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Using GIFs in the classroom

Published: Jun 30, 2016 3 min read

STEM learning

Do you insert GIFs into your PowerPoints? A GIF (Graphics Interchange Format, which is basically a moving image) can be a powerful tool in lessons for engaging students and capturing their attention, and using them has a number of benefits.

Firstly, showing them a short moving image, for example, electrons lining up and moving when a circuit is connected, can improve their understanding by showing them a concept that’s easier to understand when seen. It also saves time in a lesson by avoiding sitting through a video and waiting for the part that shows the concept you wish to explain.  

Another advantage of using GIFs is that they repeat over and over again when it’s finished, so if you wish to show the same thing again, it can be left on the slide whilst you explain it or left for students to reference whilst they are doing work. Lastly, it is reliable and simple. All you need to do is copy and paste it into a PowerPoint and helps to move seamlessly through the slides and lesson, and avoids the disruption of switching onto YouTube. 

Again, the main reason I like to use them is for class engagement and capturing interest.

Take for example these GIFs of joints moving under x-ray showing the hand, shoulder, elbow, knee and ankle joints in movement. I used these in a Year 7 lesson on the structure and function of body systems. Cool images that the students found interesting. First of all getting them to identify where the joint was in the body and also what type of joint it is.

Other favourites include slow motion shots, explosions, orbits, phases of the moon, animals and nature and time lapse shots of plants growing.

Some can be easy to find. There are plenty of examples available.

Websites such as www.giphy.com can be used to easily search for what you want but the website isn’t aimed specifically at science so they won’t have everything. Others can be non-existent, but with the right googling you may get lucky. A lot of popular science and pop culture websites that write about science make their own and publish them with articles. One of my favourites is www.io9.com which has tonnes of science articles with GIFs included.

There are even programmes to make your own GIF straight from YouTube videos.

So if you are looking to move quicker through lessons, engage students and use simple clips to help explain science concepts, try searching for a GIF next time.