NBC Learn K-12 Subscriber Spotlight: Personalizing Science Instruction
It’s a challenge that teachers from across the country often wrestle with on a daily basis: How to reach students who have grown up with a world of information at their fingertips and the ability to pull up an answer to almost any question instantaneously?
“My students are technology driven,” says Heather Robinson, a veteran middle school science teacher at Staunton River Middle School in Moneta, VA. “If they want the answer to something they can go on their phone and Google it.”
While the democratization of information has had tremendous benefits for the world, it has also required educators to rethink their approach to instruction. No longer are students sorting through a thick encyclopedia for a random fact or using the complex index of a textbook to find a specific passage of interest. Instead they are quick to grab their devices and search for their answers. Britannica has been replaced by Wikipedia; Merriam-Webster by Dictionary.com. Even though the research skills of yesteryear are still valuable, the influx of technology has forced teachers to adjust to the demands of today’s 21st century learners.
As a way to meet each of her students’ unique needs, Heather Robinson has worked to individualize her instruction by using technology and the power of choice. As she is teaching about complex science topics like the periodic table, electricity, and magnetism, she has relied extensively on the videos featured on NBC Learn to present her students with information in a visual and attention-getting manner.
“We are doing personalized learning and they get choice. Sometimes with an NBC Learn video they get a choice,” says Robinson. “They get to watch the video or they get to do something else. If they don’t want to do the video, they can do another assignment in place of that.”
For example, during a recent lesson about the differences between physical and chemical changes, Robinson pointed her students to two different NBC Learn videos: Using Properties of Matter for Special Effects and Reversible and Irreversible Changes. Each story focuses on the unique differences between physical and chemical changes and they both align with one of the main Standards of Learning (SOL) for a Virginia 7th grade science teachers. Having more than one option gives Robinson the chance to reach specific students in different ways.
“I like that they are short videos and I like that when I go into my NBC Learn account, I can save a video to a new topic in my account,” says Robinson. “I have my playlists sorted by SOL. So I know which SOL have videos that I can go back to and include for the students to watch.”
The NBC Learn videos can also serve as the hook for a lesson, providing Robinson with a quick way to grab her students’ attention. When she was teaching about geothermal energy, she introduced the topic to her students by showing them an NBC Learn story from Nightly News that explored how construction workers are installing geothermal heaters to heat homes.
“Even though it didn’t talk a lot about the mechanisms of geothermal, the topic was still covered; the fact that energy comes from the earth,” says Robinson. “It was a jumping off point.”
Once she feels that she’s hooked her students, Robinson presents some of the more nuanced information related to the science behind geothermal energy and has her students engage in a more detailed exploration of the topic. By starting her class with an NBC Learn video, Robinson is also able to anticipate the most commonly asked question that teachers across the country get from their students.
“When the kids say, ‘Why do I have to learn this? When am I ever going to use this for?’ They can see. There was the news piece about it,” says Robinson.
The news pieces not only show the real world application of topics her students are studying but also the real world consequences and stakes of the information. When her students were studying nuclear reactions, she kicked off her lesson by having them watch a 2011 news report related to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster caused by an earthquake off the coast of Japan that triggered a powerful tsunami.
While NBC Learn resources serve as the perfect way to introduce students to a new topic, the videos can be used at almost any point during a teacher’s lesson.
“I use NBC Learn as a way to supplement the topic that we are talking about or use it as an extension to help them better understand a topic,” says Robinson. “They are short snippet videos that are very concise and to the point.”
During a recent lesson about graphing, Robinson showed her students a video called “Mathletes” from the collection, “Science of the Olympic Winter Games.” The story, produce in partnership with the National Science Foundation, outlines all of the ways that math is used during the Winter Olympics.
“It talks about how averages are used in the Olympics and how time and speed are graphed using the Olympics trials,” says Robinson. “So the kids get to see the video as it relates to the Olympics, which in middle school they probably don’t watch, and then it ties that into my SOL and they see real world experiences tying back to science.”
With real world examples presented in an engaging way, NBC Learn’s videos provide the perfect opportunity to review the skills her students just learned in a fun and innovative way.
“I’ve taught you the topic, we’ve talked about a thing, now let me show you another video that discusses it in a different way,” says Robinson.
At the end of the day, the sign of a good teacher can be seen through the faces and experiences of her students. Whether they are choosing to explore a topic independently, wrestling with new information as a whole group, or reviewing how their new skills can be applied to the real world, NBC Learn provides resources that will help bring all of these lessons to life.
“I like when they get it,” says Robinson. “I like when they feel successful. Like when they have a topic they can’t get and all of sudden they get it.”