A Huge, Quirky Archive of Instructional Videos

Crash Course provides fun, quirky videos on chemistry, history, psychology, etc. The videos are an entertaining introduction into a full college semester on different topics. The series on chemistry, biology and psychology, for example, each have 40 or more videos. They are professionally produced and move quickly through topics in a dynamic way. The videos include a combination of the history of science (Einstein proved that atoms exist by modeling the mathematics that explained Brownian motion, for example) and explanations of the basic science (atoms are defined by the number of protons), illustrated through goofy animations.

As a teacher new to teaching science, putting the science in a historical context has helped me start to understand how understandings of the physical world build upon each other. Anecdotes about the lives of scientists also kept me listening during some technical explanations of the science, when i might have started to space out.

I especially like The Nucleus, the first video in a series of videos on chemistry. The video explains chemistry’s connection to other science and defines some basic concepts that are useful in chemistry (atomic number, atomic mass and isotopes).

There was one piece of the video that is bugging me. The video explained, in a super speedy way, something that has confused me in the past: Why the atomic mass of many elements is a weird number with a decimal fractions. How is that possible if each atom has a specific number of protons, which defines the element? Shouldn’t the mass be a whole number? For example, silver (AG) has an atomic mass of 107.8682. Atomic mass, as the video explains, is the sum of the number of protons and the number of neutrons. So, is there one proton that is .8682 in size? That doesn’t make sense. The explanation for this goes by quickly, so you might have to rewind a few times. I think I do understand it now, but this is an example of when I would have like the presenters to slow down a bit. The math here is glossed over a little more than I would like.1

Overall, this is a great resource for teachers, like me, who are suddenly in the position of teaching science and needs some background information (and interesting anecdotes) to bring to the classroom.

1Here are a couple detailed explanations of average atomic mass:
How can an atomic mass be a decimal number?
Why are there decimals on the periodic table? (video)

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About Eric Appleton

Eric lives in Sunset Park, Brooklyn with his wife Nancy and a poodle mix named Nina. He rides a bike to clear his head, but also enjoys long subway rides scribbling numbers in a notebook. Eric has worked in adult ed since '99. He is a founding member of the NYC Community of Adult Math Instructors (CAMI).

3 thoughts on “A Huge, Quirky Archive of Instructional Videos

  1. I have used Crash Course videos with my class on multiple occasions. They appreciate the humor and entertainment value of the videos, while also learning invaluable content. The Crash Course science and social studies videos are also hosted on khanacademy.org. This is helpful if your You Tube is blocked in your classroom/organization as the videos hosted on Khan Academy will still play through their website.

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  2. I stumbled upon Crash Course Videos a while back and was immediately taken in by them. They’re tons of fun to watch and you’re sure to walk away with something from the glut of information packed into each one. I couldn’t wait to share them with my students, but that didn’t go so well. While they thought the delivery was fun and the subject interesting, they didn’t really get anything of substance from watching it. For them, it was too much information, too fast; so, I decided to use them only for myself to build background knowledge.

    As I read this review, though, and saw that they seemed to work in Randy’s class, I wondered why it didn’t go so well with my students. Could be because I have all levels in my class, not just students who are nearing TASC readiness. Could also be because I hadn’t helped the students to build enough background knowledge prior to watching the video. I’m thinking that I might try one again only, this time, make sure my students have sufficient prior understanding to make it valuable for them.

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  3. Patricia,

    It’s really helpful to hear from you and Randy about how the videos were received in your classrooms, and more importantly, what your students learned.

    I had a similar reaction to your students. Wow, Hank Green can talk fast. I have mostly thought of these videos as useful for teachers’ background knowledge. If you have done some reading on natural selection, for example, their video is a nice review which uses the classic example of peppered moths during the industrial revolution.

    For students, I might use this video, but only after students had explored adaption & natural selection, and were familiar with the examples and vocabulary that Crash Course uses (though are we really going to teach consanguineous?). So, the video would be a way of reviewing. Maybe as homework after a few class periods spent on natural selection? I think it might be helpful for students to be able to watch on their own and replay sections that go by quickly.


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