How YouTube Transformed My Lessons

This year, as science department head, I attended several meetings and full day trainings about how to adopt NGSS standards and practices in our middle school classrooms. Throughout the meetings hands shot up all around the room as teachers wrestled with the implications of a completely new, phenomena based way of teaching science. “What about the textbook?!” a teacher would ask, shocked at the answer that our district wont even look at new, NGSS aligned textbooks for 2 more years (our current book could be considered a fossil, with 20 plus years of penis doodles and scribbles throughout EVERY page in EVERY book). Another popular question, “Since we are moving to an integrated model, how will I know what to teach if I don’t even have a textbook and haven’t touched earth science in years?”  

The NGSS standards adopted by California are really changing the game for teachers. NGSS is replacing standards that were last adopted in 1998!  As the field of science is driven by technology and changing daily I think we can agree that twenty years is just too long without change. In addition,  I think the questioning teachers above really want to give their best to students, but need tools. So with no textbook, armed only with a few loose ideas and examples of what phenomenon based teaching looks like, now what?

An answer for me was a deep dive into the wonders of YouTube. Most science teachers are really good at finding resources to teach themselves long forgotten or never fully understood concepts (oh hey, Khan Academy!), but finding the right videos for middle and high school students is different. I’ve found that creating a well developed lesson that includes intentionally curated YouTube videos is as fun and effective at facilitating learning as the best wedding DJ’s are at creating a party you never want to leave. Here are a few of my favorite channels to get you started:

NPR’s Skunk Bear is a series of videos starring Adam Cole, a witty, nerdy and awesome guy who never fails to make me laugh (even though the jokes and culture references often soar above my 8th graders heads). The videos are broken up into playlists sorted by science discipline. The videos range from about three to seven minutes and are really well produced. My students loved them, especially the “Good Question” series!

My second favorite is PBS’ It’s Okay to be Smart channel featuring Joe Hansen. Joe Hansen is lovable and funny and he doesn’t talk too fast, (sorry, I’m talking to you Hank Green). It’s Okay to be Smart’s videos have silly jokes and nods at pop culture but as they engage in phenomenon the videos teach students to do the same. Hansen’s channel is also divided into playlists sorted by subject from Biology to Space to Food Science. The videos are done in PBS’ classic, not too flashy, smart style and students really love them.

Finally is the band Okay Go. I had never heard of these guys until I became a science teacher. In one of my science Facebook groups, a member had mentioned their Rube Goldberg video. I checked it out and I wasn’t sorry!  As well as being talented musicians, they are probably also super nerdy. Many of their videos play with the laws of physics. A particularly awesome video called “Upside Down and Inside Out” is the perfect way to introduce gravity to students without even saying the word.

I hope you enjoy these YouTube channels as much as my students and I have. I developed a series of worksheets that will guide your students in understanding the concepts and phenomena presented in some of these YouTube channels which you can find here. #sorrynotsorry for the YouTube rabbit hole you are about to jump down!

May your teacher heart be full and happy,


1 thought on “How YouTube Transformed My Lessons”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s