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ted education

9 of the coolest educational videos from TED-Ed

ted education

Lauren Granger
While studying towards her Bachelor of Journalism degree at Rhodes University, Lauren gave into her fascination with everything digital. As she was more interested in creeping... More


When TED launched its educational website for younger students last week, I think teachers everywhere realised they had to up their game. The 3-10 minute videos are designed to encourage curiosity and show how the world works using compelling animation and the audible explanations of a gifted teacher.  Even if you’re not in high school, the videos are sometimes fascinating, sometimes kinda strange, but generally very cool. Here are some of the best videos that are designed to amaze and challenge your brain.

How Simple Ideas Lead to Scientific Discoveries

How can you not wish that Mythbusters’ Adam Savage was your science teacher? In this video, he explains how Eratosthenes calculated the circumference of the Earth in 200BC to within one percent of the actual diameter — just by using some simple math and the sun’s shadow. He just sounds so damn excited when he talks about Fizeau’s attempts to measure the speed of light in 1849 that he makes you want to go out and discover something too.

Just How Small is an Atom?

Ok, so this one is kind of brain-warping. There is no real answer in this video, except that an atom is really, really, really small. So small, that if you blew up all of the atoms in a typical grapefruit to the size of a blueberry, you could fill the earth with blueberries. Yes, the atoms in a one grapefruit would fill the entire earth. Jonathan Bergmann does an admirable job of trying to explain the size and density of atoms and nuclei, and the brilliant animation (by UK studio Cognitive Media) makes it all fun to watch.

The Cockroach Beatbox

If you can get past the part where neuroscientist Greg Gage dismembers a cockroach, you will never forget how electrical energy moves your limbs ever again. Gage hooks a cockroach leg up to a machine that can receive and transmit electrical impulses, then proceeds to make the leg twitch along with the level of sound waves in a song on his iPhone and the rhythm of the beatboxer he calls on stage. Too. Cool.

How Folding Paper Can Get You to the Moon

In an interesting example of exponential growth, Adrian Paenza explains how, theoretically, if you could fold a piece of paper that was 0.001cm thick 45 times over, you would have a piece of paper tall enough to reach the moon. Of course, you couldn’t fold a piece of paper that many times, but it’s still a cool illustration.

How Many Universes are There?

String theory, quantum physics, Steven Hawking and parallel universes all assemble to take their part in this mind-popping video narrated by TED’s Chris Anderson. The short version of the story is that no one can seem to agree on how many universes there are exactly, and so rough estimates put the figure anywhere between 0 and infinity. Very helpful.

The Real Origin of the Franchise

McDonald’s didn’t invent the franchising business model? Nope, according to this video, it was a Canadian-born former maid, who started a hairdressing salon over a century ago. The visuals (a large-scale drawing by Sunni Brown) are beautifully sketched and weaved together over the course of the video to produce a detailed and interesting timeline of the creation of franchising.

Why Can’t We See Evidence of Alien Life?

Ah, good question. Where are the aliens? There are 50-million possible life-harbouring planets in the Milky Way, and many of them have been around longer than the earth (and thus more time to build space craft and drift around the galaxy), so why haven’t we seen any convincing evidence of alien life? There are lots of possibilities, but no concrete answers: this video is part of a series titled “Questions no one knows the answer to”, after all.

The Secret Life of Plankton

This video showcases the creepy, beautiful and quite complicated microscopic world of plankton. The footage is courtesy of the Plankton Chronicles project and takes you through a complex ecosystem of semi-transparent micro organisms.

Evolution in a Big City

Using a tiny portion of the world as an example, Jason Munshi-South explains how cities have altered the genetic makeup of the animals living in them. Yip, salamanders living on either side of two bridges connecting the Bronx with Manhattan have different DNA sequences, because of the man-made infrastructure. Mice who were confined to certain forested areas have evolved differently to mice of the same species in other areas of the country. It’s an interesting talk, all demonstrated in beautiful photos and illustrations.