What is one? Adventures in TED-Ed

Back in March, the Twitterverse was suddenly alight with an announcement from TED about a forthcoming website, TED-Ed. They were seeking educators to write and narrate short lessons that would then be animated by TED-Ed staff.

I nominated myself. And I lobbied Karim Ani to nominate me, too. (Side note: Have you heard Karim is trying to raise some bucks for a supercool project?)

And then-surprisingly-I heard back.

Here’s the result.

The Process

The TED-Ed staff is super supportive, friendly and patient. I talked with them by phone in March. They loved the blog post I submitted as the basis for the lesson. We talked about how to adapt it for the website.

I wrote a script and sent it in. They had a few notes-mostly having to do with making it easier for the animator to work with. (Example-putting “One bag, one apple, one slice” in that order so the apple could come out of the bag, then get sliced).

They sent me a recording kit: One iPad, one microphone for the iPad, a mike stand, a collapsible soundproof recording booth and a clip for holding the iPad to the mike stand.

I did two takes and uploaded them through DropBox.

The Ted-Ed people used very kind words to tell me that I sounded stiff as a board.

I spent the bulk of one afternoon in my office re-recording to sound more conversational. Incidentally I had never noticed how much door slamming goes on in my hallway.

I got that down and shipped it all off. Four weeks or so later, it’s online. They edited my audio, adding pauses for things to happen onscreen, and splicing together a couple of different takes. But the result is totally faithful to my original vision for the lesson. They did a bang up job.

The Product

I have to say that I have truly no idea whether my lesson will get used. And if it does, I have no idea how, nor whether it will be effective. But I love that its ideas are now out in the larger world.

For me, this seemed like an opportunity to get my goofy sensibility a bit wider exposure. I hate that the teaching profession is under such pressure in the US right now to be about predefined standards. There is so little space for ideas in the present discourse around math teaching and learning. So I saw TED Ed as a venue for getting some ideas some airplay. TED’s motto is Ideas Worth Spreading. I’m on board with that.

My lesson is intended to give viewers something to argue about. It doesn’t align nicely to standards, and that’s by design.

The lesson does what I do best. It points to something that you probably don’t notice as you go about your life, and it asks a question that will elicit strong opinions. It builds a case that things may not be as they seem.

And then it offers a multiple choice quiz. Ugh. TED wanted five multiple choice questions, so I wrote them. I don’t think of this as a fact-based lesson, so the questions are clumsy. What are you gonna do?

It’s the Think and the Dig Deeper parts that matter to me. Those are intended to provide a place for the argument to go. Is it always obvious what the original unit is? Are decimals harder than whole numbers because of our real-world experiences? Did it have to happen that our number system is base-10? These are debatable questions with intellectual heft. I can get my own students thinking about them. I would love to believe that students I have never met will be inspired to argue over them, too.

But please don’t put them in the Common Core.


Several sharp-eyed viewers noted the price of those apples about 26 seconds in. Including Robert Gonzalez over at io9.

Call me anal-retentive, but I find it more than a little ironic that a TED-Ed video about the importance of units, whole number place value, decimal place value, and fractions features an animation of apples being sold for 0.79 cents each (see 00:25).

Yeah. That’s a bummer. I wrote back to Mr. Gonzalez.

I noticed the price of those apples when I watched it for the first time yesterday. Should have said something about it in my blog reflection…

I was of two minds about it. (1) That’s a major pet peeve of mine, and (2) It could provide fodder for discussion in a lesson ABOUT UNITS!

I literally saw this video for the first time on Monday. I’ll rattle some cages over at TED and see if we can’t get that fixed up.

I’ll keep you posted.

12 responses to “What is one? Adventures in TED-Ed

  1. Great work Chris.
    A few things:
    – It’s exciting to see that your efforts will not just impact students within the four walls of your classroom. It must be nice know that students around the globe can access and be challenged by these ideas.
    – I like how this concept of ‘What is one?’ can lead to some helpful student discussion that will go beyond ‘Calculate this’ or ‘Just follow this rule’. I want to provide ways for students to ask questions, not just be spoon fed the next formula.
    – Is there an opportunity for you to make more of these?

  2. I watched this today (found it independently of this post), and totally thought of you right away, but somehow didn’t allow for the possibility that it could have been made by you. Then I read this and it all made sense. Awesome!

  3. Fine work, Chris. Very accessible and engaging. And I doubt you’ll get a call from David Coleman, H. H. Wu, et al., inviting you into the cabal anytime soon.

  4. This is a great video — I want to share it with my elementary education pre-service teachers. Impressive work here!

    at 0:26, there are some very cheap apples for sale! (0.79 cents) [can the animator fix that?]

  5. That was 1 smooth video by 1 cool guy. Love it! Thanks, Chris, for sharing.

  6. Great video, Chris!

    I share your passion for place value, and love the new slant you have given the question of “what is one?”. I came across a phrase years ago to explain how “ten” is both one group and a set of individual ones: “collected multiunit” (I believe it was from Karen Fuson).

    I love the way your video delves further into this topic, in which children have to learn to hold two ideas in their heads simultaneously, individual items and “unit” made up of collections of the individual items.

    Lastly, thanks for sharing your process of being accepted and working on the video – quite inspiring.

  7. Thanks for the kind words, y’all. Like I said, it was tons of fun. But seriously…anyone at Normandale who’s reading this? Maybe chill with the door slamming.

    Peter: Yeah. collected multiunit, and then Constance Kamii spoke about this idea, calling it hierarchical thinking. When we engage in hierarchical thinking, we we are able to think about units at two different levels simultaneously, say hours and minutes or ones and tens.

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