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Why You Should Be Using YouTube in Your Secondary Classroom

youtube in secondary classroom

Travel to any classroom across the world and you will find teachers with mixed opinions about the use of technology in the education of their students. But nowadays it really isn’t avoidable anymore, and thus the questions have evolved from, “Should we use technology?” to “How much should we use it? What are the most effective tools for use? Are students really engaging with these methods?”

I am not going to lie, when schools around me started moving to be 1:1 I was honestly thankful that mine wasn’t. I wasn’t convinced that computers and tablets taking over my classroom were really more helpful than they were distracting for my students. Engaging 21st century high schoolers is hard enough, let alone having to battle for their attention when a device is glued to their palm (or wrist, or ear – you name it, they’ve got it there.)

But as time went on and I began to test using different digital resources and technological devices in my classes, I became more and more convinced of some of the ways that technology can really promote and advance student learning. One of my favorites is the use of YouTube videos in my classroom and I want to explain to you why I think every teacher in a secondary classroom should have their own YouTube channel.

How I use YouTube

I started using YouTube to find engaging videos to break up lectures for my students. I loved doing this because it allowed my students to hear from a variety of sources and due to the ever-changing nature of science and technology, I constantly had access to new content year after year to share with them. I honestly found that I was essentially able to replace the use of my fifteen-year-old textbooks with videos from reliable sources that were much more up-to-date than what I had available in print for my students. (Note: I am not advocating the removal of reading texts from our classrooms, just acknowledging that YouTube videos helped to fill a void I was lacking in my own resources without access to an up-to-date textbook while teaching courses that are constantly changing due to the nature of science.)

I then decided to take it one step further. If my students are much more willing to listen and watch something than they are to read about it, why not take advantage of that? That is when I decided I wasn’t just going to keep using others’ videos, but I was going to start making my own for my students. That is when the It’s Not Rocket Science YouTube channel was born.

The benefits

1. My students LOVED it.

They found the videos so helpful when they were absent. Especially my students who were missing often for games and theatre performances – normally copying notes on a two-hour bus ride to an away game wouldn’t have happened, but since they could listen and watch it on their phone they were able to keep up much more easily with missed content. Instead of copying notes from a friend when they were absent and not actually ever doing anything with them, they were really listening to the material and engaging with it more like they would have been if they were able to be in class that day. Not only for absences, many students just benefitted from hearing the content again, whether they were reviewing for the next class or studying for an upcoming test.

Most of all, it was helpful for my students with various learning accommodations. Their resource teachers could watch and better understand the content to more easily help them work through it. They could watch a video prior to when I would cover it in class so that they had a head start on familiarity/understanding before it was thrown at them all at once in the classroom. Some would take minimal notes during class so that they wouldn’t get overwhelmed, then go back later and watch the video again so that they could fill in what they missed. The ability to use closed captioning on all YouTube videos is really helpful as well. Needless to say, it was a hit with my students – but they weren’t the only ones!

2. Their parents and guardians LOVED it.

What surprised me even more than my students’ excitement and engagement with the channel was the enthusiasm of their parents. You and I both know that teachers daily go above and beyond what is expected of them to do what is best for their students, but oftentimes parents don’t see that. Creating my YouTube channel was a really obvious way to show parents what I was willing to do to help their students succeed in my classroom. It was such a great resource for me to point to as a way that I was supporting learning outside of my classroom, and parents loved that it was so easily accessible by them and their kids. I even had some caretakers who were watching the videos themselves so they could better help to quiz their students for an upcoming assessment. The more parents that loved it, the more they reached out to my administration to let them know how helpful it was – and we all know if parents are happy, admin are happy.

3. I LOVED it.

The ease with which I could point students and parents to an instant resource at any time was incredibly helpful. But not only that, but I also loved that I could utilize it when I needed to be out of the classroom. If I got sick and had to be out last minute, students could still keep moving forward with the content on their own by watching the video. Upon my return, we could do a discussion of questions they had and then jump right into the lab. It is hard to leave meaningful work for a substitute teacher – especially in a science classroom since nearly every lab needs to be supervised by someone who knows what is going on – and I felt like this really helped to keep from wasting any time in my absence.

It was even more helpful when I was absent on maternity leave. My firstborn is adopted and we didn’t know he was coming and would be ours until literally the day he was born. Luckily it was a Friday, so my school essentially had two days to find a sub to step in for the last 9 weeks of the year. Because of this, and because science substitutes, in particular, are so rare, I ended up with 3 different teachers without science experience covering my classes. They all relied heavily on my recorded videos to teach themselves the content so that they could then teach my students. My students were grateful too because they were still able to somewhat learn from me in my absence. It was such a beneficial resource for all of us!

I cannot tell you how much easier my life became when I took the time to make these videos – and it didn’t take long! I used the “Screencast Recording” setting on QuickTime Player to make each video. Each one took anywhere from 15-30 minutes to record, so I just did them all at once for a unit prior to starting it with my students, and I was able to use the same videos year after year. If you can do it all in one take, you don’t have to do ANY editing either, which makes the process incredibly simple. The upload process to YouTube is really user-friendly too!

What to be mindful of

If the idea of making your own videos is overwhelming to you – I get it! Start with utilizing the vast amount of resources already available (for free!) on YouTube. Just make sure to:

  1. ALWAYS preview the video in its entirety – both for accuracy and appropriateness of the content for your students.
  2. Check the links each year before reusing to make sure they haven’t been deleted or changed on you. Beneath any video just click “Save” and add it to a playlist (I organize mine by class!) This way you have them all catalogued and can easily click through at the start of each school year to make sure they are all still good and ready for when you need them.

If you are interested in making your own, my biggest warning is to make sure you have the rights to use whatever content you are incorporating into your videos legally. I share all of my videos openly to the public, so all of the slides I use are made entirely by me, using images I have purchased for commercial use. Quadruple check that you aren’t going against the terms of use for anything you are incorporating in your videos.

Again if this seems daunting, using others’ videos is still incredibly helpful for your students! I think all students benefit from hearing the content in a different way and from a different person, so don’t immediately decide you can’t effectively use YouTube videos because you aren’t able to create your own at this time. I regularly showed my AP Biology students videos from other content creators in the hopes that hearing it in a different way would help their understanding.

How have you used YouTube videos to increase student understanding in your classroom? What other tech. resources have you found to be effective? I would LOVE to hear about your experiences!

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