Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Videos make science personal

Educators in the digital age are always looking for great images--or they should be--as part of their educational toolbox. Whether you're homeschooling, teaching in a college classroom, or demonstrating intellectual curiosity for your child, images evoke, and evoking is a key to making material personal and memorable. If I told you,
"Lice are vectors for the bacterium that causes typhus" 
I bet you wouldn't remember that as well as you would,
"Napoleon started a war with an army of 500,000 men. He ended it with about 35,000. Most of them died not on the battlefield but in hospitals, from the terrible, fevered disease known as typhus. The microbe that causes typhus passed easily from man to man, even from the clothing of the dead, by way of the lice that crawled all over bodies and clothes of each and every soldier, passing along the microbe with their blood-sucking bites." 
Now imagine that with images or video.

You can go around the Web looking for your own material, or finding videos on YouTube that might be a fit--albeit awkward--for what you're teaching. I've had ups and downs with YouTube. My most memorable--and thus best learned--experience was spontaneously selecting a video for a college science class, one that seemed to illustrate sperm traveling through the Fallopian tube. I chose the video in the moment, hoping for a good visual example, only to find that in the video, the cartoon sperm travels for a long time before pausing, completely lost, and the words advertising a convention for Norwegian male homosexuals appeared on screen. 

My students (most of them) and I thought that was hysterical, and humor can be a good way to embed information in one's mind. But...not everyone wants to stumble accidentally into that sort of comedy.

If you're in the market for accessible, education friendly science videos, a great place to go is BrainPop. They have a few science videos available for free, including one about my childhood science heroine, Jane Goodall (more on her this coming Thursday). Or, you can subscribe--as a family, school, or other entity--for a year's worth of their offerings. A family subscription for videos covering grade levels 3 and above and topics from social studies to science costs $99, and monthly payments are an option. If that's out of range for you, the free offerings in the many subjects they cover will still keep you busy.

I homeschool two of my sons. A daily part of their curriculum is the daily BrainPop video. They love them, and BrainPop gives them an optional quiz after every video and tracks their scores. The videos are so engaging that both of them can tell me details and facts after they've watched on that I'm sure they'd never have remembered had I presented them the dead-tree version of the information or, even less exciting for them, a lecture from Mom.

Speaking of moms and science, yesterday's video was about Marie Curie (preview here), in honor of her birthday. Among her many accolades, Curie received two Nobel prizes, one in chemistry and the other in physics. What may not be as well known is that she also was a science mom, one whose own daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, also won a Nobel prize in chemistry, in 1935. 

It's not always that a mother passes a love of science onto her children or that a child with a love of science has a mother who is a scientist. And indeed, the sex of the scientist in this case didn't seem to matter to my 10-year-old son. After he watched the BrainPop video about Marie Curie, he couldn't stop enthusing about her and her accomplishments for the rest of the day.

That takes me to my final question, and hints at what Thursday's original contribution will focus on: Who were your inspirations in science?

1 comment:

  1. I think it's funny that videos do get kind of a rep as "filler" material. But there's so much you can do with them.

    In a non-science related anecdote, I've been watching the Prohibition documentary lately and I swear I've learned more in 3 hours of video than I did in weeks of History class. And I had a good history class! There's just something about the freedom to present information succinctly that works so well. I was a total geek and kept tweeting that everyone should watch it. Fascinating stuff.

    I don't know that I had a science inspiration, per se. I did have a serious case of I'm-a-girl-and-I-can-do-it-itis and science is a great place to go for it. So perhaps my inspiration was all the girls who looked at me like I was crazy when I announced I was a biochem major. I liked proving it wasn't crazy or unthinkable.