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Great teaching gets animated in new project that aims to inspire

Thanks to a new initiative from TED, students around the country will now be able to get the same view into a Baruch College researcher’s lab that students at New York City’s High School of Environmental Studies have already experienced.

The researcher, Jason Munshi-South, is one of the stars in a dozen new videos TED is releasing today in an attempt to translate its trademark inspirational videos to classroom learning

TED-Ed is an outgrowth of the 18 minute TED Talks that aim to inspire discussion about “ideas worth spreading.” The classroom version is tailored in content and style for high schoolers, with the updated motto of “lessons worth spreading.”

“Right now there’s an educator out there delivering a mind-altering lesson,” TED-Ed “Catalyst” Logan Smalley said during a press call last week. “What if you could capture that lesson? What if you could amplify it?”

The amplification is kicking off with the release of a dozen lectures, and in the coming months the plan is to release a video a day, with the year end goal of an accumulated archive of over 300 videos.

The initiative is different from other recent efforts to capture good teaching on film, such the Khan Academy, because it is meant to supplement lessons rather than systematically tackling entire units of study with fully-packaged lessons.

Munshi-South’s research on urban ecology was transformed into an easily-accessible six-minute video on “Evolution in a big city” that any educator can use to get students interested in evolution, ecology, and biology.

“It’s short enough that you can show it in the classroom, not as a lecture, but just to stimulate discussion,” Munshi-South said. “You just get bits and pieces of a story and then the students generate their own questions that the teachers can fill in later.”

Other launch videos feature cockroach neuroscience, the spread of pandemics, and “Questions no one knows the answers to.”

Most of the dozen launch videos cap off at five minutes, making them ideal for teachers to use to incite curiosity in a lesson, TED-Ed curator Chris Anderson said.

“This is a brilliant attempt to catalyze curiosity in kids, to provoke questions they might not otherwise be asking, to deliver the thrill of learning,” Anderson said.

Also, while the visuals for the TED lectures are talking heads on stage, these videos are largely enhanced by the use of animation. The pairing of educators and animators was more than an aesthetic decision. According to Smalley, it actually targets multiple learning styles, appealing to both auditory and visual learners.

In addition to the videos, TED-Ed is also kicking off their call for submissions, where teachers will have the opportunity to submit their best lectures to the TED-Ed team. Once chosen, the lecturers will be paired with animators who will help visualize the ideas on the screen.

The videos are viewable on the TED-Ed channel on YouTube for Schools, the recently developed portal that allows educators to access educational YouTube videos even if their school has restricted access to YouTube.

Some teachers are skeptical that they’ll be able to make use of the new tool. On Twitter, Christina Jenkins said her school — the iSchool, which prides itself on innovative uses of technology — hasn’t been able to unblock YouTube for Schools.