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Written by James Burnett

Just ‘google it’ is something many parents say to their children every day.

Information found online, especially through social media platforms, is often the primary source for kids when preparing school assignments or completing homework.

With such a vast array of information and material offered through social media platforms, it can be difficult to navigate all that is available.

The Internet can provide an excellent space for sharing knowledge and understanding, but it can also foster a harmful environment where people are presenting content that lacks credibility or hasn’t been subjected to academic rigour.

By learning from non-credible sources, we are allowing our children to develop skills that have not been proven to be successful or to learn concepts in a way that is not backed by any research.

Mathematics, for example, is a highly structured subject and is now taught very differently from the way most of us learned maths as children. Decades of educational research has proven that yesteryear’s methods that relied on silent independent practice; memorization of procedures; and the heavy use of abstract symbols did not serve to help students to understand mathematics or to make connections between ideas. In steep contrast, today’s classrooms make use of real objects, mathematical models, pictures and classroom discussion to help students develop a deep understanding of ideas.

Maths in particular is one subject where you would not want your child randomly clicking around Youtube, for instance, trying to pick up tricks and gimmicks from someone who thinks they know better.

I was particularly excited when my 16-year-old daughter Gemma showed an interest in producing online content to help educate other kids and to some degree their parents. I was immediately ready to support her by sharing ideas, reviewing her videos, and essentially checking that her content was aligned with how we know students learn best to learn mathematics. Considering how I have dedicated almost 30 years of my life to writing and developing effective classroom resources, I sincerely wanted to ensure Gemma’s teachings did not undo my hard work.

Gemma now uses YouTube to share short homemade videos that show primary students how to learn some of the big ideas in mathematics. Concepts and skills such as basic number facts (tables), mental calculation strategies, fractions and even geometry.

One of the greatest ‘ah ha’ moments that teachers experience in my training sessions occurs when I show them how to teach basic addition facts. This particular idea makes use of cubes or counters to help them see numbers as quantities. Watch what Gemma does with the cubes in this video.

If you are like 99% of adults who learned their facts by memorization, then I fully expect that your eyes will open wide with amazement. For this video, we discussed the need to create a printable page that learners can use at school or at home to practice the strategy. With a little help, Gemma was able to use PowerPoint to make a useful printable activity, and she has since added links for activities to many pre-existing GemStones videos.

Gemma regularly uploads mathematically rich content that is light and easy to understand, and allows children across the globe to grow their knowledge and strengthen their maths skills in the comfort of their own homes.

Educational channels on social media platforms such as YouTube also offer many other benefits. They give students the freedom to learn on the go and at no cost. As long as they have Wi-Fi and a personal device, they can find it, watch it, do it and learn it online – all for free. This ‘web’ of free content allows students to learn at their own pace, and with topics that are of interest to them.

The right educational channel will also support the learning that is happening at school, but as mentioned above, look for channels that are developed or endorsed by recognized experts or brands.

In today’s world of flat screens, tablets and smartphones, teachers struggle to keep students attentive in class. Educational content delivered through social media on these devices adds variety to instruction. And when students learn to access or even post content themselves, they are becoming better prepared for the digital society in which they will live.

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