Direct Measurement Videos > Why Teach with Direct Measurement Videos?

Why Teach with Direct Measurement Videos?

Pick a Video:
The use of video offers several pedagogic advantages.

As physicists, we analyze events using mathematical relationships, and as educators we would like our students to do the same. Traditionally, three methods are used to present events for students to analyze. First, we use labs, in which students make measurements themselves using an apparatus in a classroom. Second, we use text descriptions, often supplemented with drawings, or sometimes photos. Third, we use demonstrations, sometimes accompanied with measurements.

Each of these methods has inherent limitations. Lab experience is severely limited by practical constraints; we are limited by time and by the relatively contrived situations that we can easily reproduce and measure. As a result, students may only measure and analyze a handful of events in the lab per week, perhaps fewer than 20 situations in a one-semester course. In addition, lab apparatuses often bear little resemblance to objects students encounter in their lives. After all, how often does a student experience an air track in real life? While it is easy for an expert to make the connection between the lab and real life, transfer of knowledge from one setting to another cannot be taken for granted. In the book, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience and School, the National Research Council describes that "knowledge that is taught in only a single context is less likely to support flexible transfer than knowledge that is taught in multiple contexts" (NRC, 2000).

Educators also use word problems to provide descriptions of situations and measurements so students can practice applying physics concepts to a much broader range of events and situations than could be constructed in their lab. Word problems place a written description between the event and the students. But the written description is limited, often, to providing exactly the information, and only the information that students will need to do a prescribed analysis. This has the potential to reduce the realism of the situation and interfere with students' ability to visualize the situation. The National Research Council writes that learning that is "overly dependent on context" can be a hindrance to students' ability to apply that learning to another situation (NRC, 2000). Additionally, if students lack direct experience for the event described, word problems can be particularly confusing and frustrating to them; seeing a video can provide needed context.

Demonstrations allow instructors to present events in class, and to make measurements that students can use. But these are often passive events, and the students' participation is often limited to answering questions and recording data.

Using video to present events for students to analyze provides the potential to overcome these limitations. We can use videos of a wide range of events, even rare events such as the launch of a rocket. We can use high-speed video, or time-lapse video to expand the range of visible time scales. Videos are portable, repeatable, and inexpensive to share. A library of videos can serve as a data set through which students can conduct both structured and more open-ended learning.


National Research Council. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2000.


The Direct Measurement Video project has become Pivot Interactives, an educational resources company run by the same dedicated physics teachers who've been developing DMVs since in 2010. We're more committed than ever to bringing powerful teaching tools to students and instructors everywhere.

Our free service on the SERC website will come to an end on June 1, 2018. We invite you to subscribe to Pivot Interactives where you'll find new functionalities. For example, the new learning platform includes integrated, modifiable instructions, data tables with calculated columns, graphing with linear fit, and enhanced grading tools, ...not to mention a boatload of really cool new videos. This integrated platform is far more powerful and effective than videos alone. We hope that if you've had success with DMVs you'll try a free 30-day trial of the new videos and easy-to-use teacher tools.

What teachers say about Pivot Interactives:

"The new Pivot Interactives platform is an impressive leap over just having the videos only. I'll use the new PI platform in my AP Physics class more than I would use the original Direct Measurement Videos alone. " -Alan Calac, Abraham Lincoln High School. San Francisco, California

Pivot Interactives is a game changer. The price is reasonable and you can build a physics curriculum around them. The new tools in Pivot Interactives are wonderful and give more independence to the students. -Tim Taylor, Stratton Mountain School; Stratton, Vermont

"I've made it my official teaching goal this year to replace as many textbook-style homework problems as possible with Pivot exercises. Everything I see on the site is something that makes me say 'wow'. I highly recommend." -Greg Jacobs Woodberry Forest School, Woodberry Forest, VA 22989

My thoughts on Pivot Interactives in perpetuity: Take my money! -Trevor Register, Cherokee County GA

Learn more Sign up for free trial