Let’s face it. Science teachers are not taught how to make history interesting. Every year, I dread teaching the history of the atom. I’ve tried foldables, graphic organizers, games, etc… After years of watching students’ eyes glaze over during the crucial beginning weeks of the semester, I stepped out into the brave new world of letting them teach it to each other with videos.
The Video Assignment
I designed an activity where students researched the history of the atom and created interviews with the most influential scientists. They were required to write a script and use iPads to animate or record the interviews. The students were shown several iPad apps that would work well for this purpose. Most of them chose to use Puppet Pals. This is a great app that allows students to create animations using popular figures such as talk show hosts and political figures. A few students opted to use Educreations, iMovie, and ToonTastic.
Students truly seemed to enjoy this assignment and learned a great deal about the atom. Below is one of their videos. I was impressed with how well they did. This one was made using Puppet Pals.
Video Pitfalls to Avoid
Most of my students really enjoyed this assignment – some a bit too much. They will drag this process out for week if you let them. I recommend setting up a timeline for them. Here is one that works well for me:
I planned two 90 minute class periods for this activity. The timeline above leaves some wiggle room on day two that can be used to present their projects.
You may have noticed in my timeline that I require a story board or script. Trust me on this one. This is a must! I skipped this one year and the students jumped straight into videos with no direction. It was a disaster. For me, the script doesn’t have to be word for word, but it should contain a general outline of what they are going to include in the video.
Remind them of their timeline frequently. I love that projects like this get their creative juices flowing, but we just can’t spend two weeks on the history of the atom.
Consider talking to the media or technology coordinator at your school for a list of options. A project like this could easily be done with iPads, video cameras, or even cell phones. Ask about what apps your students have access to. We used iPads. Below are a few iPad apps that can help make this project fun.
- Puppet Pals
- Explain Everything
While I do recommend playing with apps before turning your students loose with them, try not to stress too much over this. Your students are masters at technology. Show them the options and they will run with it. Every year they teach me new tricks about whatever technology we are using.
Consider setting up a class YouTube account that only you have the password for. If your school uses Gmail, then you already have a YouTube account. Most video apps are designed to easily upload to YouTube. This takes away any issues with file formats that you may run into and gives you a great place to house the videos. I would recommend uploading the videos as “unlisted” so that they can be accessed through a link, but are not part of YouTube’s searchable domain. You’ll be surprised how many students want to share the link with their friends.
What If They Don’t Cover All of the Content?
This is one of the biggest concerns teachers have when they set students free to learn something for themselves. Here are a couple of strategies to help you overcome this fear.
First of all, for any project you assign, give them a list of objectives. Consider making it a checklist so that they can check topics off as they cover them. You can also make it part of your grading rubric so that while you are watching the video you can check off all of the required topics.
Secondly, consider flipping your classroom – or flipping an occasional lesson in your classroom. The flipped classroom (where students learn the content at home, then apply and expand on the content in class) is a great way to create time for meaningful activities that enhance your curriculum. You don’t have to flip every lesson if you are not comfortable with it. An occasional flip mixes things up a bit, gets the students engaged, and still ensures that your curriculum has been covered.
If you would like to dip your toe into the flipped classroom for this lesson, here is my video about atomic history. You can share it with your students for them to watch at home, and then get them to create something awesome while collaborating with their peers in class. The video has a link to a handout in the description that you can have your students fill out as they watch.