sign on with YouTube for Schools.
YouTube EDU, YouTube for Schools, YouTube for Teachers … huh? It can be a bit confusing to untangle YouTube’s three educational portals. YouTube for Schools, as described above, is a “kid safe” point of entry to a stripped down, cleaned up YouTube. YouTube for Teachers is a teacher portal to YouTube EDU that provides ideas for bringing YouTube into the classroom and organizes educational videos to align with common core subjects. YouTube EDU is the entire library of YouTube videos that have been tagged as educationally relevant.
Subscribe to YouTube channels. This is rather like following a blog. Once you find a content creator you enjoy, just click on the “Subscribe” button. Whenever you visit YouTube, you’ll see that channel’s latest videos on the home screen, and you will receive notifications when they post new content. This will save you the work of revisiting your favorite video creators to learn about their posts. For example, The Scholastic Channel, with literacy tips, book trailers, Scholastic News video reports, and author interviews is a great channel to start following. YouTube EDU provides a simple channel directory geared towards K-12 education. Please share which educational channels you follow on YouTube!
Teach about YouTube safety and responsible digital citizenship. Google and YouTube have made this easier for us, compiling a series of 9 lessons to teach about how to safely use YouTube. Note that these lessons are geared towards secondary school kids, so you’ll have to adapt the ideas to work in an elementary classroom. (For excellent general ideas to teach your students about Internet safety, check out Christy Crawford’s Internet Safety Ten Commandments blog post.)
Stay tuned … next week, I’ll share teaching ideas to really give YouTube lessons critical thinking power, plus I’ll include a list of some of my video favorites. For a notification when Part 2 of this post goes live, follow me on Facebook or Twitter.