Today, the students at Arrowhead Middle School learned about the phases of the Moon. This lesson was bravely led by our new student teacher, who had designed three stations with Moon-related activities for the students. At the first station, the students watched a short video describing how the Moon’s revolution around the Earth causes the phases of the Moon. At the second station, the students drew the phases of the Moon on flip cards, which they then stapled together to produce a short animation of the Moon’s phase cycle. And at the third (and by far most popular) station, the students formed groups of two to carve each phase of the Moon onto Oreo cookies, before devouring them.
Throughout the day, I worked with the students at the video station. Here, the students attempted to answer a short worksheet of questions, such as describing waxing versus waning and crescent verses gibbous, while watching an online video describing the Moon’s phases. The most surprising observation I had was that regardless of how familar the students were with the material in the video (or how much they seemed to be paying attention), nearly all of the students watched the video completely passively, without allowing the new information to sink in. And while the students who had already finished the other two stations were much more likely to answer the questions correctly when I asked them directly, almost all of the students finished the video without having answered any of the questions on the worksheet.
Usually, the students began to answer the questions on the worksheet only after I re-asked them the questions directly, or after I asked the students to discuss the questions as a group. And when none of the students were able to come up with the correct answer, I was sometimes forced to replay segments of the video 2 or 3 times before the information would finally sink in.
Maybe it’s the lifetime of watching TV and YouTube that has taught us to watch videos without actively thinking about what we’re seeing, but after this activity, I would be very hesitant to rely only on videos to teach new material to students. Overall, it was the interactive activities (including even the Oreo activity, which I initially thought seemed a little silly for 8th graders) that proved to be much more effective than the video at helping the students understand and retain information about the Moon’s phases.