Sunday, March 2, 2014

Learning from Videos: Animal Observations

When I started using Antarctica as a theme for teaching nonfiction back in 2008, I used mostly print resources. I had a sometimes-functioning LCD projector, no Internet access to the LCD (the cord wasn't long enough!), and limited computer lab access.

So much has changed. This year, half of those print resources that I so carefully accumulated in 2008-2010 ended up staying in the box. It's not that I'm against print resources--it's just that I can be much more selective now that I have so many digital resources at hand.

How to scaffold students to use these digital resources? I decided to start by watching students as they engaged with videos on their own. What were they doing? What were they noticing?

What I Saw

-Lots of talk: Watching videos does get students engaged in talking. Many students would cluster around a laptop to watch a video--"Look at that!" "Ew!" "What's that animal?"


-Not much use of content-specific vocabulary: For all the talking going on, students weren't using much content-specific vocabulary. Listening to their conversations, it was impossible to tell what they were watching or what they were learning from it. Their comments were mostly reactions, not elaborations or statements.

My time watching the students helped me to consider what my next steps would be. How could I help students to watch video purposefully? The availability of firsthand video means that students learning about a remote location don't have to depend on other people's words or generalizations--they can view video and create their own ideas. But this kind of purposeful watching doesn't come naturally to young learners.

Next Steps

So what can video do that my text resources cannot? Extended, minimally produced animal videos are my favorite video resources. They are a great use of technology because these videos give students an experience that they would not otherwise have.

Students can learn a great deal from these sources. Consider this video of the Antarctic icefish:

What can students learn from watching this? There are so many interesting details about the icefish! I made this observation form to help students focus their observations:

It will be interesting to see what students do with this. Will their conversations change? Will they be able to weave details gleaned from a video into their writing? Will they be able to create their own observation forms?

I'm also interested in seeing if students consider the sources of the videos. How was the footage obtained? Is this typical of the animal? This kind of learning will be essential for our students as they encounter more and more video resources.

If you are interested in trying this with your students, here is a YouTube playlist that I created of animal footage:

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