Celebrating African-American Social Dance

This is the Bop. The Bop is a type of social dance. Dance is a language, and social dance is an expression that emerges from a community. A social dance isn’t choreographed by any one person. It can’t be traced to any one moment. Each dance has steps that everyone can agree on, but it’s about the individual and their creative identity Because of that, social dances bubble up, they change, and they spread like wildfire. They are as old as our remembered history.

In African-American social dances, we see over 200 years of how African and African-American traditions influenced our history. The present always contains the past. And the past shapes who we are and who we will be.

Now, social dance is about community and connection; if you knew the steps, it meant you belonged to a group. But what if it becomes a worldwide craze? Enter the Twist.

It’s no surprise that the Twist can be traced back to the 19th century, brought to America from the Congo during slavery. But in the late ‘50s, right before the Civil Rights Movement, the Twist is popularized by Chubby Checker and Dick Clark. Suddenly, everybody’s doing the Twist: white teenagers, kids in Latin America, making its way into songs and movies. Through social dance, the boundaries between groups become blurred.

The story continues in the 1980s and '90s. Along with the emergence of hip-hop, African-American social dance took on even more visibility, borrowing from its long past, shaping culture and being shaped by it. Today, these dances continue to evolve, grow and spread.

Why do we dance? To move, to let loose, to express.

Why do we dance together? To heal, to remember, to say: “We speak a common language. We exist and we are free.”

From the TED-Ed Lesson The history of African-American social dance - Camille A. Brown

Camille A. Brown is a choreographer fusing dance and social commentary to explore race, sexuality and femininity.

Title Design by Kozmonot Animation Studio 

Homemade Special Effects

Today, we’re hoping to inspire a little animated fun! We’re using a neat animation method called ‘pixilation’, in which humans are used as stop-motion puppets, to get from Point A to Point B. So grab your tablet or your smart phone or your camera, and come make human stop-motion with us!

Why walk there when you could slide there? Just like in stop-motion animation, the puppet moves just a bit for every photo that’s taken. So: Step to your left, Photo, Repeat!

Here’s the oldest trick in the ‘Special Effects’ book! In George Méliès’ ‘A Trip to the Moon’ from 1902, he infamously turn the camera off, had the subject leave the screen, and turned the camera back on to continue the shot, thus creating cinema’s first disappearing act! So, remember that film is just a series of photographs, and that you, too, can teleport!

Fly there! This one also counts as a daily work out. Just like we did in the slide, except with a jump! And a very well timed cameraperson… So: Step to your left, Jump, Photo, Repeat! You’ll notice we did a few jumping photos in place at the beginning and end to really make the puppet look like she can fly.

Have fun with it! What do you have in your home that you can play with and add to the animation?

Our favorite part about animation is that truly everything is possible! So whatever kooky idea you have, you can make happen with just a little planning and the right tools. 

For more details on how we made these animations, be sure to watch Animation basics: Homemade special effects - TED-Ed

7 healthy tips for a better night’s sleep

It’s back to school time! Here’s a healthy reminder to get your sleep on - consistently & intentionally - this semester. 

Sleep is critical for mind and body health. Without it, the effects can be severe. Below, neuroscientist Claudia Aguirre provides 7 healthy tips for a better night’s sleep:

1. Aim for power hours. Sleep the recommended amount for a restorative night. That is: between 9 and 12 hours for school-aged children, 8 to 10 hours for teenagers, and 7 to 9 hours for adults. [Animation by TED-Ed + Josephine Mark]

2. Ban the blue. Filter the blue light of your electronic device and sleep better. Studies show that blue light from electronic devices can delay sleep onset and affect overall circadian rhythm. [Animation by Javier Saldeña/TED-Ed]

3. Spoon. Sleeping on the side may help the brain clear waste more efficiently than sleeping on the back or belly. [Animation by TED-Ed + Josephine Mark]

4. Breathe deep. Deep breathing triggers the body’s relaxation response. What’s more, inhaling can drive cerebrospinal fluid flow to help clear brain waste and oxygenate the brain. [Animation by TED-Ed + Josephine Mark]

5. Don’t overdo it. Science is still working this one out, but there are some cases where too much sleep can pose a health risk. Better set that alarm. [Animation by Alan Foreman/TED-Ed]

6. Exercise. Lab experiments show that regular exercise can protect the brain from sleep deprivation-induced memory deficits. [Animation by Andrew Zimbelman/TED-Ed]

7. Keep cool. You just might get a better night’s rest if you sleep in a cool room (or stick your feet out). [Animation by TED-Ed + Josephine Mark]

For more health tips from experts, check out 7 TED-Ed Lessons for a healthier you.

Author bio: Claudia Aguirre is a neuroscientist and the author of several TED-Ed Lessons, including What would happen if you didn’t sleep? and Does stress cause pimples? Check her work and research out on Twitter & Facebook & Instagram.

8 Facts I Learned by Animating TED-Ed Lessons

At TED-Ed, we have the joy of working with all different animators from across the globe, and we thought it’d be fun to hear from one of our most prolific artists! Andrew Foerster (@rewfoe on Tumblr) has directed and animated 16 TED-Ed Lessons and is currently in production on his 17th! He’s a pretty busy dude, but we managed to ask him a few questions about his life as an animator, and also for his favorite facts he’s learned by animating TED-Ed Lessons. See his interview with us below.

1. Stars are made by many different elements acquiring neutrons until they essentially explode! 

From the TED-Ed Lesson Where does gold come from? - David Lunney

2. Gold was formed deep into our planet when it was first developing from space dust grouping together.

From the TED-Ed Lesson Where does gold come from? - David Lunney

3. The Hagia Sofia is a hodgepodge of many different religions and beliefs all represented in one amazing building that’s been completely destroyed and built up again over time.

From the TED-Ed Lesson It’s a church. It’s a mosque. It’s Hagia Sophia. - Kelly Wall

4. There is a massive Super Volcano that could potentially end all human life in Yellowstone park (though it won’t likely explode for a few thousand years).

From the TED-Ed Lesson The colossal consequences of supervolcanoes - Alex Gendler

5. Brain parasites are terrifying! Really not a fan of the Gordian Worm. I researched videos on all of these when animating the lesson and they’re all super scary in so many ways… If you feel like being made super uncomfortable, look up Gordian Worm Cricket on YouTube… don’t say I didn’t warn you. Also fun fact: the video game The Last of Us was based on the idea of the Cordyceps mushroom infecting humans, creating a unique and horrifying zombie experience! 

From the TED-Ed Lesson How brain parasites change their host’s behavior - Jaap de Roode

6. One of the elements that gives people bad breath is called Cadaverine….. that’s one heck of a name.

From the TED-Ed Lesson What causes bad breath? - Mel Rosenberg

7. Gondolas are incredibly difficult to make and there aren’t many people who make them anymore! Very interesting process of warping the boards with water and fire, then varnishing them.

From the TED-Ed Lesson Corruption, wealth and beauty: The history of the Venetian gondola - Laura Morelli

8. Water currents are caused by salt in the water rising, and lowering based on the temperature of the water molecules.

From the TED-Ed Lesson Making waves: The power of concentration gradients - Sasha Wright

Andrew drawing on windows.

Who or what inspired you to become an animator?
My mama! She was an animator for most of my childhood, and later went more into the production side of things. I’ve always loved animation and have been doing 3d, stop motion, and 2d animation since I was a kid. As I entered high school I moved away from animation and began to focus more on illustration. I attended OCADU for illustration, and in my last year I took Hector Herrera’s Animated Illustration class. (He’s also done many TED-Ed lessons!) After Effects really resonated with me and after school began looking for more animation and motion graphics jobs. I found I really enjoyed the process and just kept rolling with it! in 2013 I began to assist Hector in the classroom to teach After Effects. Nothing lets you learn something faster than teaching it!

What do you love most about what you do?
I love the diversity of the projects I get to work on! One month might be a lesson about brain parasites, the next it might be an animation for a charity, or a personal project about a fight scene in the middle of the desert! There’s a lot of freedom in the work I do which helps me continue to develop and always look forward to coming into work.

How are TED-Ed lessons different from other work you do?
With the TED-Ed lessons I get to explore all kinds of topics from so many streams, and build a (usually crazy) story around each lesson. I love that the team is so supportive of all the crazy ideas that I put into the videos, and they allow for so much artistic freedom. I really appreciate this, so much!
The TED-Ed lessons are also usually very character focused, which is my favorite kind of stuff to do. A lot of other jobs tend to be more on the side of motion graphics (moving type, iPhones with icons etc.) 

What’s a topic or a lesson you would absolutely love to animate?
I’d love to work on something about a post-apocalyptic world like Walking Dead, and how long humans would really survive in the wilderness. (What kind of bugs would bite you? What kind of sicknesses would we get? How quickly would we die off? How quickly would we run out of food and resources from the world before? What alternative food resources would we turn to? How long would we truly last?)

Where can we see your other work? What makes it/these pieces meaningful to you?
I’ve got lots of work up on my website. One piece I’m currently working on is called Girl Wolf; it takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where people are nearly extinct, where one girl roams the earth searching for meaning and purpose after the death of her entire family. The film explores the disappearance of this character’s humanity as she transitions from living with purpose to living for the sake of surviving. You can check out development of that project here.

Another fun piece I did in the summer and fall of 2014 is called Vonandalous Alchneminan: The Space Station of the Seven Stars and I created it over the course of 100 days, adding one compartment of the space station, and one component of the story each day. It was a lot of fun to make; you can check out the whole story here.

What’s one piece of advice that you would give someone just starting out in animation?
Make friends out of your mentors. Never stop learning. Do your research, find out what’s trending, and who’s the best in your field. Always make time for your own projects and personal development. 

Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us, Andrew, and we can’t see what you make next!


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What colour is Tuesday? Exploring synesthesia

Richard E. Cytowic. 

How does one experience synesthesia – the neurological trait that combines two or more senses? Synesthetes may taste the number 9 or attach a color to each day of the week. Richard E. Cytowic explains the fascinating world of entangled senses and why we may all have just a touch of synesthesia.


See other posts I have written about synesthesia here


What is dyslexia? - Kelli Sandman-Hurley


Given the poaching crisis in Africa, this is a time when elephants are most in need of our understanding and appreciation. I gave a TEDYouth talk recently to middle school and high school students to ignite a passion for elephants in the next generation of elephant enthusiasts, and decided that the best way to do this was to focus on the fact that elephants live very similar social lives to our own.


How did English evolve? - Kate Gardoqui


How to sequence the human genome - Mark J. Kiel


Diagnosing a zombie: Brain and body - Tim Verstynen & Bradley Voytek

What makes a zombie…well, a zombie? You can’t reason with a zombie so…don’t try.

Neuroscience applied to zombies. 

“Hey, walker. Your father smells of elderberry!”


Richard St. John:  The Power of Passion


The terrors of sleep paralysis - Ami Angelowicz


Seeing a sustainable future - Alex SteffenTEDEducation