—by Russell Thompson, Golden Apple Fellow—
In my almost 25 years as an educator, technology has rapidly changed traditional teaching; but as of late, it has completely replaced it. Like my contemporaries, I have been a part of the technological revolution in the classroom, to include our even greater shift toward technology in recent months as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. We have gone from the early days of learning how to use a simple email account to our current status of embracing YouTube and other critical resources to reach our students.
In the Covid-19 world we now live in, many school districts across the world have transitioned to “Distance Learning.” The staple for my virtual classroom is Google Classroom, Google Meet, and YouTube. While the Google platforms are pretty standard for teaching during this pandemic, YouTube is a tool that I find best fits my style.
My first experimentation with YouTube came a few years back when I was tasked with completing a long term professional development initiative through Discovery Education. We were asked to use a digital format to create and implement a lesson into our curriculum. I started by requiring my students to create movies reflecting various history topics for my eighth grade Social Studies class. After teaching a particular topic, my students were grouped and asked to make a short video (approximately 5 minutes) based on what they learned, and then share it with their respective classes. The work the students produced was very substantive and far exceeded my expectations. These types of projects utilize the natural skillsets of today’s children, who are typically savvy with production and editing. Through class input and my final decision, the best video from each class was published on my YouTube channel. It was a very successful endeavour in that students were able to utilize and build upon their technology skills and it piqued their interest in learning the subject matter.
As a result of this first foray into using YouTube as a teaching tool, I started recording lectures and posting them to my channel under my logo “ Bald Eagle Productions,” (a playful name for the account which reflects the name my students have coined for me given the fact that I am bald). It has become a popular and fun avenue for communicating and sharing knowledge with the students.
My efforts with YouTube gained new life when, about nine weeks ago, the state’s public health order required that we quarantine, and teachers were asked to provide virtual lessons. We had six weeks of distance learning to fulfill, so I started hitting the record button more frequently. I turned my home study into a virtual classroom. I had maps, globes, and other teaching tools at my disposal. Using my smartphone and tripod, I filmed independently. I divided my topics into six parts and made six corresponding videos. It takes a little practice to talk to a recording device, but the key is to captivate the students like you would if you were face-to-face. Using humor and props, I lectured about a topic and then took the time to explain the assignment for the week. I posted the video links and a detailed copy of my lecture notes to our Google Classroom on Mondays with the request that assignments be returned by the end of the week. Questions and answers were communicated in the Google Classroom posts, or in private messaging. A friendly tip is to always turn off “comments” on your YouTube videos, so as not to receive unwelcome feedback from a prankster or amateur comedian, which may not be appropriate in nature.
After six weeks of YouTube classes, I was pleased with the overall product, and the feedback from students and parents has been positive. There was a bit of buzz about the videos and a local news station did a story about my efforts, which I have posted to my YouTube channel.
With the future of traditional classrooms uncertain, it is important for teachers to find platforms that are engaging for students, and consistent with the style of the virtual classroom they are trying to create. Regarding YouTube, there are so many ways to utilize this platform. I have only mentioned a few, but a creative teacher can come up with many others. When I was called to teach virtually, I was a bit apprehensive; but the experience was a positive one and I am happy with the results. I had a lot of fun with it and will continue using YouTube and other technology tools throughout my career.
Russell R. Thompson
2015 Golden Apple Teacher of Distinction