How can I better use storytelling techniques for teaching science? Does numerical data contribute to the story, or is having a data table in a video a sure recipe for having viewers click away?

By the way: your book is awesome. In the video I’m working on now, I keep counting to make sure I’m not violating the 10 second shot rule!

–Glenn Wolkenfeld

Nice job, Glenn. This is a fast-moving, clear, well-produced teaching video covering a bunch of cool stuff about surface area. For those of you to whom it did not occur that there was a bunch of cool stuff about surface area, I feel you.  Me either.  But I watched, learned, and did not want to rip my eyes out and run screaming from the room. Which has happened while watching teaching videos in the past.

I think storytelling can help make your teaching video better. Some of it’s a bit of a stretch to apply, as you’ll see, but let’s try:

In a teaching video, “understanding the concept” is always the intent. Your concept, if I may grossly oversimplify, is that more surface area in a cell = more permeable cell membranes = elephants.  Or to put it another way, if cells had too much interior relative to their exterior, they wouldn’t be able to do all the cool chemical reactions that give life to larger animals.

Now the stretch part:  Stories need a hero, and for a teaching video let’s pretend that the concept is the hero.  In this case “More cellular surface area” is our protagonist.  In the beginning, we explain what more cellular surface area means.  In the middle, we show what happens if we don’t have it.  At the end we show how it’s responsible for all animal life.  This story structure helps re-organize and focus your video.  You could then:

  1. Re-edit for story.  Everything that clarifies what “surface area” is, and your thesis about how it’s necessary for life, goes first.  Everything that makes your case about permeability problems goes next.  The elephants come last.
  2. Lose everything that doesn’t move your story forward.  Restatements and reiterations should go.  How many animal examples do you need?  I don’t know if it helps me to know about whales or flatworms in any real detail. If you decide to keep them, make sure they’re adding new information, not re-saying old information.
  3. Add intrigue to pull us into the video.  Raising questions creates interest, answering them reduces it.  For example, how can you hook us with a big question from second 1 of the video, before you even introduce yourself?  Something like “Without the right surface-to-volume ratio, elephants wouldn’t exist.  And neither would we.”  Throughout the video, raise more questions and promise the answers later.  Intrigue us, and we will follow you.
  4. Lose the charts. Quick, super-simple animated thing, yes. Tables of equations, no.  Those belong in handouts, or accompanying web material.  The agar cubes are their own brilliant demo of your point.  A graph of same is redundant.  An exciting video will drive a lot of web traffic.


I’m hoping that if you do this, the end result keeps all the things you did very well and makes them stand out even more.  The video will be shorter and more memorable when you’re done.  If you do go back and re-edit, send a link and we’ll post it in the comments below!

Are you following me on twitter? Were you waiting for an invitation? If so, you’ll find it here: @stevestockman

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