Many of us already use National Geographic, Disney Nature, and Discovery documentaries to enrich science and social studies concepts. Many of us also currently engage our children in critical thinking activities when we partner books with films. If video is overused in this manner the novelty will wear off. Rest assured, there are other ways. There are a few sites that I use as my go-to sites (other than YouTube) to sprinkle video in to learning. PBS Kids, Teachers Domain, and BrainPOP Jr. all provide brief cartoons that serve as a means to engage children.
PBS Kids is great for primary (PreK-3) with a wide range of shows that cover an array of topics. Sid the Science Kid (one of my four year-old nephew's favorites) has videos about a variety of topics from weather to friction. He models what it means to be curious about our world, question everything, and discover our own answers. Wild Kratts has entertaining informational videos and cartoons about habitats, ecosystems, plants, and animals. Between the Lions are short music videos about letters and sounds.
Teachers Domain has clipped Cyber Chase (PBS cartoon) that can be used to support math concepts. Most of he videos are around three minutes and are focused on one mathematical concept. For instance, one of the clips poses the problem of neighbors arguing over property and the Cyber Squad has to figure out the area. Another has the Cyber Squad using fractions to solve a sibling squabble. And yet another helps explain base-ten concepts. Teachers Domain also has documentary/informational clips that support a wide range of topics and concepts. One of my favorite ones to use is the flash video that shows seeds sprouting in different degrees of light. This video really helps children understand how plant need light and will grow in the direction of it. Best of all, you can narrow your search based upon criteria you enter!
BrainPOP Jr. is perfect for primary intermediate grades. Their format of including a notebook on the side of the film is brilliant in modeling non fiction structures. Not to mention how entertaining the kids find Annie and Moby! Recently, my students choose two ecosystem videos to watch. They noted the elements of each ecosystem, decided which they would prefer to live in and justified their decision. They have also used the videos to gather additional information about holidays and math concepts. While there is a subscription cost for BrainPOP Jr., there is an iPod/iPad app that provides you with the free video of the week. If something big happens in the world, like the tsunami and quake in Japan, they are quick to make the related video available.
Another way to use video and television is through QR Codes. My district subscribes to A to Z Reading and there are times when I use the printable books. I find brief videos online that act as a sidebar for the content/topic and create a QR Code for them. After printing them out on sticker paper, I place them into the books. The children enjoy scanning the codes to gather more information about what they are reading. Even better, they like having the choice of whether or not to scan the code. This is a great way to enrich the content as well as support reading comprehension (building schema).
I also use film and television to teach critical think, writing, and introduce new concepts. For example, I've used a scene from Wall-E to introduce the concept of culture. We watched all of those humans being catered on, wheeled around from place to place as their waste expanded, and being told what to wear and eat (just realized this would be great to use with the book The Giver, too!). I have used a FEMA commercial to talk about character stereotypes; talk about angry kids! I have two commercials, Embrace Life and Travelers, ready to go for point of view and/or graphic novel script language. Just this morning I used the first 5 minutes of Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl to introduce the idea of a splash page in writing graphic novels. It really helped the kids understand how to introduce the mood, characters, and setting in their graphic novel.
Sometimes we think that we have to use an entire movie or television show. Or that we have to always go to YouTube to find what we are looking for. But, sometimes all we have to do is dig through our video or DVD collection like I did last night to pull out Pirates (okay, I didn't have to dig that deep). Or sometimes it's just knowing the full capability of our cable subscription. I can access any of the movies that are on the channels that I subscribe to from any computer (plus did you know about HBO 2 go on the iPad?). That's how we have been watching Oceans and accessed Wall-E. The best part is they are engaged! They are looking at something they are quite familiar, and sometimes numb to, in a whole new way!