Friday, January 10, 2014

Using YouTube to Motivate and Teach STEM Students

By: Sean Scarpiello

Back when I was in school, my classmates and I would constantly ask our teacher “when will we ever use this in life?” This was especially true in subjects such as math and science. These days STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) education is being pushed on students more than ever and as a result, teachers are having an increasingly difficult time motivating students in these subjects. Math and science are difficult subjects to learn and teach because the fundamentals of these subjects are often dry and boring to students. However, if teachers can show students that these subjects can be fun and interesting to apply, students will want to learn the tedious fundamentals so they can move on to the more fascinating applications of these subjects.

One way that I continue to be motivated to pursue a career in STEM fields is by watching videos on YouTube. While there are many different YouTube channels with math and science videos, a few channels stick out as extremely fascinating. One of these channels, called Vsauce, asks thought-provoking questions and attempts to answer them in a fun and interesting way. Some of these questions include Is Your Red the Same as My Red, What Color is a Mirror, and What is it Like to Travel Inside a Black Hole? While answering these questions, the host goes off on many tangents where he introduces a lot of other related information that is also thought-provoking. In fact, while the title of the videos appears as if they answer one question, there are usually several different questions being answered in multiple fields of science.

Despite this, the videos on Vsauce are not instructional videos that walk students step-by-step through solving math equations, but they do motivate students to want to learn. Therefore, teachers could introduce a new topic in class with a video that details all of the fascinating real world applications using the math and science students are about to learn. For example, a teacher introducing subject matter discussing Newtonian mechanics can begin this dry material with the video Guns in Space. In this 5 ½ minute video, the host looks at what it would be like to fire a gun in space and on the moon. The video also gets into how astronauts experience no gravity, how much water it would take to extinguish the sun, and what it would be like if there was a tunnel straight through the earth. Now, students would see that there is more to Newton’s equations on kinematics than just plugging in variables and solving algebra.

Another YouTube channel that does offer instructional videos is called Crash Course. Like Vsauce, Crash Course is hosted by a scientist who walks students through difficult scientific phenomena in a fun and easy to learn way. Crash Course has over 200 videos in chemistry, physics, biology, ecology, and even United States and world history. These instructional videos are extremely helpful as they clearly explain confusing information and offer many visuals that make learning easy. Many of the science videos start with an introduction that shows students exactly why the material they are about to learn is important in the real world.

Much like the Vsauce, Crash Course’s videos could be used to introduce new material. This way, students get a general understanding of the material they are about to learn. Teachers can use Crash Course as a way to supplement material. For example, when attempting to teach how electrons move around the nucleus of an atom, Crash Course’s dynamic visuals, in their atomic orbital video, display electron movement much better than a stationary image in a chemistry textbook. Beyond this, teachers can assign these videos as study aids or homework. This would not only serve to refresh students’ memories, but also give students clear understanding of some of science's most obscure topics.

These videos are fantastic in that they are completely free for anyone to watch on YouTube at any time for no cost. Further, students can watch them on their own to boost their interests in math and science or watch them to get additional instruction in these difficult subjects. Teachers can also use them as a study aid or homework assignment which can be accessed anywhere with an Internet connection. In all, YouTube channels such as the Vsauce and Crash Course are fantastic as they offer more students technology-based education at no cost.


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