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Where to Find the Best Free Educational Videos Online

09/09/2014 09:03PM ● Published by Nancy Babin

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but pictures plus words can be priceless.  As every good teacher knows, a well-chosen video can fasten a concept into a child’s head much faster than a lecture or a textbook.  

Happily this is the golden age for mini videos.  Charismatic educators have condensed their best lessons into short segments that are as entertaining as they are educational.  Videos are especially good at grabbing the attention of distractible middle school students.  Since pre-teens are already snacking on videos of cute animals and favorite music groups, parents might as well expand the menu to include something a little more nourishing.     

Bite-size videos have several uses.  During the summer, they offer young minds a workout that may minimize summer slump.  During the school year, they can be used to supplement or enliven lessons  from  school.   Parents who are flummoxed by homework assignments may turn to mini videos to refresh their memories of things they learned long ago and, of course, homeschooling families can add videos to their other teaching tools.  Most of all videos like those on the sites listed below are fun, so they reinforce the idea that learning something new every day is a terrific way to make use of a brain.    

Not surprisingly, many educational videos are now posted on YouTube.  For parents, this creates a wheat –from-chaff problem because the good stuff is mixed in with plenty of other videos that are at best time-wasters and at worst inappropriate for kids.  The following YouTube channels meet the ABC standard--they are Accurate, Boredom Busting and Child Friendly.    If you find a channel your kids really like, consider subscribing so you’ll know when new videos are posted.  

CGP GREY has a simple tagline—“complex things explained”—and it delivers on that promise.  These short videos feature stick figures that explain everything from the debt limit and daylight savings time to the electoral college and net neutrality.   

Vihart is one of the few vlogs hosted by a woman.  Victoria calls herself a “recreational mathemusician,” and her videos are quirky, fast-paced explorations of the intersections between math and art.   Check out the hexaflexagrams!

Crash Course is the collaboration of two brothers who are also teachers.  (One of the brothers happens to be John Green, author of several wildly popular young adult books including The Fault in our Stars.) Videos on this site are a bit longer than others, but the brothers  talk fast.  (Occasionally they use edgy language.)   At this point, they’ve posted videos for entire semesters of material in US and World history, literature, chemistry, biology, ecology and psychology.

Science Music Videos are the creation of Mr. W, a science teacher in Berkeley, California, who makes up infectious folk, rock and even rap songs about complicated biological concepts like DNA, photosynthesis, mitosis and osmosis. 

Veritasium   is a grab bag filled with experiments, discussions, interviews, demos and random interesting facts.   The host, Derek Muller, has a special interest in correcting scientific misconceptions.

Minute physics prides itself on making very short videos that explain “cool physics and other sweet science” using “stick figures and bad puns.”  Not surprisingly, the narrator talks very fast so kids who are completely new to a topic may need to watch the videos more than once.   

Numberphile is produced by the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute with the goal of getting young people to “love numbers.”  The videos, created by a talented team of mathematicians, explain a wide variety of mathematical concepts in idiosyncratic ways.  To calculate the value of pi, they use pies! 

Spangler Effect is the product of a science teacher who turns “ordinary science experiments into unforgettable learning experiences.”   If your kids want to replicate some of the experiments, books and science kits are sold on a complementary website. 

Ted Ed is part of the growing empire of TED products.  Unlike the well-known talks, TedEd segments are shorter lessons from exceptional teachers.  Many have been developed in consultation with animators and screenwriters.  They vary widely in length and subject matter but all are intended to spread great ideas and spark curiosity. 

Videos on YouTube tend to be short and idiosyncratic.  Like a good appetizer, they can create hunger but they may not satisfy it.  If you are looking for videos that are a little more substantial and systematic,  turn to these websites.        

Khanacademy.org is a non-profit that posts free video lessons on a wide range of subjects from art history to economics.  Started by a young man who was trying to help his cousin do her math long distance, the site is especially good at helping young learners master mathematical concepts from counting to differential equations.  

Neok12.com has a well-organized list of videos on almost any topic a child might want to explore.  In addition to the video lessons, the site offers games and worksheets that may be helpful to students who are trying to master unfamiliar concepts for school. 

Watchknowlearn.org has indexed  50,000 educational videos on everything from physics to phys ed, foreign languages to social studies, ethics to ecology .  In addition to searching by subject matter, parents can zero in on videos suitable for specific ages by using the slider at the top of the page.  

Watching a video isn’t the same as mastering a subject.  Kids also need discussions and exercises as well as lots of opportunities to practice new skills.  Still, the right video at the right time can ignite a child’s curiosity and perhaps a lifelong interest.  Just as important, sharing one of these little videos can be a big opportunity for families to talk, learn and laugh together.    

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