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10 Best Documentaries for Teaching Science
posted by: Melissa | March 16, 2017, 01:32 PM   

We’re starting a series this week on documentary films. While teachers are encouraged to make lessons engaging and active to help with retention, the fact remains that there are just some topics that a single teacher can’t adequately explain. Sometimes, students need to see something to understand it and documentaries give students that opportunity when it might otherwise be impossible. Also, don’t underestimate the power of a team of professional writers when it comes to breaking down complex topics into something both understandable and fascinating.


Not all documentaries are created equal though. Check out this article on the science behind what makes a documentary appropriate for student learning.


Eventually, we plan to highlight all of the core subject areas, but this week we’re starting with science. See our recommendations below:


  1. Bill Nye the Science Guy – Yes, it’s a standby, but it’s that way for a reason. Bill Nye’s series is both topical and engaging. Even though it’s older, episodes can still be found, however some of the material may be outdated.
  2. Wings of Life – This nature film, made by Disney, manages to be both aimed at school-aged children and full of fascinating cinematography. It will capture students’ imagination and teach about pollination at the same time. At 81 minutes, teachers will have to pick out clips to show students.
  3. Brain Games – This is a documentary series, that delves into why humans perceive and react to the world the way they do. It’s full of interactive challenges that keep students engaged, while helping students understand the intricacies of how their body works. Each episode is short enough to be shown and discussed in a single class period.
  4. Crash Course – These PBS-created, short documentaries are hosted on YouTube, making them easily available, and their quick-cut style of editing and 15 minute runtime make them perfect for the classroom. Find films on everything from artificial intelligence to the basics of the immune system.
  5. Untamed Science – Another professionally-created documentary series that’s hosted on YouTube with students in mind. The videos are edited to be engaging and are sure to interest students in a wide variety of topics. They tend to focus on biology.
  6. The Inner Life of a Cell – These CGI films are tremendously short, but will bring cell functions alive for students in a way that just reading about them in a text book never will.
  7. BBC Nature – BBC creates wonderful nature documentaries that are full of stunning visuals, but are too long for classroom use. Check out their Nature page for short clips that are designed to be shown to students, helpfully organized by topic!
  8. How the Earth Was Made – The History Channel delves into geologic history with this TV series. Each episode focuses on a particular place on earth and examines the different forces that shaped it into what it has become today.
  9. Seeing the Invisible – The New York Times’ mini-documentary explores the discovery of microbes in visually stunning stop-motion animation.
  10. Chasing Ice – National Geographic’s award-winning film on global warming is best suited for older students for whom the issues being discussed will resonate. This film will help students connect with what seems like a distant problem. Although it’s long at 75 minutes, it’s engaging and topical enough to overcome the length.

What documentaries are a must in your science classroom?

Share below!

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