Strategy Share: How to Make Simple Videos to Transport Your Students and Transform Their Learning

Our Strategy Share series features innovative ideas, projects, and approaches from our community of educators. This post was written by Ben Graves after his expedition to Greenland and the Canadian High Arctic as a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow with Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Education.

Grosvenor Teacher Fellow Ben Graves on his expedition to Greenland and the Canadian High Arctic. Photo by Sarah Appleton

A lot of us are using digital video to connect with our students during this difficult new reality of distance learning in which we are awkwardly navigating. I am finding that video has become a primary mode of teaching for so many of us right now, either through real-time lessons in Zoom or sharing content students can watch anytime on YouTube. We are all experimenting with new technologies and routines and, like me, you may be struggling to determine the best way to stay connected and keep students engaged with these tools. I have found that producing my own video content that is ready for students to tune into anytime from anywhere has been a necessity. I’d like to share my workflow and some strategies for making quick, teacher-produced videos for your students now, and hopefully help you develop a skill you can use even when we return to the classroom in the future. 

I use videos regularly in my classroom to pose questions, introduce phenomena, and build a sense of wonder and adventure. When I traveled to the Canadian Arctic as part of my Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship, I made dozens of videos to help bring my polar expedition experience into my rural Colorado classroom. I started creating videos years ago as a way to connect with my students in the same medium in which they were experiencing their daily world. Sure, you could likely find a beautifully composed, ultra-HD close-up of a flower being pollinated or a drone-flyover of an archeological wonder on YouTube–but these professionally produced videos may have less of a lasting impact on your students because they don’t offer a personal connection. I find that by including myself and my voice in the media I produce, students get excited, engaged, and it gives them an opportunity to explore in a new way, with me as their trusted guide. It is a way to show them the world through your eyes as a teacher-storyteller, and connect with your students to enhance learning.

Although many of my videos have been made while traveling, lately I have been making videos in my own home, yard, and neighborhood to both expand the ways I communicate with students and teach my content. Now, more than ever, videos bring me closer to my students and allow me to connect with them in a fun and more personal way.

Here are my tips for getting started. Remember, your job is first and foremost to be a teacher, not a video producer. It took me a long time to finally realize this and to relax, scale back my ambitious video projects, and enjoy the process. 

    1. Use your phone: Modern phones take EXCELLENT videos. iPhones work seamlessly with iMovie so that videos can be edited quickly from your phone or tablet. Be sure to hold your phone landscape (horizontally) because this results in a better aspect for sharing on computers. I like using the front-facing camera because it makes my video more informal. However, a tripod or a selfie-stick can make for a more composed shot. An external microphone is very handy for recording outside, however headphones, or even Bluetooth earbuds, will go a long way in improving audio and especially in windy or noisy environments.
    1. Shorter is better: Shoot for one-to-two minutes in length. If you are planning on using these when we return to the classroom (which I highly encourage!) you can make your videos a bit longer because you can monitor students’ attention and interest. Our videos should mimic the quick content our students are consuming at home. Here is a short one I made about carbon dioxide.
    1. Try a “one-take wonder”: I know the biggest barrier for me as a teacher is finding time and energy to edit the final piece. I have dozens of projects on the back-burner because my recordings were too complicated and need major editing to come together as a single piece. A one-take wonder does not need to be edited and allows you to quickly go from concept to final product—often skipping the editing process entirely! To prepare, first think through a way to keep your explanations quick. Don’t be afraid to stop often and do multiple takes until you are happy with the whole piece. Some teachers might prefer a script, however, I find it fun to adlib because it makes the video more informal, just like my classroom. Here is a one-take wonder I made while traveling in Costa Rica. (Can’t do a one-take wonder because you have multiple perspectives to fit into the piece? Then try to record the bulk of your audio in one take since audio is the hardest part for us novices to edit). 
    1. Try asking more questions: A study by the popular YouTube creator Derek Muller in the journal Science Education[1] found higher educational performance outcomes when students had to invest more mental effort in watching a video. What this tells me is that just “lecturing” about a phenomena in video form is not always the best strategy for student learning. Instead, use the video to ask questions, present alternate explanations, or share competing views–like this one I made in Iceland. Then invite students to participate via online or classroom-based means. Right now, I am using edpuzzle to introduce multiple choice or free-response questions that ask students to critically think about what they are watching in the video. In the classroom, and even in distance learning, videos (like this one I made about sea-ice albedo) can be used to start a class discussion.

    2. Incorporate “B-roll”: In video production speak, your “A-roll” is the bulk of your video: it’s your narration and your face on camera. Your “B-roll” is close up shots of the phenomena you are exploring or alternate angles to add excitement to your video. This is definitely a more “advanced” tip for teachers who have mastered the “one-take-wonder” format. Try and make your B-roll tightly cropped, short, three-to-five-second close-ups with careful focus. Do multiple takes from different angles and with different levels of zoom. Show your finger or hand entering and leaving the shot. These can be spliced into your final video with or without audio. Students are used to watching online videos with LOTS of three-to-five-second cuts, and B-roll can add lots of depth and excitement to your final project. Check out this video I made about permafrost which incorporates numerous close-up shots as B roll.

As teachers, I know that we want the final product to look professional and can get very overwhelmed in the editing process. My hope is that these tips give you some easy ways to try out this engaging medium for you and your students. I challenge you to try making a one-take wonder today out in your yard or neighborhoodlike this one I made this week. And share it with me on social media. 

Doing something new can be hard–especially now when we are all doing lots of new and uncomfortable things to be the best teachers we can be every day–but it will go a long way in adding a personal touch to your online learning, and be a fun new way to connect with your students in these difficult times.


Ben Graves is a science teacher in Delta, Colorado. Follow Ben on Twitter: @MrGravesScience

This post reflects a Grosvenor Teacher Fellow’s field-based experiences on a voyage with Lindblad Expeditions. The Grosvenor Teacher Fellowship is a professional development opportunity for pre-K–12 educators made possible by a partnership between  Lindblad Expeditions and National Geographic Education

Feature image by Sarah Appleton

[1] Muller, Derek A., Manjula D. Sharma, and Peter Reimann. “Raising cognitive load with linear multimedia to promote conceptual change.” Science Education 92.2 (2008): 278-296

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