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Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The incredible educational world of Vi Hart


Despite my great love of knowledge, I despise pretty much anything labelled as "educational". I reserve a special hatred for everything termed "edutainment". And any time something is promoted as "making learning fun", I have an urge to punch people.

Usually when something is made to be educational and enjoyable, it fails on both fronts. Creativity and imagination are sacrificed for education and the learning is normally pitched so low and badly that you wonder at the level of mental retardation supposed of the consumer. When fun and education are combined, fun takes the back seat.

So I was very pleasantly surprised to encounter the work of Vi Hart. She actually explains mathematical concepts in a fun way. With Vi, the fun comes first, but rather cleverly the learning is intrinsic. Have a look at the following video which is a simple story for kids that deals with the concept of Möbius strips.





Wasn't that cool? I especially like the way she left the viewer to discover the end of the story for themselves and thus illustrating a further surprising quality of Möbius strips.

Now this might seem a little advanced for your moronic offspring, but what I think is surprisingly clever about Hart's videos are that they don't require children to understand the concepts at a technical level. The kids don't have to be told that a  Möbius strip is a chiral object with handedness and zero Gaussian curvature - they can gain an understanding of this stuff just by playing with it. As they grow up, when they encounter these concepts again from a mathematical standpoint, it'll be a lot easier for them as they have a practical and intrinsic knowledge of how this shit works.

You know what a Möbius strip is and you know that you can make one by sticking a half-twist in a strip of paper. But I'll bet you have no idea how to represent one mathematically like you do a triangle or a hexagon.  But then you never encountered Möbius strips until after you'd learned most of your mathematical knowledge and they were difficult to understand through the window of geometry. This kind of stuff is a lot easier to deal with if you first encounter it through the lens of play.





Well, I went a bit ranty there, didn't I? So ignore me and have a look at the video above which is all about mucking around with those snake toys that we've all used. I'm almost ashamed that I didn't figure out half the stuff that Vi manages to discover just by mucking around with them.

Do yourself a favour. Get that sprog of yours away from Peppa sodding Pig and try some of Vi's activities with them instead. You'll both get smarter and have a lot of fun in the process. Oh and Vi can explain exactly why Spongebob Squarepants is a twat... with mathematical proof.

Vi has a blog with lots of videos here:
http://vihart.com/


You can find out more about Vi herself in an article in the Noo Yoik Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/18/science/18prof.html

1 comment:

  1. she's great!

    if you want an antidote to all this 'well delivered' science try another american version. although i guess they are pitching at a different audience.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l3Up5tPtkK8#!

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