The Value of Video Clips in Science Teaching

Rob Butler is an experienced science teacher and Deputy Head at a secondary age special school. He is a Regional Secretary of The Association of Science Education and a member of their 11-19 committee.  Here he shares his views on the great value of video clips to teachers of science.

Smiling male bald teacher with glasses against white background


If a picture is work a thousand words a video clip must be worth a million! Video clips are a fantastic teaching aid for students with special needs because they bring a subject to life in a way that text books can’t.

Whilst the days of dragging the department TV and video into the classroom are long gone, students still respond positively to well produced video content whether it be used to promote discussion, introduce/embed a topic or for a different reason.  Well over half of my lessons would include short focussed snippets of video to support my teaching.

I’m a scientist and a science teacher and as such I watch a lot of science content on the TV.  In days gone by I would video programmes that might be interesting, then came the days of the DVD recorder which made recordings smaller and easier to store.  Now I have a Freeview box with a USB port with which I can capture recordings from the TV and transfer them to a USB device within the terms of the ERA licence for use at school.

How can a video clip help?

Several years ago, the BBC screened a series called Wonderstuff in which presenter Jane Moore looked at useful household products and how they are made.  Within the level 1 BTEC Applied Science there is an assignment in which my special school students must make a useful chemical product.  We chose to make glue and soap because these are relatively easy to make but also have an episode each of the Wonderstuff dedicated to them.  We used a section from the episode on glue in which Jane Moore learned how to make glue from milk.  After watching an appropriate clip, students wrote down a method from which they were able to make (and test) their own glue.  Similarly, we watched the episode on soap in which the presenters made soap from naturally occurring products and we followed a similar procedure in the lab.  By watching the clip first, students were more confident and able to work independently in a way that they might not have done without.

A powerful teaching aid

Again, when teaching biology there are a wealth of BBC programmes illustrating concepts like evolution and competition.  Students marvel at a Venus fly trap devouring insects (overseen by David Attenborough) and then discuss how they are adapted to survive in the habitat they occupy.  Even the most disengaged of students can’t help but to be drawn in by the fantastic camera angles and compelling narrative of the Planet Earth series.  Difficult to teach concepts like space, plate tectonics and evolution of the atmosphere can be brought to life by popular science series shown on primetime TV.

While some teaching tools have been and gone (remember Microsoft Encarta?) video remains a powerful teaching aid to motivate and engage my learners.