Website review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated April 2020

Crash Course

Vast library of high school science and humanities video lessons

Learning rating
Community rating
Based on 2 reviews
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Grades
9–12
Subjects & Skills
English Language Arts, Science, Social Studies

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Pros: The witty approach, fast pace, and intermittent cartoon visuals will keep students interested.

Cons: Videos lack ways for kids to interact with content.

Bottom Line: Science and humanities video lessons may spark interest but only offer passive learning.

Because Crash Course is a passive learning tool, it'll require a lot of wraparound content to make it more meaningful. It could work well as an introduction to a topic; since the videos are fairly witty and visually eye-catching, they could spark interest. Depending on the topic, it could also help kids who are reviewing material before an assessment. Due to the volume of content, it might be particularly helpful for AP Biology and AP World History students wading through vast amounts of material.

Teachers can best use it by creating opportunities for kids to discuss or interact with the videos. Many teachers use EdPuzzle to insert practice questions into Crash Course videos. EdPuzzle has listed Crash Course as a popular channel, making it super easy to grab and annotate the video you want. Because many of the videos have time stamps in the notes to mark when the host presents certain subtopics, you can segment the videos and watch the parts applicable to individual lessons. You can also challenge students to make their own Crash Course-style videos to explain material.  

 

 

 
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Crash Course is a vast collection of educational videos organized into "courses," which are video collections. Most of the courses focus on high school- or college-level science and social studies content. In the biology course, traditional textbook content is broken down into 40 videos, each 10 to 15 minutes in length. The videos move through content quickly and use a lighthearted, witty approach. They also often include an animated sequence to illustrate certain segments.

Videos are available directly from the Crash Course website, on its YouTube channels, or for purchase on DVD. Additionally, a Crash Course Kids YouTube channel features content meant for younger viewers. Crash Course was originally created by New York Times bestselling author John Green and his brother Hank Green, host of the SciShow.  Many of the history and biology videos are hosted by the brothers themselves. However, as the course offerings have expanded, so has the diversity of the hosts featured.

Crash Course's irreverent tone and fast pace will likely keep students interested, but the information is occasionally questionable, and the videos offer only passive learning. Hosts for each Crash Course video are clearly passionate about their content. They attempt to bring science and humanities alive with amusing examples and catchy titles. In the World History course, John Green hosts a lecture titled "Int'l Commerce, Snorkeling Camels, and The Indian Ocean Trade." He finds a way to tie together sailing adventures with the importance of monsoon winds and maritime technology. While the hosts are witty, they spend most of the video talking directly to the audience. Videos like "Natural Selection" unpack really complex topics and would benefit from additional visuals or animations to help kids make sense of ideas. 

Most of the Crash Course videos are very accurate. However, in an effort to simplify content, some of the Crash Course Kids videos miss the mark. In "Vegetation Transformation," the video specifically states that carbon dioxide and water are turned into energy in sugar. This can cause misconceptions for kids as they struggle to make a distinction between matter and energy. And covering complex, deeply painful parts of history in short videos meant to be easily digestable can be problematic. The "Slavery" video is an example: The host is White, the tone is light and dispassionate, and the animations may strike some students as flippant. Tools like EdPuzzle allow teachers to pause a video at problematic points and insert comments to reframe an explanation. So, for certain topics for specific purposes, Crash Course could be a really useful resource in the right teacher's hands, but it might not be as successful in explaining more nuanced, emotionally charged topics.

Overall Rating

Engagement

Videos are fast-paced and well-produced and include compelling examples. Kids can independently dive into topics of interest.

Pedagogy

"Courses" are simply a sequence of videos. Teachers will need to develop lessons and assessments to go with them.

Support

All videos are available on YouTube, with closed captioning in languages ranging from Arabic to Swedish. There are no extension activities.


Common Sense reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

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Featured review by
Rio S. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Dos Pueblos Senior High School
Goleta, United States
We have to assume that students want to learn about the topic. The best person on here is John Green from History in terms of engagement/entertainment.
Know that students generally do not pay attention to the videos. Make sure that you have your students interested in the topic that the video covers, and then show the video to your students for knowledge-gain. Homework might be good way to use it since it is in general a good practice to bring lesson to home.
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