Discovery Education

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5a23195uA recent Phi Delta Kappan article caught my eye about using TV in the classroom: Teaching with television: New evidence supports an old medium, by Deborah L. Linebarger.

In the article, Linebarger cites research affirming that TV can be used effectively in the classroom – especially where it supplements, rather than supplants, good instruction.

There are some obvious benefits in having videos that enhance a lesson.  I recently was watching Fabric of the Cosmos – a four-hour series on PBS featuring Brian Greene.  The third episode (Quantum Leap) showcases the weirdness of the quantum world.  In just 20 engaging minutes, Greene is able to beautifully illustrate concepts that I could never replicate in class (and it’s free online too).

But Linebarger also reveals a reluctancy that teachers might have in using TV:

Those who choose to air video content in the classroom risk being called lazy, if not accussed of educational malpractice.

This brings to mind the movie Bad Teacher, where Cameron Diaz exhausts her supply of “education-like” movies so she doesn’t have to prepare a lesson.  While this hyperbole is funny, it speaks to the fear that some educators might have in letting TV do the teaching for them.

So how can teachers use TV (perhaps the term video is more appropriate) effectively to supplement good instruction?  Here are some suggestions:

Watch Segments.  Many full-length videos are not appropriate for viewing in the standard 50 minute classroom.  However, with digital media on DVDs and online, it is easy to watch shorter segments – specifically tailored to your classroom content.  Paid services like Safari Montage and Discovery Education Streaming make this even easier, as their videos already are ‘chopped’ up for this purpose.

Use the Remote.  When watching longer videos, I think it is important to use the pause button often.  Not only does this insert physical breaks for the students, I can take the time to discuss the curricular importance of a scene and use informal assessment techniques to gauge student learning.

Don’t turn down the lights.  While it is tempting to turn down the lights while watching content, this is a sure-fire signal for many students to disengage from the lesson.  If possible, try to have some lighting on to remind students that watching the video is an active experience.

Stay current.  Amassing a collection of videos as permanent features in your curriculum might be enticing, but it can encourage you to stick with outdated and irrelevant content.  Take time to preview new content that might replace older content (however, there are times when I specifically use outdated content in science as a way to discuss how science changes).

Above all, make sure to evaluate the purpose of using any video in the classroom.  If the video truly enhances learning by supplementing good instruction, then it can be a wonderful educational resource. Linebarger sums it up nicely in her closing remarks:

Television can never replace teachers.  But Teachers can use television well, taking advantage of its strengths.

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I am fortunate enough to teach in a school that provides both Discovery Education Streaming and Safari Montage for streaming video. They both contain good content (from different media companies), but there are a few differences. Here is a rundown of those differences (presented in alphabetical order):

de-streamingDiscovery Education Streaming (formerly United Streaming)

  • Accessible anywhere via internet (on-site server available at extra cost)
  • Individual teacher signup required
  • Streaming video, audio, sound effect, articles, quizzes, events, lesson plans, images, clip art, etc
  • 4,000+ video titles
  • All content downloadable, some editable
  • Content can be made available with password protection (i.e. within Blackboard)
  • Some content grainy, lower quality video
  • Professional Development component through Discovery Education and the Discovery Educator Network (DEN) including webinars, online training, regional support, and much more
  • Content: Discovery & Discovery Education Titles (including Planet Earth), Suburst, AIMS Multimedia, Weston Woods, and many others

safari_splashSafari Montage

  • On-site server only = no outside access, but reliable intranet connection
  • No individual teacher signup necessary
  • Streaming video only
  • 1,000+ video titles
  • Broadcast quality video
  • Content: WGBH/PBS, Schlesinger Media, National Geographic, Sesame Street, BBC, A&E, Disney Education, etc.


The content from each provider is quite different, so educators of different levels and content areas might prefer one service over another (for instance, DE Streaming has some exceptional content for high school science, and Safari Montage carries Bill Nye the Science Guy, which might be better for elementary and middle school science).

The School Library Journal Recently compared the two services, giving DE Streaming an A- and Safari Montage an A+. Safari Montage earned the ‘plus’ distinction due to the higher quality of their videos.

While DE Streaming quality isn’t as good as Safari, DE Streaming offers more for students and teachers. DE Streaming provides a slew of professional development opportunities, more media options and their content is accessible anywhere and is downloadable. This allows DE Streaming content to be more flexible. Some titles are even editable, so educators and students can manipulate them in multimedia presentations.

More on DE Streaming and Safari Montage:

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Being from the central time zone, it was hard for me to sleep in too much here in D.C. this morning. Luckily, our hotel is just around the corner from a Starbucks, in the shadow of Discovery Communications Headquarters. I grabbed the house grande, and snapped a picture from the street.

We first met in the hotel lobby, and walked to the building. We were welcomed into Discovery Education Headquarters by Stan, the T-rex and other fascinating eye candy (like a giant Rube Goldberg-type machine called Eureka, the wooly mammoth, triceratops, and bikes from team Discovery).

The day officially started with an address by Coni Rechner, followed by another from Ron Reed. Both emphasized that the focus of Discovery is (and always has been) education. This was a great start for a DEN event, as education is also at the heart of the DEN.

Discovery Education Headquarters is an impressive building, but one of my favorite parts about it is the Discovery blue hue lighting.  Our main room (and others in the complex) can be bathed in a blue hue, lit from above. Here is one of 27 celing holes – the source of the blue light.

We finally got a chance to meet everyone else with an innovative and interactive icebreaker. We broke up into four groups, and had our pictures taken and uploaded into Microsoft Photostory. We then interviewed a partner, revealing our name, where we are from and an interesting fact. Then, our audio was easily recorded into Photostory, and four seperate stories were created to play for the entire group. The whole process took a half-hour and could easily be used in the classroom and other places where intros are needed.

The afternoon was all about podcasting, as led by Steve Dembo. This is a great start for the conference, as podcasting is actually quite an easy tool to use.  In fact, DEN member Dale Basler and I have begun  to podcast for WSST (the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers). This weekly podcast is mainly directed at Science News, and can be found at the website or on iTunes. Dale and I plan to do a podcast from Discovery Headquarters while I am here, so keep an eye out for it!

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I recently found this website from TIME magazine entitled “80 Days that Changed the World.” This is really the web version of the book, with the same title. [Link]. It seems to me that this would be a fabulous resource to complement United Streaming. For instance, students can surf through the 80 days to identify a specific event, then use United Streaming media to develop a project around this event.

For fun, I identified a handful of science-specific events, then search United Streaming for related content. Here are the results:

What are some other sites that people have found that might complement United Streaming in a similar fashion?

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