Mining the Internet

by Marjorie Frank

x2Imagine that you are a student in your class completing a homework assignment in science. Your experience has the potential to be something like this:

As soon as you follow the link your teacher provided and click to begin the video, you’re looking at the ocean floor. It’s nice, but ho-hum. Suddenly an octopus bursts forth. Yikes! Where did it come from? How did it get there? As you watch the octopus disappear into the dark distance, a narrator explains camouflage as a means of survival. The term and image are now linked in your mind. You get it.

Knowing now that an octopus had been hiding on the ocean floor, would you be able to see it? To find out, you click Replay. Lo and behold, there it is again!

Satisfied, you move on to hear more about predator-prey relationships and explore other equally amazing examples of camouflage: an insect that looks like a twig, another that resembles an orchid, a zebra hidden in the reeds by its stripes. Next, you delve into animal mimicry–twins that aren’t.

With each new segment, your understanding deepens. Images remain in your mind’s eye, connected now to science terms and concepts. Before quitting, you decide to view the video once more. It’s that exciting. Before you know it, tonight’s science homework is done. You anticipate that tomorrow’s class will involve discussion, problem-solving, and chances to apply what you’ve learned in the video tonight. You’re more than ready; you’re eager.

Whether the subject is science, social studies, language arts, or math, this scenario is possible. It’s mostly a matter of identifying Internet resources to make it happen. No problem there.

While the Web may link to an infinitely large sea of possibilities, visiting a few key addresses can reduce the options to a manageable number. Teachertube.com, schooltube.com, and of course, youtube.com are aggregators of videos on all topics. You can go there directly, or use a more general search engine, such as Google or Bing. Entering a topic, such as “how to write persuasive paragraph video,” yields a handful of options ranging from videos that are less than 3 minutes to one just over eight. Quality varies, of course, so you would want to preview a video before assigning it to students. The task is not as onerous as it may seem. You’ll know quickly whether a video works, and be able to move on quickly, if the answer is “no.”

Watchknowlearn.org is another source of free educational videos for learners ages 3 to 18. Watchknowlearn.org has its own search engine and a directory organized by discipline. Within seconds you can be previewing videos from sources such as National Geographic and HowStuffWorks among others. You may also want to check earthtouch.tv, another nexus of informational videos for kids, many with a touch of humor. If your concern is math and science, reviewing the videos as khanacademy.org is a must. Here, you’ll find some of the most clearly presented concepts anywhere on the Web.

Most families and practically all libraries have computers where students can view videos. More, many students have access to Internet-enabled smartphones. So, access probably won’t present a problem.

Tapping into the Web’s resources to aid concept development works in that videos can provide students with accessible, accurate content presented in an exciting, clear manner. Now free from spending the majority of class time “delivering” content, you can use the time to guide students through activities that apply, reinforce, and extend content; to individualize instruction; and to answer questions.

Using videos from the Web works for students in that the videos can provide a more highly focused and deeper exploration of a concept than is typically possible through most textbooks. In addition, students can control the pace of learning by pausing to replay parts or all of a video again and again. They also can view a video with family members or classmates, a benefit all on its own.

We are a visually-oriented species. Using videos to present, reinforce, and personalize concept development leverages that characteristic. Why not take advantage of the opportunity to do so now that we have the tools?

Marjorie Frank

Marjorie Frank A writer and poet by nature, an educator and linguist by training, Marjorie Frank has authored a generation of instructional materials for children of all ages, including songs, poems, stories, games, information articles and teaching guides. Marjorie has two grown children, Adam and Ben. She currently lives with an artist (whose work you can see in the Kids Discover issue on Plants) and a dog that looks like a pig.