We all know that there are excellent videos we as teachers can show in class to help further student understanding. And there are a lot of awful, non-useful videos out there that are only good for killing time, which is never a good teaching strategy. In this blog post, I will give you my top 5 favorite YouTube/online videos to use in my biology class. (These links are functioning as of October 30, 2015.)
- Hidden Life in Pond Water. As you biology teachers already know, the pond water lab is a classical early microscope lab that is really a hit or miss. Sometimes you get great samples of pond water (or buy them) and sometimes you don’t. Sometimes students have barely learned how to focus the microscope and some of them get barely anything out of the lab, because they can’t figure out how to see everything. In the past, I have found students typically get to see 1-3 organisms, perhaps more if they are a little more skilled at the microscope. I suggest doing the lab (NOT substituting with a video) because it does give them great practice using a microscope, but having this video can really help students figure out what they are looking for. The video is really beautiful to look at too and can help inspire students in the beginning of the year.
2. Meiosis Square Dance: This movie is a must-see. There are a lot of humorous dramatic moments, including an animated male fly that gets cut in half with a knife. What high school student wouldn’t love that? The music is catchy. Some students will think you are crazy for showing it, but they will remember forever that chromosomes pair up (like in square dancing). There is one scientific error in the video, but only Drosophila geneticists would pick it up. 🙂 In Drosophila meiosis, male fly chromosomes actually don’t undergo crossing over. But hey, your students don’t need to know that. This movie is worth its length in gold.
I love to show this movie for many reasons. First of all, it is just beautiful. It shows parts of the cell in motion, all at the same time, and students get a much better appreciation of how the cell is a very crowded and chaotic, yet amazingly functional place. The music in the original version is a little eerie and really adds to the enjoyment; students often ask to see it over and over again. I love to show it in the beginning of my cell unit, before they know anything about which organelles are which. Then, after we have learned about all of the organelles and cell parts, we go back and watch the video again and my students love to identify the parts they now know. There are SO many parts and processes shown, Golgi, mitochondria, vesicles, lipid rafts, cytoskeleton formation, centrosomes, nuclear pores, translation with free floating ribosomes and ribosomes attached to the ER, exocytosis, extracellular matrix attachments, and the list goes on… You can go as deep as your particular class allows. One fascinating part of the movie is the motor protein carrying an organelle and my students always come up with their own name. One year it was “The Walking Guy”. It is just so cool that it’s a protein complex.
The PBS series on evolution is a good series but I don’t know of any class that has enough time to watch the whole thing, so I will list my favorite parts. There are two parts that really do a great job at showing how interaction between species over time can change each species. When students study evolution, they often get bogged down in the idea that “evolution” happened a long time ago and they don’t understand that there are types of evolution that happen all around us. In the Toxic Newts clip, scientists work in the field to study how a particular newt became so toxic. Many of my students love this clip because it shows scientists working in the field studying molecular processes on the organism level. I have even had some students tell me they were inspired to study biology from this clip because biologists can study science outside of a lab full of test tubes! In the Ants clip, the interactions between three species (ants, fungus, and a bacteria) really hits home the message that life is so complex and we are really just beginning to understand some ways that biology and evolution work.
What are your favorite exceptional online video clips to show in your biology class? Let me know in the comments below!