Using viral videos to spark learning

Cell phone pops popcorn videoHave you seen the video where they popped popcorn with cellphones? Seems hard to believe? Well, you’re right. It was created by a marketing company and it’s known as a viral video. Viral videos spread across the web so quickly that they often wind up on regular television news programs. Even the MythBusters have taken on a few of these online gems.

I’ve had some success using viral videos in the classroom. This past year I used two videos; one with my ninth grade physical science students and another with my 12th grade physics students.

Mountain Dew Glow StickWith the ninth graders, I showed a video that demonstrated a glow stick being made out of Mountain Dew, baking soda and hydrogen peroxide. The students were thrilled to see the video and even more eager to give this claim a try. So we did! I provided the supplies and off they went. However, none of the students were able to light up their lab tables like the video suggested. With only a few minutes left in class, I told my students that their homework was to go online to find out what went wrong.

In my ten years of teaching, I’ve never had so many students come back the next day talking about yesterday’s lesson. Students rushed into class exclaiming, “I know how they did it” and “it’s fake, it’s fake!” Now that I had their attention, we explored how chemical reactions can give off light and made our own glows sticks that really worked.6 volt battery hack

In physics we investigated a video that claimed six volt lantern batteries contain 32 AA batteries. My students began to see if this was possible. I gave them the challenge of designing a circuit that used 32 AA (1.5 volt) batteries but still produced an output of six volts. With the help of an online circuit simulator, students were able to design the circuit. However, after measuring the volume of a lantern battery and a AA battery, students realized that the 32 AAs take up more space than one six volt lantern battery has to offer.

Viral video lessons do three important things:

  • use media that students find attention-grabbing and familiar
  • raise interest and give purpose to examinations and investigations
  • teach skepticism so students can spot rip-off artists and scammers

Viral videos are a perfect way to engage students. After all, the videos were designed to capture people’s attention. So the next time you see a video that makes you say, “no way” bring it into class.

One thought on “Using viral videos to spark learning

  1. Loved this article!! Students do love these types of videos and they spark so much interest. I showed the cell phone/popcorn video to my two sons about a month ago (8 and 12) and they really lit up! I also think that we speak their language when we go “visual” with the learning mode. Video clips are awesome at that. I use some as well in a Web 2.0 class on the high school level. While most are not “viral”, they are very powerful and get students into topics they’ve never really heard about. Nice post! Keep ’em coming.

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