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The Right Way to Teach With Videos

6 Tips for Making Movies Educational


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All right, so there is never just one way to do something. But teaching with videos and movies has a bad rap, because it's not always done effectively. Here are some ways to make movies and videos truly educational.

1. Watch with your kids.

Remember that teacher from your own school days who would put on a movie, and then take a snooze in the back of the room? Putting on a movie and checking out is not the best use of the medium. To get the most out of a video, you need to watch it along with your kids. That way, they know it's not just a time-filler, and you're right there ready to try some of the other suggestions below.

2. Stop and check in.

Did your kids catch that last explanation? Hit pause and find out. If you need to, rewind and go over that part again. At home, you've can control how much to watch and how quickly.

3. Take notes.

If you've seen a movie before and had time to think about it, you may already know what you want to say about it. But especially if you are viewing it for the first time along with your kids, take notes so you'll remember what issues you want to go into more deeply when it's over.

4. Pause and discuss.

Here's where homeschoolers have the advantage. An issue comes up, and you want to talk about it while it's fresh in everyone's mind. You can just stop the film for as long as you need and discuss. You may find that you need several days to watch one movie. That's OK, if everyone's getting something out of your discussions. (Some family members may find too many interruptions to be annoying. For them, it may be best to jot down your point to discuss later.)

5. Continue the learning on- and off-screen.

When we worked our way through The Joy of Science, a series of 52 lectures by Professor Robert Hazen from The Great Courses, it took us three times as long as expected. That's because many of the episodes made us want to supplement what we learned from the lectures. For instance, we would take a week off from the series to learn more about a particular concept, such as entropy. We found a PBS Nova episode about the quest to reach Absolute Zero in the laboratory, and then made our own low-tech refrigerators, using the same basic technique as the researchers.

6. Create your own film festival.

Great movies often bring to mind other great movies, books, and articles. It's easy to build a unit study around a film that captures your family's interest. For instance, if your kids enjoyed watching Ken Burns' 2012 documentary The Dust Bowl on PBS, you can supplement it by reading John Steinbeck's classic novel The Grapes of Wrath and watching the excellent film adaptation starring Henry Fonda. Take a look at Dorothea Lange's famous photos of Dust Bowl era families, and do research on the science behind desertification. Or pick a bunch of movies on the same topic, and compare how they present it. There's really no limit to the ways you can make sitting in front of a screen a truly educational experience.

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