Paul has been a high school science teacher for 20 years in Bozeman Montana. Even though I got my masters degree in science filmmaking in Bozeman, I didn’t find out about Paul until I left. Totally bummer. I think we would have gotten along well. He has a youtube channel where he uploads short science presentations about all kinds of science topics. Most of them are short powerpoint-style presentations that he did for his own class, but they’ve been really popular online. If every teacher thought as much about how to teach effectively as Paul, we’d be well on the way to solving all our education standards. I wanted to ask Paul a few questions regarding his philosophy and inspiration in teaching.
Fill us in on how you’re using technology/media to increase learning?
Technology in education (as with most professions) works best when it allows us to be more efficient. I found that the most efficient way to teach was in a 1:1 mentoring setting. However this was not possible with class sizes of 30 students. I used the technology in my classroom to shift time and spend more time working in smaller groups with students. Videos replaced all class lectures and lab videos allowed students to work more independently on labs when they were ready. It took about three years to shift my AP Biology class from a passive teacher-driven classroom to an active classroom built around the students. The nice thing about technology is that it scales. The videos I created for my class are used by thousands of students in thousands of AP science classrooms around the world.
What inspired you to start doing this?
I wanted to give my students additional resources that they could use outside of the classroom. I would post them to my schools intranet so that the students could watch them to prepare for class. A friend of mine suggested that I upload them to YouTube since it would require just a couple more button pushes. The rest is history.
Why do you think it’s important – how does it benefit students?
Educational videos are not teachers and they will never replace teachers. They are simply a new form of the book. They can be used by teachers to make time in class more effective or they can be used by students to learn independently. Students tell me that they enjoy how the videos allow them to learn using both visual and auditory input. They also like the ability to re-watch the sections that are confusing and skip of the parts they understand.
What is the hardest thing about this undertaking?
As a teacher I quickly realized that I couldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good enough. I must have started my first video 30 times. I would start talking and then make a mistake and then I would start over. I realized that I would never finish any videos if they had to be flawless. Students enjoy it when you look silly and you can always remove mistakes when you are done recording. This shift in philosophy has allowed me to make nearly 600 videos covering almost all topics in the high school science classroom.
What’s the most interesting feedback you’ve had so far?
The YouTube comment section can be a very ‘honest’ place. I quickly realized that I couldn’t take negative comments too seriously but that I could learn from them. My videos have become much better by simply listening to the viewers. I also receive positive comments from viewers like this that are so fun:
Thanks You!!!! I’m a 61 year old freshman and I utilize your videos…
Do you have a vision for it 5 years from now?
Videos deliver information in one way. I cannot interact with the learner to judge their understanding. I’m not sure how long this will take but questions will drive this evolution.
What’s the best way for others to take advantage of what you’re doing?
I aggregate all of my videos on my website at bozemanscience.com. Most of the videos have downloadable pdfs of the presentation so you can use them in your own class. Some volunteers have added worksheets and language translations that may be useful. My wife has created accurate transcriptions of every video for students that are hearing impaired. I have also created an entire set of videos for the Next Generation Science Standards. I think these new standards are great and could revolutionize the way we teach science in the classroom.
Do you have any advice for other teachers that may want to utilize media to increase learning?
Teaching is an art and I try not to give other teachers too much advice. If you find my videos useful feel free to use them. If you would like to make your own videos your students will appreciate the effort. Don’t use technology for the sake of using technology. If it allows you to spend more time working individually with students you are moving in the correct direction. If you simply show my videos in class in replacement of teaching you are missing the point. The time with students in the classroom is a luxury and it shouldn’t be spent passively watching videos. Technology works best when it makes us more human.