Speaking Of Visual Essays:

This 60-second piece on the 22nd Amendment is a stunner. Precisely edited, stridently political, and yet the whole thing plays with a casual no-big-deal understatement. ¶ Dear students: this is how it’s done.


  1. Stranger Than Fiction‘s opener, which is far better than the rest of the movie deserved.
  2. An Australia-based dating service lays out the odds of meeting someone in a bar. (A: Not good.)
I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. His Change video on the same site ( http://www.andrewsloat.com/ use the left/right controls in the top left corner to find it) is also an excellent example of a deceptively simple way to express a message. And a great example for kids of how a video can do that without a lot of special effects and annoying transitions.

  2. Tim, yeah, that’s a nice one. I dig that much of his work is done in preproduction, more careful gridding / planning, less SFX work. But it’s starting to seem as though ā€“ hm … how to put this charitably ā€“ he’s got a “signature” move. And not much else.

  3. So, general comment… I frequent your blog and often watch and sometimes download the vids that you throw out… sometimes b/c I can use it in class, other times b/c I just think it’s interesting. Well, on Friday my school went into lockdown b/c of an armed robbery in the area. We were all relatively safe, but no one could leave the room for almost two hours (did I mention this is a middle school and it was Friday afternoon). Since I have a projector in my room we were able to keep up with the details of the search for the robber on the web… and after a little bit, we were all a little restless (all streaming vids are blocked). Then I remembered all these random vids that I had been collecting for no specific reason whotsoever. We watched several of your most recent highlights and had fun discussing a range of topics related to the shorts. Thanks for the links… they came in handy in the most unexpected way!

  4. Yo Dan, I was just wondering if my blog reader was busted, hadn’t heard anything from you for a few days. Guess you’re just taking a blog-break.

    PS–I completely agree with you about the Stranger Than Fiction movie. That ending was just way too easy.

  5. That video sure has power!

    But so does a bumper sticker I’ve seen that reads:

    No special effects needed. Just adhesive…oh, and a bumper.

  6. This raises something of interest to me. It’s a ratio that describes how funny a joke is (or how poignant a remark is).

    You can take the humor of the joke (or the poignancy of the remark) to the teller and you divide it by how much you’ve gotta explain it to the listener.

    For example, the 1.20.09 bumper sticker. Fantastic design. But is it too obscure? The answer is yeah for some, which will require some explaining, which will dilute its poignancy.

    In class today I was like, I need you to draw a histogram. We’ve got this kid in class named Graham. I started writing it on the board “histograham.” A buncha kids got it, chuckled, felt sorry for their teacher.

    But one kid said, you should capitalize the letters in his name so more people will get it. I had something similar to this discussion with him. Like, how much explaining is too much? At what point do you just say, alright, not everyone’s gonna get it, and preserve the humor of the joke or the poignancy of the remark.

    My vote, my choice almost always, is to explain less rather than more but I think it’s a matter of preference. I’m willing to bet that a random sample of high school teachers would proffer the same answer. As would elementary teachers.

  7. the joke about 1.20.09 is only obscure to those in red states…maybe…but I surely don’t want to explain myself here.

    if I did, I’d be falling victim to your aforementioned ratio.

    and it would be all downhill after that.

  8. That bit from Stranger Than Fiction reminds me of the Fight Club Ikea scene.

    One of the pressing things I have on my plate from your blog recently, Dan, is how to design the lesson that gets the visual essay going. Yeah, examples help. But what are the basic requirements of the visual essay? How is the visual essay (did you coin that phrase, by the way, or is that an industry-standard term?) different than a plain old video project?

    Someone have an idea about this? Has anyone already designed that handout and/or lesson that rolls this out for the kids? I’m ready to bring it into my classroom in place of a written masterpiece (read as: essay), but I’m struggling with how to introduce it. That and I’m really weak on video (both resources and skills).

  9. What tools do your students have here? Specifically, do you have a lab with iMovie installed? Photoshop? Do you have a scanner? Do you have an LCD projector with PowerPoint (or Keynote)?

    Or no computers at all.

    What do you see your students using to make this?

  10. 13 computers in the room, 7 Macs with iMovie, 6 PCs with nothing. I have an LCD projector and all computers either have PowerPoint or Impress. I have a scanner, but it isn’t plugged in and is several years old (still sealed and in the box, I pulled it out of a throw-away pile). I don’t have any cameras that easily plug into a computer. All of my cameras are S-VHS or Hi8. Last I checked, I can’t get either of those formats to work with iMovie because none of the cameras are FireWire.

    But more than these kinds of logistics are the logistics of what defines this kind of essay writing. I’m working on some ideas, though, so I’ll let you know when I’ve got a few things together. Some stuff occurred to me today and I might have some thoughts to share on how to actually assign this in an English classroom. It’s more than just showing examples, in much the same way that teaching writing is more than just having students read good writing.

    Still, it worries me that I would ever assign something to my students that a) I’ve never done and b) I question my own skills in completing. I like assigning writing because I can write and I have ideas about how to help students write better. I’m trained in that kind of instruction and I’m paid for that expertise. I don’t have many ideas about how to help students create a better film project and the only film project I’ve worked on sits on my desktop computer, likely to never see the light of day (and not a visual essay, by any stretch).

  11. I’m mulling this over.

    Basically, authoring a visual essay is identical to authoring a written one in all the most important ways. Primarily, they are edited the same.

    Also for the record, in case it spurs your thoughts along, if you do this like I have it in mind, video won’t happen for awhile. This will stay good and static for a week or two.

    Do you have Photoshop on those machines?

  12. No Photoshop on them, but I have CS (1, not 2 or 3) in a box from my dad, ready to install on the PCs if needed. I can get CS for the Macs, too, if I need to. But I don’t think I’m going to go all Photoshop on the kids. The few that can use it would be grateful, but the rest would be lost and the ROI on time spent getting kids up to speed on Photoshop is fairly low. Presentation software would work just as well for planning, in my mind. Do you see Photoshop as crucial to this process?

    My kids are pouring through pieces by Ralph Emerson and Harold Bloom. A PPT where kids show what the two authors were thinking lilts on the horizon. I think that will be my first dance with this visual essay format. Of course, that’s just so their ideas are firm for the written essay assignment, not an end in and of itself. Still, should be interesting and could pave the way for some kind of semester final.

    Funny you mention editing because most students (in case you haven’t noticed) don’t believe in editing at all. Once written, they turn it in. I suspect the same of something like this.