As every good teacher knows, a well-chosen video can fasten a concept into a child’s head much faster than a lecture or a textbook. Happily, this is the golden age for mini videos. Charismatic educators have condensed their best lessons into short segments that are as entertaining as they are educational. Since kids are already snacking on videos of cute animals and favorite music groups, parents might as well expand the menu to include something a little more nourishing.
Bite-size videos have several uses: they can keep young minds engaged in the summer, supplement classroom lessons during the school year, be mini-refresher videos for parents attempting to help with homework, or a valuable teaching tool for homeschool families.
YouTube is bursting with educational videos. However, for parents, this creates a “wheat from chaff” problem because the good stuff is mixed in with plenty of other videos that are, at best, time-wasters and, at worst, inappropriate for kids. The following YouTube channels meet the ABC standard—they are Accurate, Boredom Busting, and Child-friendly—and they are fun! If you find a channel your kids really like, consider subscribing so you’ll know when new videos are posted.
CGP Grey has a simple tagline—“complex things explained”—and it delivers on that promise. These short videos feature stick figures that explain everything from the debt limit and daylight savings time to the Electoral College and net neutrality.
Vi Hart is one of the few vlogs hosted by a woman. Victoria calls herself a “recreational mathemusician,” and her videos are quirky, fast-paced explorations of the intersections between math and art. Check out the hexaflexagrams!
Crash Course is the collaboration of two brothers who are also teachers. (One of the brothers happens to be John Green, author of several wildly popular young adult books including “The Fault in our Stars.”) Videos on this site are a bit longer than others, but the brothers talk fast. (Occasionally they use edgy language.) At this point, they’ve posted videos for entire semesters of material in U.S. and world history, literature, chemistry, biology, ecology, and psychology.
Science Music Videos are the creation of Mr. W., a science teacher in Berkeley, California, who makes up infectious folk, rock, and even rap songs about complicated biological concepts like DNA, photosynthesis, mitosis, and osmosis.
Veritasium is a grab bag filled with experiments, discussions, interviews, demos, and random interesting facts. The host, Derek Muller, has a special interest in correcting scientific misconceptions.
MinutePhysics prides itself on making very short videos that explain “cool physics and other sweet science” using stick figures and bad puns. Not surprisingly, the narrator talks very fast so kids who are completely new to a topic may need to watch the videos more than once.
Numberphile is produced by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute with the goal of getting young people to “love numbers.” The videos, created by a talented team of mathematicians, explain a wide variety of mathematical concepts in idiosyncratic ways. To calculate the value of pi, they use pies!
The Spangler Effect is the product of a science teacher who turns “ordinary science experiments into unforgettable learning experiences.” If your kids want to replicate some of the experiments, books and science kits are sold on a complementary website.
TED-Ed is part of the growing empire of TED products. Unlike the well-known talks, TED-Ed segments are shorter lessons from exceptional teachers. Many have been developed in consultation with animators and screenwriters. They vary widely in length and subject matter but all are intended to spread great ideas and spark curiosity.
Videos on YouTube tend to be short and distinctive. Like a good appetizer, they can create hunger but they may not satisfy it. For videos that are a little more substantial and systematic, turn to these websites.
Khanacademy.org is a non-profit that posts free video lessons on a wide range of subjects from art history to economics. Started by a young man who was trying to help his cousin do her math long distance, the site is especially good at helping young learners master mathematical concepts from counting to differential equations.
Neok12.com has a well-organized list of videos on almost any topic a child might want to explore. In addition to the video lessons, the site offers games and worksheets that may be helpful to students who are trying to master unfamiliar concepts for school.
WatchKnowLearn.org has indexed 50,000 educational videos on everything from physics to physical education, foreign languages to social studies, ethics to ecology. In addition to searching by subject matter, parents can zero in on videos suitable for specific ages by using the slider at the top of the page.
Watching a video isn’t the same as mastering a subject. Kids also need discussions, exercises, and lots of opportunities to practice new skills. However, the right video at the right time may ignite a child’s curiosity and perhaps a lifelong interest. Just as important, sharing one of these little videos is an opportunity for families to talk, learn, and laugh together.
Carolyn Jabs, M.A., raised three computer savvy kids including one with special needs. She has been writing Growing Up Online for ten years and is working on a book about constructive responses to conflict. For other Growing Up Online columns, visit www.growing-up-online.com
© Copyright, 2014, Carolyn Jabs. All rights reserved.
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