Paul Andersen’s videos have no cute kittens or laughing babies. Nevertheless, they’re a huge hit on YouTube.
Andersen, 43, a Bozeman High School biology teacher and Montana’s 2011 teacher of the year, makes 10-minute videos for his science students, explaining things like photosynthesis, how cells work and evolution.
Then he posts his videos on his “Bozeman Biology” YouTube channel. There they’ve been seen by more than 5 million fans, from Montana to Germany, Kuwait and India.
“You have been promoted to God mode … for saving my biology grade,” one student commented below a video.
“I probably learned more from this 11 min. video than from 3 1-hour sessions with my science teacher,” one said.
“You rock!” another wrote.
For his success as an online teacher, Andersen was chosen as one of 10 winning educators from around the United States, Canada and England, who are being flown today to YouTube’s headquarters in California.
The 10 will get three days of training in online teaching and be finalists for the new “EDU Guru” prize created by YouTube and the nonprofit online education site Kahn Academy.
“I feel honored,” Andersen said Tuesday. “I’m very excited. I just love getting the opportunity to meet other people” who teach online.
Three years ago, Andersen started making short videos to help teach his Advanced Placement biology students. Since they were already made, he put the videos on YouTube. Now he gets about 40 comments a day from online students, who say what they do and don’t like. He doesn’t make a penny from the videos.
“It just makes me a better teacher,” he said.
After two years, his YouTube videos reached 1 million hits. Last spring they were up to 2 million. And now they’ve reached 5 million views.
“It’s a neat audience,” Andersen said. “They’re going to watch because they want to understand” topics like photosynthesis.
At first, Andersen used online videos to “flip” his classroom. The idea was that instead of listening to his lectures in class, students would watch them online at night on home computers. That would free up class time for discussions, questions and interaction.
But Andersen decided that’s not fair, because not all kids have the Internet at home or enough time. So he flipped his classroom again to try a “blended” approach. Students watch his videos in class on school-supplied iPads, as part of a pilot project to see how effective the devices can be at school. Kids enjoy the iPads, and he’s not lecturing every day.
“I can spend more time engaged with students … more time with things kids don’t understand,” he said.
In an online TEDx lecture last March, Andersen said his dream is to make his class as fun and engaging for teenagers as a video game. He created a game, in which students have to pass a challenge to get to the next higher level, win points and move up on a leaderboard.
“Schools need to move from a passive, teacher-centered learning environment,” he said, “to a student-centered learning environment.”
This summer Andersen will lead biology students on a trip to Darwin’s famous Galapagos Islands for the fourth time. And he’ll keep refining the use of technology in his Bozeman classroom and keep making videos for the global classroom.
“It has been an amazing ride,” he said.
Gail Schontzler can be reached at email@example.com or 582-2633.