Incorporating Live Broadcasts into Your Classroom

To celebrate Earth Day, National Geographic hosted a Google Hangout—a free, online face-to-face discussion—with real-world scientists.  The #OurEarth: Innovation in Exploration Google Hangout focused on the technology behind scientific expeditions. Scientists discussed the tools they use to measure Arctic ice flows and explore the mysteries of lightening strikes. One scientist even participated in the discussion from underwater, showing off the tools he uses to study the Great Barrier Reef.

Despite the incredible array of scientists involved, the #OurEarth participant I was most excited for was a group of 5th, 11th and 12th grade students from Muscle Shoals, Alabama. During the Hangout the students had the opportunity to ask the scientists questions and explain some of the experiments they themselves were doing (the 5th graders were being mentored by the high schoolers as part of an Earth Day celebration—together, they built an edible coral polyp and dissected an albatross bolus among other things). The students were guided by Kathy Eldridge, a biology teacher that National Geographic Education was fortunate to work with through the National Teacher Leadership Academy.

Kathy had never been involved in or used a Google Hangout prior to #OurEarth, and I was curious about what it was like to use a live broadcast like this in a classroom. Was it easy? Hard? Worthwhile? I was lucky enough to catch up with her after the Hangout, and she had some great suggestions on how to incorporate live broadcasts, like #OurEarth, into the classroom. Her thoughts are too good not to share!

What was it like using the Hangout technology in your classroom? Was it easy? Hard?

This was an amazing opportunity for my students to interact with scientists. Using the technology during the hangout was very easy. The hardest part was making sure our [internet] connection was strong enough and that the camera worked with the computer in my classroom. 

Do you have any advice for other teachers on how to incorporate an event like this into their planning?

Live events like this are easy to incorporate into lesson plans due to the high interest, current events that are discussed and the skills required of the students. My students gathered information about the scientists, brainstormed with their collaborative groups and then communicated concise questions for the scientists to answer. I incorporated it into my Earth Day events but I could have easily used it when we talk about scientific method, biomes and climate.

Kathy also suggested that live broadcasts, such as Hangouts, could be used as:

  • a resource for research papers
  • investigation of careers
  • a springboard for debates and classroom discussion or with Socratic seminars.  Teachers of multiple disciplines could build upon this by assigning a writing assignment or creating a time line of how technologies in the scientific areas presented have been developed through the years. 

Even if you’re not a direct participant in a Hangout, you can still submit questions before or during the chat to be answered.

How did the students react to being involved in the Hangout? Do you think they found the experience worthwhile?

The students summed up the experience with one word—AWESOME! My class was full of smiles when we watched it the next day! [watch the recorded Hangout HERE] They said they it was really cool to ask real scientists questions live. This was something that they have never been able to do before. They said it was much better than watching a video of a scientist making the same explanations. 

Similarly, the teacher of the 5th grade students involved said of their experience:

As a 5th grade teacher, it made me realize just how neat it was that students could see a world connection, a career connection and be so engaged and interested in a well planned event. … Certainly a top memory of their 5th grade!

Anything else you’d want other teachers to know about your experience or how to take advantage of events/technology like this in their classrooms?

After participating in this hangout, I am inspired to seek out other events involving technology. Our instruction should go beyond the physical walls of our classroom! The biggest obstacle for teachers is time. My reply is to make time…the instructional outcome for the students is worth the time and effort. What a positive impact it has had! 

To find out about opportunities for events/technology, I would encourage teachers to join their state Alliance for Geographic Education. They offer wonderful professional development for teachers of many subjects and grades. I would also encourage teachers to explore the National Geographic Education Teaching Resources Page for ideas, lesson plans, maps and other learning tools. National teaching organizations also post many professional development opportunities for teachers.  

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Kathy. I want to hear from you, too! What are some ways you would use this live broadcast in your classroom? What are some live broadcast opportunities you’d like to know about or to have?

Written by Samantha Zuhlke, National Geographic Education

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