Teach Sauce

Interactive Worksheets on Google Slides

This is based on an idea that Jacques Venter (@MrJVenter) shared with me during a CPD session at work.

My blank “Planning an Investigation” Google Slides sheet is free to use. Click here to get it. You’ll be prompted to make your own copy which will be stored in your own Google Drive.

Planning an Investigation

The Concept

Imagine you’ve got students working in groups on a project, and the group has to complete a worksheet. 

Now imagine it’s a digital worksheet, and the students are filling it out on their devices.

Now imagine that each member of the group is working on the same single synchonised worksheet, so each member of the group can see the other group members’ work appearing in real time. 

Now imagine you, the teacher, can view every piece of work that the students of each group are working on in real time so you can monitor their progress and give immediate feedback, and even display sheets on the board to highlight good examples of work.

This is how interactive worksheets with Google Slides work.

Brief Instructions

(Watch the video to see it done)

You create the worksheet on Google Slides using textboxes with questions and space to type answers. Next, paste all of that into the Master view (making the layout un-editable to students). Next, in the normal view, add some placeholder textboxes in the only places you want students to be able to enter text. Type in something like “<Type here>” to make it obvious. 

Google Slides interactive worksheet

Finally, share the link with your group (via Google Classroom maybe) and let them get started.

Monitoring and Feedback

One big advantage is the way you can monitor and give feedback. You can view what each student/group is typing and giving fast feedback either by approaching the students, or by putting their slide on the big screen if it’s relevent to the whole class (obviously, highlighting positive aspects is best when singling out students’ work). 


Funnel Diagrams


Funnel diagrams are basically just worksheets, but with a specific structure. While traditional worksheets are “top down”, and tend to lock students into focusing on them start to finish, funnel diagrams put the work into chunks, so the teacher can do a learning activity, then draw the students’ attention to a small section of the worksheet, then move on to the next learning activity (away from the worksheet), then back to the worksheet etc. This helps with the pace of the lesson.

Why “funnel”?

Burning-Fuels-FunnelFunnel diagrams have a central question which is intended to be completed after all other tasks on the sheet. This question acts as a consolidation/recap task where students are expected to funnel information from the surrounding sections into the central question. This central task can make a good assessment opportunity. I like to have my students peer assess this task using ACE assessment (external link).

You can download my template or some of my ready made funnel diagrams on my KS3 Resources page.

Here is the direct link to the MS Word template, and here is the direct link to the PDF template.

Twitter: @science_sauce


Broken Assessment: Teaching to Unfair Tests


“This mark scheme encourages learning the syllabus off-by-heart and nothing more.”

Dr. Helen Pennington

“If a board certified Stanford trained Ob/Gyn physician could only get 1 point on this question, I don’t expect that high school students could do any better.”

Dr. Ruth Ann Crystal

Summary: Until recently I’ve come to accept that training students to interpret subtle nuances in assessment questions is acceptable and necessary practice. But the truth is I’m here to teach Science, not “exam skills”. I asked a few experts to answer some IGCSE Biology questions, on the assumption that they should, if the assessment is fair and appropriate, be able to get full marks, given their superior level of knowledge and skills. They didn’t. 

Here I highlight some of the problems in the way we assess students in high school. Is high school assessment broken? Watch the video/read the blog and decide for yourself. Reach out to me on Twitter (@science_sauce) and share your opinions. #BrokenAssessment

Is high school assessment broken?

For test review in class I typically give student’s their marked papers back, display the mark scheme on the big screen, and go over each question one at a time. I’m sure this is standard practice for this types of assessment.

I should point out that I’m referring here to externally created examination papers. Any unit/chapter/topic tests I do in class are taken from past papers, and aren’t written by me.

It’s a common theme that, when looking at the mark scheme, students say something like, “I know all the things in that mark scheme, I just didn’t know the question was asking me to say those things.” It’s a classic problem; interpreting questions and deciding what they require is a challenge for students. But why should it be? Why have we come to accept that as the norm? Why is it acceptable to us that we have to spend so much of our courses dedicated to preparing students for how to interpret a test, and not on teaching them skills and knowledge related to our subject?

A month or two ago I was marking a paper and noticed a few things in the mark scheme that I didn’t think were fair: an instance where the the mark scheme required some statements that I didn’t feel the question clearly asked for, an instance where something I’m confident is correct wasn’t accepted etc. And since this isn’t the first time I’ve been in this situation, I decided to take it a little further…

My course should provide students (16 year old students, in the case of these exams) with a certain level of knowledge and skill in Biology, and the exams should assess that knowledge. An expert in the field, e.g. a professional in that subject area or someone holding a Ph.D, should logically have knowledge and skills way beyond what is expected of my 16 year old students and so should surely get full marks.

If a person can’t get full marks there are, in my opinion, two possibilities:

  1. The person doesn’t have enough knowledge/skills in the subject area.
  2. The question isn’t effectively assessing the knowledge and skills the person has.

By involving experts in the field, I can safely rule out possibility number one.

So, I put it to the test and found some experts to answer a few questions. I put a few shoutouts on Twitter and some people got back to me.

Plant Biologists: Dr. Steve Cook and Dr. Helen Pennington

Photosynthesis 2 of2
(From a previous question, P is identified as carbon dioxide, and Q is identified as plants.)

Dr. Cook and Dr. Pennington each have a Ph.D in a different area of Plant Biology and both have a very strong knowledge of photosynthesis. I presented them with a five mark question that requires students to describe the process of photosynthesis and each of them (both experts, remember) got four marks out of five.

photosynth answers
The mark scheme for the question in photosynthesis. Each marking point (1-7) is worth one mark, with a maximum of 5 marks for this question.

They each stated the same four marking points (3, 4, 5 and 6) but missed off marking points 1, 2 and 7. The question asks how plants convert carbon dioxide to carbon compounds in plants, but it doesn’t ask how the carbon dioxide enters the leaves and cells, yet marking points 1 and 2 involve that. Marking point 7 requires students to state the balanced chemical equation. This is not explicitly required in the question.

“If I were writing a short-answer question like this, I would be clearer that this is what I expected.”

Dr. Cook is a Principal Teaching Fellow (and also the holder of a PGCE) at London Imperial. He says, “If I were writing a short-answer question like this, I would be clearer that this is what I expected.”

I shared my opinion with Dr. Cook that marking point 7 (the balanced equation) isn’t required by the question and he states, “Completely agree that the equation bit is nonsense: if that is what they wanted (e.g. because an ILO is “be able to write a balanced equation”), then they should have asked for that explicitly in the question text.”

I asked Dr. Pennington her thoughts on the mark scheme: “A student would be able to get high or full marks by mentioning the correct buzzwords without any real context.” Says Dr. Pennington. She goes on to state, “This mark scheme encourages learning the syllabus off-by-heart and nothing more.”

Nutritionist: Megan Pfeffer

Oct Nov 2013 Q

I spoke to Megan Pfeffer, a degree-qualified clinical nutritionist and founder of I Choose Health, a classic IGCSE question: “Explain the term balanced diet.” For this three mark question Megan scored zero, as she mentioned none of the points in the mark scheme. She stated in her answer that a balanced diet “is one that takes into consideration health status, age, race, culture… [and other factors]”, but she didn’t define “diet”.

oct nove 2013 MS

When I discussed her answer and the mark scheme she said, “The word ‘diet’ implies molecules for metabolism… ‘Balanced’ is the word seeking definition in the question, not, “what does ‘diet’ mean” .”

I recognise that this is merely an interpretation of the question, but that fully demonstrates my point. Her interpretation was valid and her answer based on that interpretation was also valid. If a qualified nutritionist interpreted the question like that, is it fair to penalise students who do the same?

Perhaps the question should read, “Define the term diet and explain what it means for a diet to be balanced.” This would perhaps take some of the mystery out of the process.

OB/GYN Physicians: Dr. Leslea Walters and Dr. Ruth Ann Crystal

Lastly, I took a simple question on pregnancy, and asked a few medical practitioners to respond with what they thought were appropriate answers. The question reads, “Explain why it is especially important for pregnant women to include milk and dairy products in their diet.”

pregnancy q

Dr. Leslea Walters scored two out of two by mentioning calcium being needed for bones.

Screen Shot 2019-02-10 at 19.35.27

Dr. Walters highlighted a major weakness in the question: that dairy products do no have to be consumed to provide calcium. She comments, “That is a question made based on an answer. But the answer to the question itself is much more broad.” She goes on to say, “A student whose knowledge is limited to what was taught may find the answer to be obvious, but a student with broader knowledge could be misled and lose points for knowing more!”

Dr. Ruth Ann Crystal scored only one point out of two with the answer, “…for the calcium (and protein) in the diet because the fetus will take the woman’s calcium.” To break her statement down, I feel she’s stated the need for dairy (it contains calcium), and explained it (the fetus will take it from the mother). These are two appropriate marking points, in my opinion, making a suitable two mark answer to the question. However, the absence of any mention of “bones” or “skeleton” means she can’t gain the second mark.

“It’s not a good question. It is a “read my mind” question.”

Dr. Crystal states, “I would say it is not a very well worded question. If they want you to talk about the bones, they should ask what it could affect in the mother which would be loss of calcium in the bones (and possibly the teeth)… “It’s not a good question. It is a “read my mind” question.”

As if reading my mind, Dr. Crystal stated, “If a board certified Stanford trained Ob/Gyn physician could only get 1 point on this question, I don’t expect that high school students could do any better.”

Nail on the head, Doctor, nail on the head.

What are your experiences?

Share your thoughts. Are you getting frustrated with the same problems in assessment? How is it affecting your students? Reach out to me and Twitter (@science_sauce) and share your opinions. #BrokenAssessment

7 Ideas for the new school term

Term 1 is the longest one for most of us, and by the end of it I’m in no mood to be trying new ideas. The winter holiday is a good chance to recharge and get some of that drive back. With that in mind, here are some of the things I want to try out as the new term gets under way in January:

(The times show where the ideas are discussed in the vlog)

01:37 Idea 1 – Scripting explanations
03:13 Idea 2 – The silent method
06:50 Idea 3 – Single image explanations
10:42 Idea 4 – Sketchnotes
12:53 Idea 5 – Revision skills lessons
14:20 Idea 6 – Student led lessons
17:05 Idea 7 – Ask for ideas on Twitter

Good luck for the new term!

CPD : Flipped Learning (EdVlog 004)

  • The presentation I used: here (as a PDF)
  • The webpage I directed teachers to as part of the introduction: here
  • Direct link to the flipped learning video: here

This week my school had a twilight CPD afternoon with all sessions run by teachers. There was a timetable with four 20 minute time-slots, and a range of CPD sessions to choose from; teachers chose any four sessions that looked appealing and signed up (we have a huge school with hundreds of teachers so there was plenty to choose from).

I ran two repeat sessions on flipped learning. I get the feeling most of the staff here have heard of or tried flipped learning and know the basics, and I know that some of them use it regularly, so my session wasn’t so much an introduction to FL as much as an introduction to my take on it, how I approach it, and why.

I didn’t want to lecture to everyone for 20 minutes straight so I started the session like a flipped learning lesson: I gave out a QR code which linked to a webpage on my site, and on the site was a video about flipped learning and a Google Forms quiz with questions relating to the video. The staff in the session scanned the code and watched on their smartphone, then answered the questions.

It nicely demonstrated how you can get a lot of information across quickly (the video was around 3m30s long), so students are ready to engage in the content with higher order thinking when the lesson starts.

From there I gave some ideas for resources as well as my perspectives on flipped learning.

If you want to use it yourself go ahead, and note that I’ve converted the Google Forms quiz to a PDF version (because otherwise any responses anyone makes will come in to my gmail account).

If you want to do a full one hour CPD session on flipped learning you can also use my free full session here.

Genetic Drift Activity for A Level Bio

Last week I did an activity with an A Level Biology group that demonstrated the concept of genetic drift. Genetic drift is the idea that in small populations, allele frequencies can change as a result of random selection, rather than only natural selection.

The activity uses two different colours of Skittles to represent different alleles. The population starts with a frequency of 0.5 for each allele (1:1 ratio), and as you run the model, selecting individuals at random to pass on their alleles, you find the frequency changes over a few generations.

There’s a worksheet I made with instructions for students and a couple of questions at the end. Download it here.

Feedback sheet that saves me HOURS!

If you’re a teacher that’s been anywhere near Twitter in the past year you’ve probably stumbled across #FeedbackNOTmarking, which has been a major focus from @MrsHumanities. The emphasis is, as it says, on giving meaningful feedback to students rather than marking for a grade/score. It’s no secret that summative assessment generally offers little to students in terms of opportunities to improve, but feedback goes a long way to promote progress and learning.

I review students books and set based on their work, and the comments range in focus from things like adding labels to diagrams, to reviews of full learning objectives. Obviously, reviewing a class full of books and setting meaningful targets is a huge time commitment, and the vast majority of teachers know that from agonising first-hand experience.

My solution, based on an idea from a colleague of mine, is my target setting symbols sheet. I basically write symbols at the relevant places in the students’ books, and give them a handout that shows what the symbols mean. When the books are returned they go through and highlight all of the places that I’ve used a symbol, then in the next available space in their book, they write the targets that correspond to the symbols. This has two huge benefits:

  1. Students have to engage in their targets. If targets are already written by me, they’re easier to ignore. However, if the students write the target, it’s a far less passive process.
  2. It saves me HOURS!!!!! I can review a book in about a minute. Yes, a minute.

My sheet (useful for Science) is here, and I’ve made a blank template document that you can use if you want to use your own symbols and set your own targets (I recommend typing the targerts, printing the sheet, drawing your symbols, then photocopying that version).

Giving “wow” factor in class

So a little while back I was teaching a lesson on enzymes. For a Biology teacher this is pretty standard stuff and it comes up on the specification in a few different places in different key stages. At A Level we teach about 5 to 10 enzymes by name – they usually come up when talking about digestion and things like DNA replication.

Out of curiosity I asked the kids how many enzymes they think are used in an animal’s body. Some of them suggested numbers around 10 or 20.

The actual number is probably more like 75,000.

I like giving visual context so for fun I decided to research it a bit and stumbled across a list of all the enzymes used by a single eukaryotic cell. It totalled about 1,000 enzymes. I printed off the list on A4 paper (around 20 sheets!) and stuck them together end-to-end. When I stood on the desk and let the rolled up list drop I got audible gasps from the group (I know, right… enzymes?!)

It’s not easy to find ways to provide this kind of context consistently but given the reaction I got I’m going to try and incorporate it more into my lessons in future.

My list (as a PDF) can be downloaded here.

The site I got it from is here.

7 ways to make your education videos look more professional

Hundreds of thousands of educators are out there every day making learning and revision videos for students, and all are making those videos using different styles and to varying levels of professionalism. By professionalism, I’m talking about that perceived production value (I say “perceived” because higher production value doesn’t necessarily cost any money).

A lot of educators watch someone else’s video and want to know how to give their videos that extra polished touch, how they can make them look more attractive and interesting for their students, and possibly others around the world.

Before you delve into these steps, just ask yourself, “What is my goal for my videos?”

If your goal is to share your videos online and grow a global audience over time, then you should definitely implement the seven steps recommended here. If you’re making videos that you hope will be re-usable for years to come every time you repeat your courses with new classes, then it’s also probably worth making them as polished as possible. If you intend to make hundreds of videos over the next year or so, then setting out on the right footing, using these recommendations, is definitely the right thing to do. Of course, if you’re making videos that will probably just be a one-off piece for a class, then perhaps focusing on the quality of the instruction (rather than the perceived production value) should be your priority.

If you are committed that you want to give your videos that extra polish, then here are some great steps to achieving that.

1. Get an external microphone

This is consistently overlooked and there is a reason I’m putting this at number one. This truly is the most important step you can take in improving your videos. The paradox is that most people don’t notice good audio quality, but they do notice bad audio. And there is no getting around it: the little microphone on your laptop is low quality.

The rule in video is simple: if no-one notices the audio, then the audio must be really good. A good microphone reproduces the sound of your voice more accurately, meaning the viewer can focus on the words being said, rather than getting distracted with how (bad) it sounds.

Before I make recommendations about which microphones, a word of warning. Be wary about what you search for online. If you type something like, “which microphone is best for me”, you’ll need a serious budget for the recommendations you’ll get. Honestly, professional audio is a VERY expensive world where most people who make recommendations consider anything less than professional studio quality to be virtually unusable. Professional microphones sell for thousands of pounds (and into tens of thousands), so when people refer to a microphone as “affordable”, they’re probably using the term differently to the way you and I might.


A lavalier (or “lapel”) microphone

The main benefit of an external microphone is that you can get close to it. The closer you are to it, the louder your voice will be relative to any background noise (including that nasty echo/reverb sound of the room). If you’re trying to do this on a near-zero budget, then consider getting a headset with a microphone attached (airline pilot style). Alternatively, you could get something called a lavalier microphone, which is the type that newscasters use clipped onto their lapel. You could choose either one of these options for about 20 pounds, 30USD, on Amazon. Of the two, a lavalier microphone will probably provide the best results in terms of audio quality – some of the headsets tend to have a bit of a telephone sound to them, though it really does depend on the brand. Also keep in mind that if you are filming yourself in your videos, the lavalier mic is tiny and goes virtually unnoticed, while the headset really stands out.

A dynamic microphone

If you’re willing to spend a little bit more money, you’ll get a big jump in quality if you’re willing to spend around 60 to 100 pounds. For this price you can buy a basic dynamic microphone that plugs directly into your laptop via USB (note: only specific models of mic have a USB connection – check the specs while shopping). If you go down this line, you will definitely be impressed with the improvement in sound. The most common dynamic microphones you get are the basic handheld ones you see pop stars holding on stage. Dynamic microphones are good at focusing on the thing right in front of them (i.e. your voice) and eliminating the other sounds around the room (i.e. echoes, fans, people outside the room…).

A condenser microphone

There are also condenser microphones which are the slightly bigger ones, usually silver coloured, that you see if you’ve ever seen someone singing in a recording studio. Condenser microphones usually require more accessories (which adds to the price), and they pick up more background noise. If you research it some people might describe condenser microphones as being better quality, but just be aware that it depends on their purpose. Big condenser microphones do tend to capture sounds more accurately, but they will capture everything, including more of the background noise in the room you’re in.

Personally, I’d recommend the dynamic microphone if you can afford it and the lavalier if you want to keep it cheap (and portable). Only go for a condenser mic if you’ve spoken to someone in-the-know about these things who has recommended it for you personally.

If you still want more info, try searching online for something like, “Best microphone for beginner podcasters.” The types of microphones made for that purpose are generally appropriate for narrating presentations, and they tend to be more budget-friendly.

2. Photograph and film everything

You may intend to create educational videos that involve filming someone or something, or you may intend to just make a PowerPoint/Keynote presentations and narrate those. Either way, having supplementary footage really adds to the character of your videos.

As a Biology and Environmental subjects teacher, I focus a lot on nature and wildlife footage. I don’t start out with a plan for which video I’ll use the footage for, but I will store it on my laptop and maybe bring it out months later when the right topic comes up. I was in London a while back and I took some random footage of the crowds walking across a bridge, and a few months later I was making a video that discussed overpopulation. That footage with a crowd on it was the perfect way to illustrate what I was saying.

Don’t get too fixated on what you film or photograph, just shoot anything that looks interesting. You’d be amazed how often seemingly random shots can turn out to be very relevant in future. And don’t get fixated on expensive cameras: modern smartphones do a really good job for this and the best thing is, you usually always have one with you.

3. Edit

There’s no real way around this: if you want your videos to look good you need to get some editing software so you can cut and stick the right pieces of video in the right place. Even if you use only a narrated PowerPoint presentation with no additional footage, this is still a really useful skill to employ. First off, you need to remove that 1 or 2 seconds at the start and end of the video – you know, that bit where you pressed record, then waited to check it was working, or cleared your throat before speaking. What’s more, there might be little bits throughout the presentation where you possibly fumbled over the words a little, or left a long pause before continuing. Being able to remove these little sections will improve the quality of your content.

Once you know how to edit video, it’s really easy to start adding in those extra bits of footage I mentioned. You might not think it’s worth it, or maybe think it’s just making things more complicated, but it really doesn’t take long to add things in with good software.

A useful thing to note here is that there are places you can get stock video footage that’s copyright free, and free financially too! Check out Pexels.com – you can sign up for free and browse through a big selection of videos. There is a big collection of photos too – all free.

In terms of software, there is a lot to choose from and a lot of different price tags. For Mac, iMovie does the basics and, though it is very basic, it’s free. Filmora is a Windows movie editor, and I haven’t used it so I can’t speak for it, but it seems to have the basic features and it costs $40 USD per year or $60 as a lifetime fee.

If you want more full featured software that it will certainly cost you. Adobe Premiere Pro is one the industry standards and definitely something I would recommend if you plan to start taking video editing seriously. As a teacher you can get an education license for $20 USD per month, and that includes a bundle of apps including Photoshop and others.

When you start working with editing tools, you’ll probably find yourself experimenting with background music, sound effects, and even processing your voice to make it louder and clearer, but that’s all part of another discussion for another day. However, if you invest in more advanced editors, you’ll probably find yourself learning to use these more advanced tools as you go along.

One final point on editing: it allows you to easily add a logo and maybe even theme music to the start of each of your videos. Which leads us to point number 4:

4. Get some branding and identity

There are a lot of aspects to building a brand but the most important points, in my opinion, are getting a name, and a logo. I played around with a lot of names before I settled on Science Sauce, and I’m really happy with it. It’s got alliteration, and I like the play on words: Sauce is spelled like ketchup sauce, and it’s a “source” for flipped learning materials. It’s simple and catchy. A lot of teachers use their name in the title of their blog or Youtube channel. For example, a name like “Mrs Smith’s History Blog” is quite common. There’s nothing wrong with this; it says what it is. However, it’s not memorable. You don’t need to set out to make a memorable site or channel if you don’t want to, but if you hope to share your content beyond just your own students, you might want to consider something more catchy.

As for the logo, this is tricky. If you know graphic design, do your own. If you don’t, I recommend finding someone who does. I tried a few ideas and being quite inexperienced, I made some awful designs before I came up with the red and green circle design that I use now. Fortunately, I know my way around Photoshop, and I know the basic principles of design, so, although it took a few attempts, I was able to make my own.

If you are set that you want to do your own logo, I’ll be doing another post on tips on making your own at a later date, so check back for that or follow me on Twitter (@science_sauce) if you want to keep updated with new posts.

5. Choose a colour palette

This is hugely overlooked and makes a big difference to the look of your videos as a whole. If you choose a set of colours and stick with them, it will give a certain amount consistency within each presentation, and helps keep your videos looking recognizable if the same person watches several of them.

To choose your colours, start with any colour you want, perhaps just go with your favourite colour. Then use its complimentary colour. If you don’t know what that is, you can use a colour wheel to show you. Complimentary colours are just colours that go really well together. For example, if you’re favourite colour is blue, then you should aim to use orange with it. Purple looks good with yellow, green works well with red etc. If you use this method, you’ve got two good colours to stick with for the majority of texts, maybe textbox fill colours, slide backgrounds etc.

Next, choose an equivalent for white and black. You can simply use plan white and plain black, but in my opinion it looks better to use something slightly original, because it makes your work look a bit more original. A very dark grey is better than jet black, and a very, very light cream colour is better than white. You might not plan to use these light and dark colours in your presentations but you definitely will use them; often you have an image and you need a light colour to contrast against it, and your two main primary colours don’t work, so you would need your light colour. Sometimes you might use you main colour for a heading, its complimentary colour for the subheading, and then want something simple for the main body text – that’s where your black-ish colour would come in handy.

6. Choose fonts

Fonts, used consistently, add more character and originality to your presentations and the right choice will make your videos look more professional.

You have two choices with fonts. Choice one is to stick with something very, very basic like Calibri or Arial, something already installed on your computer. The second choice is to find something original online. The alternative to these, which I don’t consider an option, is to use other interesting fonts already on your laptop. Fonts like Comic Sans or Papyrus, for example. These fonts are so over-used they’re cliché now, and using them is a sure-fire way to make your presentations look amateurish. Please steer clear of them.

If you’ve never downloaded and installed fonts yourself before, I recommend finding something via Google fonts (fonts.google.com). They have a relatively big range of fonts to choose from, and they’re open source, which means you don’t have to pay, and you can pretty much use them for whatever you want. They’re primarily designed for use on webpages using a little snippet of code, but if you look carefully you can see a little “download” button once you’ve selected a font, and it’ll install on your computer. From there you can choose them as a font in your presentation the way you would use any other font.

7. Practice

There is absolutely no substitute for practicing and gaining experience in making videos. The more you do it the more you’ll learn what works for you, because there is no “one-size-fits-all” for making good content.

Wrap Up

Remember that you don’t necessarily need to make your videos more professional – what you need to do is make them high quality, and that means high educational quality, rather than high perceived production value. As a professional educator, your videos are probably already of a very high educational quality. Nonetheless, if you do hope to give your videos that polished touch, these seven steps will certainly get you heading in the right direction, and help increase your global audience size if that’s a goal for your videos.



Six pieces of advice I wish I’d had before making my first learning video

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: making learning videos is really easy if you want it to be. Sure, you can make things as simple or as complex as you want, and I won’t belittle the work that some teachers go to in producing content; some have spent years perfecting their skills and spent hours or days producing a singly high quality video. But, of course, not every educational video has to be an award winning high budget piece. What’s more, many educational videos don’t involve a camera or any kind of filming; converting a PowerPoint presentation into a video is quick and easy.

Even if the videos you start to produce don’t have a sparkly “high quality” feel, that doesn’t mean the educational quality of them is anything less than very high. Remember that when making videos for education, you are already a professional: a professional educator. Having little or no experience in video-making is not something that should hold you back.

So, if it’s so easy, how do you get started? Here are the tips I wish I had when I started making videos for my students.

1. Choose a topic, and keep it short

You want to share the information as simply and concisely as possible. The first video I ever made (which I introduce with “This is a quick presentation to describe the process of…”) was anything but quick. It ran for about 15 minutes – WAY too long.

Aim to make your presentation 3 to 5 minutes. And don’t be tempted to repeat anything for clarity. It makes sense to use repetition for re-enforcement in the classroom, but with videos the students can pause and replay easily (that’s one of the main benefits), so let them choose.

When it comes to choosing a topic, I strongly recommend keeping it bite-sized. It might be tempting to try and cover a full chapter/unit of work in one video, on the pretense that keeping it all in one video condenses the whole thing. This isn’t as effective as it sounds. Students will generally benefit from watching a video on a single individual concept. When they are learning or revising, they’ll be put off if they have to skip forward to a certain point into a 20 minute video to find the exact bit of information they want.

For example, a science teacher doing a unit on “forces”, should avoid doing a video summarizing the forces chapter, but instead do several videos with titles like, “What is a Newton”, “What is the gravitational constant”, “Calculating force using Mass and Acceleration” etc. A prep school English teacher might want to summarise “Grade 5 grammar rules” in a single video, but it would probably be better to do a series of 2 minute videos on each individual grammar rule. This is far more accessible for viewers.

2. Create a high quality presentation

If you haven’t ever made a video before and don’t know where to start, narrating a presentation is a great starting point. Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple’s Keynote both allow you record and narrate a presentation, then export that as a video. I won’t go into exactly which buttons to push because it changes with each new version of the software but generally you need to click “Slideshow” somewhere at the top of the screen, then click “Record Slideshow”. You won’t struggle to find it, whichever version you’re using.

Make sure you consider how your presentation will come across as a video. We all know what death by PowerPoint feels like, we’ve all had to sit through presentations where someone puts a block of text on the screen and reads it to us, so much so that it’s a cliché now. The rules for presentations for video are slightly different, but not entirely different. Here are the main things to remember.

– Your voice is in the video so don’t worry about relying on text.

– A picture (or diagram) is worth a thousand words. Videos are visual, so take advantage of this.

– Use lots of slides, rather than a few slides with lots of content on each. This makes the content look for sleek and clean, and means the viewer is focused only on the information you want them to focus on. Having a single slide with only one word or phrase on is perfectly reasonable.

3. Choose your animations CAREFULLY

By animations I’m talking about the way you can make text and images magically fly in and bounce around the screen. This is part of creating a quality presentation, but it deserves a special mention of its own.

Usually I would say don’t use animations in normal (non video) presentations; they’re overdone and cheesy. But with videos they are very useful. I strongly recommend making things appear when you want to discuss them, and not before. This is another way to keep the viewer focused on what you want them to focus on.

A good example is a labeled diagram: show the diagram, unlabeled, and as you describe each feature, make the label for that feature appear. The reason this is more important with video content is because you can’t point at something on the screen like you might in class. There are tools for using the mouse as a pointer when recording a presentation but I find them clumsy and hard to use, so I rely on animations.

Now, when I say use them carefully, I mean stick to one type of animation. If you’re first piece of text bounces in from the left of the screen, don’t have the second piece of text fade in with sparkles. This not only looks awful, it becomes distracting and takes the attention off your content. I tend to stick with a simple “fade in” effect on all my presentations, and only use anything different when there is a distinct, relevant, dramatic effect I’m trying to achieve.

4. Borrow free photos, and give credit

Plain text is boring, and as I’ve already mentioned, a picture is worth a thousand words. Add relevant images into your presentation to support what you’re saying.

I’m very careful with copyright when it comes to using images. I used to spend AGES searching for images online with the appropriate license that allowed me to use them. It gets complicated because you have to understand the type of license, and what the creator of the image expects of you. For example, some say you can use their picture for anything without limits, others say you can use it but must give them credit, others say you can use it but not modify it. Some creators are very specific about HOW you credit them. The point I’m making is that finding and using images legally can be a huge time constraint.

I really wish someone had showed me Pixabay and Pexels when I started out. These websites share photos with a Creative Commons 0 license, which means you can download them and use them in your videos (even if you’re making money from the videos), and you don’t need to give credit for the photo, so there’s no concern that you might accidently use something incorrectly and get a take-down notice.

For the sake of professionalism, I recommend having a “credits” section as the final slide of your video, and perhaps stating something like “Stock photography from Pixabay”, just as an acknowledgment that you’re not claiming that it is your own photography.

Also remember, plagiarism is a huge problem in this day and age, and it’s good to set the right tone with the students you teach.

5. Script it, then narrate it

When I started, I figured, “Hey, I know what I’m talking about with this topic, I’ll save some time on scripting the presentation and I’ll just wing it.”

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.

Some people have a gift for winging it, and make it sound good. But honestly, I believe the vast majority of people need a script. I remember narrating a single slide, fumbling over the words, re-recording, fumbling again, practicing it, then trying again… and then on to slide 2. It became very time consuming.

Do yourself a favour, spend 5 to 10 minutes writing a little script or even just some bullet points (word for word isn’t really necessary), to save yourself 30 minutes of fumbling over your own words while narrating.

6. Share it

Get a Youtube channel if you don’t already have one, and make sure it’s future-proof. By that I mean, think about the direction you are taking the channel when you choose your name.

Maybe you are making grammar videos for your Grade 6 English class. You might call the channel “Mrs Smith’s G6 grammar”.

Well, first off, is it possible you will create content for grades 7 and 8 as well? Next, will it only ever focus on grammar? Or will you branch into other aspects of the course?

Don’t let me dissuade you from being specific; being vague in your channel name can make it unclear. For example, “Mrs Smith’s Grammar” is better than “Mrs Smith’s Channel”, assuming grammar is the only focus.

And, next are you sure that you will only make videos for your own students? What if your first video gets 50 thousand views and you hope to monetize it in future? In which case, do you want your name on it or do you want more of a catchy brand name like “Apostrophe Ess” (get it?!)? Either way is fine, but it’s a choice you need to make.

Wrap Up

Ultimately, the best thing you can do is just get started and feel your way, because nothing beats actual experience, but if you follow the advice here hopefully you’ll find the whole process runs far more smoothly. If you’re just getting started with the idea of making videos for your students, then best of luck with your first video.

If you use my advice for your videos, please share it in the comments section and add in any advice for others that you might have gained from making your first video.