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Engaging Students with Live Video Feeds

by Susan Meyer
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This spring, a giraffe named April at the Animal Adventure Park in Harpursville, New York has captured hearts and minds around the world. Thousands over live video watch her stoically stand and pace in preparation for the end of her 15-month pregnancy and the birth of her fourth calf.

While the world waits with baited breath for April to give birth, I started thinking about the value of live camera feeds. Why are people of all ages so enchanted? There is something incredibly compelling about live video. And therefore, it can be a powerful tool when used in the classroom.

Live feeds usually involve stationary webcams that observe the same place over a period of time. They enable students to experience the world in new ways, allowing them to travel to far-off places and see unique moments in nature. For example, they can observe how animals behave both in zoo environments (when a field trip to the zoo isn’t in the budget) and in their natural habitat.

Sources for Live Video Feeds

Here are some great sources for live camera feeds to bring into your classroom:

  • From nesting bald eagles to fish swimming in kelp forests, Explore.org has a great collection of live webcams. In addition to dozens of cameras that are live at any given time, the site also shows “off hours highlights” so that you can catch up on the best things that occurred on these feeds when they were live. My personal favorite is the live cam of Brooks Falls in Katmai National Park in Alaska. You haven’t seen truly skilled fishing until you’ve watched grizzlies catching salmon swimming up a waterfall.
  • For learning about the solar system and allowing your students to observe planet Earth from above, NASA has you covered. There are live streams from the International Space Station. The station orbits the Earth every 90 minutes. You can watch the Earth’s surface changing below, the sun rising and setting, and even follow the path of the ISS on a map.
  • After watching the Earth from above, students learning about landforms, biomes, and climate can see what is happening at some of the most beautiful places in the country: our national parks. The National Parks Service has a number of live feeds throughout the park system. You can find a listing of all of these feeds here. Where else can you visit the cliffs of Acadia in Maine, watch Old Faithful erupting at Yellowstone, and see mountain goats at Glacier National Park, all without leaving the classroom?
  • EarthCam.com also provides many live feeds at cities and landmarks all over the world. Students can visit the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, and the Washington Monument. Social studies students can travel the globe seeing world landmarks in real time. They can view places that have been inhabited by people for thousands of years and they can witness people interacting with these places.

Curriculum Connections

Here are just a few ideas for how to use live video feeds in the classroom:

  • When teaching a lesson about life cycles, show a nesting eagle (or other bird) and have students check in daily to see how the eggs and chicks are developing. Research the life cycle of the bird being observed and have students make predictions about when they think the next stage will happen (example: when the eggs will hatch, when the chicks will start developing feathers). Have them track their observations in their science journal.
  • To support a lesson on world geography, let students pick a city in the world and share live footage from landmarks in that city. They can see not only the place or landmark, but also the number of people who visit it during the day. They can present their observations from the live feed, along with their research about the place or landmark and why people might want to visit it.
  • When learning about habitats, students can study a live feed of a particular place (such as a coral reef or a rainforest). They can record what plants and animals they see there. They can also take notes on the type of weather that appears. Visiting the feed over the course of several days or weeks, they can notice if the weather changes or the animals that appear are different. Over time, they will develop a well-rounded understanding of that particular place.

These are just a few ideas for how to use live camera feeds in the classroom. Do you have any live video feeds that you particularly like? Or do you have any of your own ideas for how you have used camera feeds in your classroom? If so, please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments.


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