Website review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated February 2015


Compelling science videos have high-quality classroom applications

Learning rating
Editorial review by Common Sense Education
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Based on 3 reviews
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Pre-K–12 This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Subjects & Skills
Science, Critical Thinking

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5 images

Pros: Documentaries and their supporting activities let students experience science as scientists.

Cons: NOVA's vast resources could be overwhelming.

Bottom Line: Stellar simulations, teacher guides, and other activities can stand on their own, and they're enhanced with high-quality video content.

Showing videos in the classroom can be tricky: While NOVA’s documentaries provide vivid examples with beautiful images, many students use this time to take a mental timeout. This can be prevented by treating the video like you would a piece of scientific text. Provide a pre-viewing activity that gives the students a purpose for viewing and an analysis task while watching. For example, ask the students to identify the claim the producers are making. What evidence and reasoning do they provide to support that claim? Have kids view clips or full-length videos as out-of-class assignments, either to preview an upcoming lesson or as the prompt for a blog post or upcoming writing task. 

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NOVA’s website both features and supports the acclaimed science television series of the same name. Videos, articles, and interactives are available on topics including Ancient Worlds, Body+Brain, Evolution, Military+Espionage, Nature, Physics+Math, Planet Earth, Space+Flight, and Tech+Engineering. Users are connected to multiple award-winning companion websites including Nova Education, Nova scienceNow, Nova Labs, Nova Next, The Nature of Reality, and The Secret Life of Scientists and Engineers.

The core of this site is its compelling collection of science documentaries, which users can view online via YouTube. The Teacher Video menu can help teachers find videos or short clips that are well-suited for classroom use. Documentaries like "Detecting Life on Other Planets" feature leading scientists and their research. Videos are labeled with their grade level and accessibility options, and many are linked through PBS Learning Media, where teachers can save favorite resources on their dashboard.

The deeper you dive, the more richly you're rewarded on this site. Each NOVA television program has its own website with links to suggested reading and related Web links. These resources can stand alone as high-quality classroom tools, even without viewing the associated documentary; for example, the RNA VirtuaLab on NOVA Labs has a short video introduction, but it's actually a game in its own right. Beginning gamers start with RNA folding puzzles, and high-scoring players can move on to an advanced program called Eterna, where they'll work as molecular engineers to design RNA that might actually be used in research and medicine. Games like these help kids see the real-world impact of scientific insights and motivate them to master tough concepts. Each interactive and game on the site includes helpful tutorials that help kids learn how to play, and users will find good instructions and solid accessibility features throughout.

The PBS LearningMedia-sponsored NOVA Education site provides teaching guides and resources for each program, and its features for bookmarking and saving favorite videos might be the best, most strategic way for teachers to navigate and use this vast library of resources. Webinars like “Gaming The System: Using Games As Learning Tools In Your Classroom" help teachers grow their practice. This particular resource describes how basic principles of video games, such as “Penalty-free Practice,” can be applied to increase student engagement. Overall, NOVA has so many quality resources that it might become overwhelming. Teachers could get sucked in as they explore all the site's available options -- be strategic as you sort through tools to enhance and extend your classroom.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

NOVA knows how to do scientific documentaries: They're accurate, compelling, and emphasize why the science is important.

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Simulations are jam-packed with learning potential, and they're designed to have students play the role of scientist.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

NOVA makes it easy to find a massive amount of extension material for students. Simulations provide tutorials that get kids playing and learning quickly.

Common Sense reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

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Featured review by
Toni A. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Abraham Lincoln Middle School
NOVA for Science- It Works!
The images are amazing! The site has a lot of information, sometimes too much to see at once, so I went through the site and assigned the students the areas I wanted them to work on. The first time I went through the site it took the longest time, after that I could work quickly to assign the work to students. I used Schoology to assign the work, because the students expect to use the LMS and they do not need another log in. All of my students were enagged by the images and videos, but it rerally ...
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