September 2023 | Tech Tips
Making the Instructional Videos I Wish I’d Had as a Teacher
By Karen Ye
Perhaps you know the feeling: you have a new chemistry unit approaching, and you’ve spent ages sifting through videos online, searching for something to show your students — but nothing seems quite right. The videos are all too long, cartoony, or overwhelming … or simply boring. Often, the right video just doesn’t seem to exist.
Like many teachers, I went through this process almost weekly as I tried to find videos that would be helpful to my students. I kept a list of trusty go-to videos, and when I couldn’t find what I needed, I sometimes made my own. Now, as a science curriculum designer for Edpuzzle, I spend my days making the videos I wish I’d had in my own classroom — and those long searches are never far from my mind.
When I was hired last year, Edupuzzle was in the process of expanding. They’d begun as a platform that lets teachers customize videos from other sources by adding questions, and now they were beginning to produce their own educational videos as well. My colleagues are mostly former teachers like me, and together we’ve been building a collection of “bite-sized” science videos, each of which provides a short, focused introduction to a single concept. While the lessons we've produced so far are geared toward elementary or middle school students, they can also be adapted for older students.
Here, I’ll share a few examples of these videos, and walk through my thought process in designing them to address specific challenges I encountered in the classroom. (I’ve included boldfaced links to each of the videos I discuss so you can follow along if you’d like to; they’re free to watch without a login.) I hope these ideas resonate with you and that you find them useful in your classes, too!
Challenge: Mastering Basic Concepts
|Figure 1a. In this screenshot from the author’s video on basic chemistry concepts, particle diagrams are superimposed on video taken of water boiling, explaining what’s happening at the molecular level.|
Mastering basic concepts is a big part of most middle and high school science courses. However, I found that many science videos rely on simple cartoons, illustrations, or static images that don’t help students relate the concepts to the real world.
I found this limitation to be particularly challenging when teaching physical versus chemical changes. Although plenty of videos featured the classic examples and criteria, most didn’t explain the basic vocabulary and assumed a background understanding of physical and chemical properties. As a result, students often struggled to follow along with what was happening in the video. Students also seemed to have difficulty applying the same concepts to other scenarios — particularly when evaluating changes in substances other than water! Since they couldn’t truly grasp what was going on, some students simply memorized the examples they’d seen.
So, when I was recently tasked with creating a video lesson on this topic, I tried a different approach. Instead of defining physical and chemical properties right away, I started by showing several different substances, and walked through the process of measuring their various properties. This way, students could see what happens when certain properties are measured. Next, whenever the appearance of a substance in the video changed, I paired it with a corresponding particle diagram. This helps students learn to recognize and understand the distinction between a change in appearance and a change in identity.
Challenge: Relating concepts to real-world phenomena
|Figure 2. Illustration of a crushed, empty train car used in the video.|
As a chemistry teacher, I was always looking for ways to help students relate abstract concepts to the world around them. With limited class time and lots of ground to cover, I really wanted phenomena-based videos that didn’t require lots of extra explanation. I also wanted the videos to build naturally on the things I was already doing in class, such as demonstrations.
Classroom demonstrations are one of the perks of teaching chemistry; they’re fun, and a great way to engage students. But although most students participated enthusiastically, I noticed that many often struggled to relate the demonstrations to the concepts they were meant to illustrate.
So, when I had the chance to design a phenomenon-based video, I thought: Why not take the classic demonstrations that many teachers are using anyway, and pair them with real-world phenomena? I tried it out in this video, and began by engaging students with a dramatic story about a train car being crushed by air pressure.
Then, to explain how it happened, I show the classic soda can demonstration, broken down into stages and paired with particle diagrams, as shown in the screen captures provided in Figure 3.
|Figure 3. Images from the soda can demonstration video are used to break down the phenomenon into separate components.|
By seeing this process one step at a time, along with detailed explanations of what’s happening, students can track the changing kinetic energy and pressure of the air particles as the can is heated and cooled. This way, they gradually build their understanding throughout the demonstration, and are primed for success when asked to explain why the soda can gets crushed.
Finally, to demonstrate how this concept relates to the real world outside the classroom, students apply what they’ve learned to answer the key question posed at the beginning of the video: How can air crush a train?
Challenge: Asking meaningful questions
Like many teachers who use videos in the classroom or assign them for homework, I often used questions to hold students accountable and keep them engaged. However, since most videos aren’t structured with questions in mind, they tend to present lots of information all at once, and offer few opportunities to check for understanding. Many times, the videos I found seemed more appropriate for me — a chemistry teacher brushing up on content before teaching — than for students encountering a topic for the first time. The pacing of these videos made it difficult to incorporate meaningful questions along the way, particularly when asking for more than simple recall.
Now that I’m creating videos myself, I design them to present information gradually, and in a way that leads naturally toward questions. Along with encouraging students to be observant and curious, the embedded questions also create accountability by requiring students to follow along.
When creating an introductory video on atomic theory, I wanted to avoid the common approach of bombarding students with facts and then asking a series of recall-based questions. Instead, I structured the video around models of each landmark experiment, giving students the opportunity to observe and analyze the results for themselves.
|Figure 4. An example of an observation-based embedded question from a video.|
This way, instead of simply being told what each scientist discovered, students use their own observations to draw the same conclusions directly. By getting more involved in the lesson and tracking key discoveries in a meaningful way through inquiry-based questions, students get a better sense of how atomic theory developed and what it illustrates about the nature of science.
While this is not a comprehensive list, these examples offer a glimpse of how my classroom experiences have guided me in designing videos that improve student comprehension, engage students in real-world phenomena, and encourage student inquiry. I hope these reflections and resources are helpful as you explore different ways to use videos with your students. I’ll always be a science teacher at heart, and although I miss working directly with students, it’s gratifying to know these videos keep me connected to classrooms all over the world!