Future teachers: actors and film makers?

I wrote this post when I was studying to become a teacher.

Why? It’s recess, the classroom lights are off, the teacher sits at the back at her desk, and a crowd of students moves in tandem, transfixed before the board– Why?— They should be running about outside, having fun, but they’re here, in class– Why?— The teacher seems to approve the hypnotic rhythm blasting from the speakers– Why?

Educational media gets class attention
Educational media gets class attention

I will never forget the day I discovered the power of educational media. It was during my first practice teaching placement in a grade eight classroom. At recess, I found my students’ eyes glued to the SMARTBoard screen playing a cell rap. I saw them beg the teacher to play it again. They sang the song constantly, and they learned the concepts easily.

Then, I downloaded the song from Youtube and I began to jog to it. Ask me anything about cell organelles, and I can tell you.

I testify:  educational media works

See for yourself. Watch the cell rap here. It has 782, 511 views.

Why does educational media work?

Evolving brains

ibrain technological alteration of student's mindsAccording to Gary Small, Md and Gigi Vorgan, authors of iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind, our students’ brains are wired different: They’re wired to respond to media. Flexible and ever-evolving, our brains change depending on what we do; in our students’ case, constant interaction with websites, social media, cell phones, televisions, videos, and other gadgets creates new networks, new connections, new strengths in the human brain.

The strength of the techno-savy student’s brain is the ability to learn from and preference for messages communicated through changing images on  screens. Reading words from the textbook to learn is the preferred method of  the older generation: Since 1982, literary reading has declined by 28 %t in 18-34 year olds. (Small & Vorgan, p. 3) What has replaced blissful bouts of reading are endless hours of watching media: A study of more than 2,000 kids by Standford University found that “total daily media exposure [has] increased over the previous five years from seven hours twenty-nine  minutes to eight hours thirty-three minutes.”(ibid, p. 29)

Our average adolescent student, then,  is spending more than eight hours daily exposing their brains to digital technology; this will surely change the way teach and think about educational media. Of one thing we can be sure: When we turn on an TV screen, students find it familiar.

Emotional Responses

Educational media also succeeds because it links concepts to emotions like fear, happiness, and disgust. If something triggers our emotions, we remember it.  For example: I showed a health  class videos of a surgeon probing the blackened lungs of a life-long smoker. Using the Youtube clip, I was 100% more effective than talking about lung cancer– I could tell by the students’ looks of disgust and horror.

Creative license= memorable analogies, stories

The creativity of media produces wild analogies that are more easily remembered. It’s the principle of mnemonics– as explained on Wikipedia, “the human mind more easily remembers spatial, personal, surprising, physical, sexual, humorous, or otherwise ‘relatable’ information, rather than more abstract or impersonal forms of information.” I can explain something like ” the function of blood cells”, or I can tell you a funny story about a bunch of burnt-out gossipy blood cells moaning (and bragging) about their functions. Which one will you remember?

Humanizes concepts

Like the above. Taking abstract ideas and making them human. For example, in the video below, red blood cells become people: They gossip about other cells and have names like “Frank” and “Earl.” Humans are social animals; we want to learn about human-like things.


Repeating something over and over again burns it into our mind, and the makers of educational media know this. Take the cell rap: The refrain,with key information, repeats over ten times. “Cells, cells they’re made of organelles“–yeah, I wish I could forget it.

If they rhythm and rhyme are pleasing enough, the students replay the song over and over; this is another way educational media is repetitive. Like the lyrics of our favourite songs, we find ourselves humming the concepts.


Most educational clips are between 3-5 minutes, if they’re good. Any longer than that, and your students’ interest may wane. Small & Vorgan found several studies showing that high consumption of media makes students highly distracted in lectures. The study by Drs. Philip Chan and Terry Rabinowitz of Brown University, for example, found that “adolescents who play more than one hour a day had greater symptoms of ADHD or inattention than those who did not.” (Small & Vorgan, p. 66) Short clips could be better than long lectures.

Limitations of educational media

According to iBrain, teens immersed in media suffer consequences physiological, psychological, and social. Would it be damaging to bring media into the classroom? Should we limit our students exposure to media to protect them? Until I do more reading, I can’t be sure.

What educational media means for teachers

For teachers, it seems,  the future is digital. If education media works, and if it becomes popular, teachers who know both curriculum and media technology (e.g. animation, filming, etc) will fill a gaping niche. Creativity will also be needed by teachers, if they are to become the actors in and creators of their own educational media. Science teacher Mr. Glen Wolkenfeld may be the prototype of the techno-artist-teacher of tomorrow:

If educational media is the way of the future, school librarians, too, will evolve and become cataloguers of media forms. Their job will be less to find the right book; more they will need to keep abreast with the best media and direct teachers to the perfect clip for every lesson.

And educational media providers, like TVOntario, will capitalize.

Is educational media the way of the future in education? If it is, should we embrace  or fight it?