United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) urges countries to rethink their core curricula by 2025 to provide students of all ages with a big picture of the planet Earth, including geology, geography, energy, air, water, ecology and sustainability. Captivating educational videos, like those created by science education YouTube channel MinuteEarth, can be one of the best ways to achieve this. MinuteEarth has over 2.6 million subscribers and is loved by teachers and kids alike. Its short animations quickly grab the viewer’s attention, while presenting in-depth scientific concepts in a very intuitive and understandable way. The program is known for asking non-trivial questions and helping viewers see the world from a new perspective. I spoke with David Goldenberg, the producer of the channel.
Julia Brodsky: Tell me about the history and purpose of the MinuteEarth channel.
David Goldenberg: About ten years ago, Henry Reich started doing quick physics explanations on YouTube using nothing but a hanging camera, pen, and paper. His ability to simply explain complex topics using sticks and humor quickly gained him an audience and convinced him and a few of his science-loving family members to use the same format for storytelling. all kinds of science stories. So they brought in a group of scientists and illustrators with training in fields ranging from geology to ecology to biology and public health and launched MinuteEarth! Through our videos, we not only want to teach people concepts, but also help them appreciate the world they live in and the science we use to explore it.
JB: How do you manage to cover such a wide range of scientific topics, while maintaining high scientific standards?
DG: Our team is made up of experts in all kinds of fields, from ecology to physics, optics, biology and mathematics. But even with all this vast expertise, we often need to get up-to-date information on a particular topic. So we dive into the academic literature and find the scientists doing the research. Then we call them up and discuss – “nerd to nerd” – about their work and its implications.
JB: Some people call you “the masters of engaging questions”. How do you search for topics that would interest people of all ages and turn them into exciting questions?
DG: One of the most important and fun things we do is come up with potential topics for MinuteEarth. It is essentially a two-step process. First of all, we ask questions that we are really passionate about and to which we want to know the answers, but which we do not feel we have already answered satisfactorily; we call them “the unGoogleables”. Second, we’re pushing each other to make sure the video isn’t just a fun fact, but more of a tension-packed science story with a takeaway. We believe that with the right treatment, even questions about complex processes like photosynthesis can be turned into videos that anyone from first graders to doctoral students can enjoy and learn. The key is to really understand the content and focus on telling exactly one story at a time.
JB: So tell me, how do you make these deep scientific concepts accessible to everyone?
DG: We’ve found time and time again that if we have to use scientific jargon to explain something, it’s because we haven’t done enough work to find a really clear, down-to-earth way to communicate it. So we are constantly testing our scripts by rewriting paragraphs in increasingly clear English, while trying to find metaphors that are relevant where possible, like using baked potatoes to explore the age of the earth, or beer to explain biodiversity. It helps that all of our illustrators have unparalleled scientific training and creativity, so that they can translate obscure science graphics into nice, understandable animations.
JB: Could you give some examples of how your material is used in classrooms around the world?
DG: One of the great joys of sharing our videos on a global platform like YouTube is that teachers around the world can simply grab them and incorporate them into their lesson plans for free. Our “Why Curve Rivers” video, for example, is used in college earth science classes around the world, and our “Rise of the Mesopredator” video has been turned into a play at the primary school in New Zealand. Teachers love that we don’t over-simplify things while making them attractive and memorable. The students also appreciate our lessons. We get comments like, “When your teacher has a MinuteEarth poster in his room, you know it’s gonna be a good year,” and even, “It taught me more about the subject than my science class did. ‘learned about it 9 years ago. “
In addition to videos, we also plan to offer printed material for teachers and students. Our very first book, MinuteEarth explains: How did whales get so big? And other curious questions about animals, nature, geology and planet Earth, comes out in October. We’ve spent months distilling the best parts of our best videos into short, clever explanations with gorgeous illustrations. Inside you’ll find answers to 25 of our favorite science questions, from “Can Plants Talk” to “How Much Food is on Earth?” We even worked with a college science teacher to create lesson plans around our favorite chapters. So let your science teachers know and help us raise our planet awareness and share the wonder!