As a Production Intern at TED-ED, a big part of my job has been to make sure none of our video files have any glitches. So for the past two months, I’ve watched every single TED-Ed Lesson—nearly 500 of them—at least twice. Basically, I’ve been fully immersed in TED-Ed. If TED-Ed were a menu, I’d have tried everything on it. If TED-Ed were a foreign country, I would be a fluent speaker of TED-Ed-ese. If TED-Ed were a network of highways, I could drive anywhere with my eyes closed (not that I would ever drive with my eyes closed, of course).
As I watched hundreds of lessons created by experts, it quickly became clear to me that I know very little about anything. I learned that no one knows why the moon looks huge when it’s on the horizon. Michelangelo’s statue of David was sculpted with odd proportions because of the angle from which he intended people to view it. Queen Victoria may or may not have had a tattoo of a tiger fighting a python. I learned that on August 21st, 2017, there will be a full solar eclipse. I also learned not to look directly at it. I learned countless bits of knowledge such as these.
But what amazed me most about learning these facts was not how interesting they were, or how smart they made me sound when I brought them up in conversations. What really surprised me was the simple fact that someone had thought to ask: “Did Queen Victoria have any tattoos?” It amazed me that I was learning answers to questions I would have never thought to ask.
Every innovation begins with a question, coupled with enough curiosity to find the answer. If you don’t believe asking innovative questions is important, I’d encourage you to watch a couple of TED-Ed Lessons. For example, “What is Zeno’s Dichotomy Paradox?” by Colm Kelleher challenged me with thought problems dreamt up by Zeno, an ancient Greek philosopher. Zeno asked questions about what appeared to be inconsistencies in the way we measure reality. He took nothing for granted and began without assumptions. Discovery doesn’t begin with knowledge—it begins with questions and curiosity.
The importance of asking thoughtful questions is the first major thing I learned from watching every TED-Ed Lesson. The second thing I learned was to more deeply appreciate animation. Creating even a very short animated video requires months of work (at least). If you watch hours upon hours of animation, you’ll start noticing some of the clever techniques animators use to bring their artwork to life.
One of my favorite examples of this is in Ray Laurence’s lesson “A glimpse of teenage life in ancient Rome.” The animation in this episode is gorgeous and richly textured, particularly the scenes set in the marketplace. The way characters in the foreground are out-of-focus, and the way the point-of-view bobs and floats creates the illusion that we’re right there in a Roman marketplace. These techniques add new dimensions of experience to the scene.
Learning from expert educators and animators inspired me to think deeply about things, not just skim the surface. But you don’t need to spend weeks watching hundreds of TED-Ed lessons to get excited about learning and creating. Just watch a few. What questions will you ask about the world around you?