WCYDWT: Book Of Eli

Huge spoilers for the movie Book of Eli. You were warned.

Click through to view embedded content.

1. What questions perplex you about this video?

If we were assigning a score for perplexity, can we agree that this would receive a much higher score than Big Baby?

Jazo: how long will it take for him to recite the whole bible?
Sam Critchlow: how long is this movie going to be if he speaks this slowly for the whole bible?
Peter: how long would it take to dictate the entire bible
Roz: How long would it take to transcribe the bible
Matt: how long to recite?
Chris: Given that the Bible was being recalled from memory and transcribed at the same time, how long might it take?

I set the units to “days” – I wouldn’t have done this in class – which led to:

2. What is your guess? What is a number you know is too high / too low?

3. What information do you need to answer that question?

Sam Critchlow: # words in bible
Chris: How many verses? Time per verse?
Peter: how many words per minute is he speaking? how many words in the bible
Roz: Are they taking breaks?
Jazo: how many words does he speak in a day at that speed?
schwartz: How fast a reader is he? How much time a day does he spend reading?
Matt: how many verses in the bible and average word length of each verse
Barb: I need to know if he reads 24 hours a day or takes breaks
Barb: Which version of the Bible
schwartz: How long is the bible in pages or words?

Three things about this conversation.

  1. It’s fun.
  2. It’s challenging.
  3. It doesn’t happen when you assign problems one through thirty odd.

I laid a timer over the relevant part of the video and linked it up, but you don’t even really need that. You’re counting. You’re Googling. (It’s the English Standard Version translation.) You’re calculating.

4. Submit your work.

Technical innovation: a public Evernote notebook.

Participants e-mailed my Evernote address with “@BookOfEli” in the subject. They attached a scan or a photo of their work and then everyone could see everybody else’s work.

5. Show the answer.

Technical demerits.

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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. I just watched the movie (it’s very bad), but it’s funny how almost everyone focuses on how fast Eli can talk, when to me it seems pretty likely that like all of us, he can talk faster than anyone can write. Besides fatigue, the real limit is the speed of the transcriber.

  2. @Colin, okay, let’s just go with I don’t know, 100 syllables per minute. Can you tell me where you go with the calculation next?

    @Chris, while agreeing with you that handwriting is harder than speaking, if the transcriber in the movie weren’t keeping pace, I don’t see why he wouldn’t have said something.

  3. You could go get one of those “Read the Bible in 365 days!” books, time a few of the readings from it, and extrapolate. (I read the entire Bible out loud once each calendar year. If you’re curious, a single day’s reading probably averages 15 minutes.)

  4. I’m horrible with math, but wouldn’t a festering gunshot wound to the gut mean that the dictation speed would realistically be a curve over time? I’m sure he picked up the pace a bit as the end drew near.

  5. I have an audio bible. It’s 80 hours long. Does that spoil all the fun?

    Granted, it’s read at a “normal” rate (not painfully slow)…so maybe just compare the time of the three verses read to the same three verses in the audio bible to create a ratio.

    Maybe that’s too simplistic?

    This is a good one though…lots of questions. One of which may be “When is the transcriber’s hand going to fall off?”

  6. Oops….my mistake…89 hours.

    Yes, for the entire bible Chris. It’s called The Bible Experience, published by Zondervan. Incidentally, Denzel reads part of it :)

  7. One more thing I forgot: there are a couple musical “interludes” scattered here and there throughout The Bible Experience audio bible. That might fatten up the run time, but not by much.

  8. Something about the question based on this movie clip reeks of pseudo-context. There was this discussion on the number of cones on a dress and I quote from Gail’s comment ‘This is what textbooks publishers and teachers seem to think is an authentic way to address the struggles of First Nations students (and other ethnic groups) with mathematics. It is important that students be able to “see” themselves in the resources and in the classroom, but the assumption is that this picture, with the highly culturally-stripped question, is somehow worth a check mark in that column. There is great significance in the dance, the dress, and even what the jingles might be made of, yet none of that is mentioned. Instead, all that’s done with it is to make an excuse for doing some Western mathematics.’

    Okay- so Christians are not exactly a minority group in the U.S. BUT- there is great significance in the situation, in the tone, in the content of what he is reading……….Instead all that is done with it is to make an excuse for timing a reading?
    Anyone agree that this is not what you can do with it?

  9. “Jim has forty Bibles more than Mark. Together than have 160 Bibles. How many Bibles do they each have?”

    That’s the Bible as pseudocontext.

    No one is suggesting that through this clip Christians will find their representation in math curriculum. This isn’t meant to be meaningful to Christians in the same way that the jingle dresses are meant to be meaningful to First Nations students. The Bible isn’t the point here. The point is that some guy is going to read aloud something very, very long. It’s helpful that it’s something with which we’re all at least glancingly familiar.

    Another indicator that this is context, not pseudocontext, is that I played the video and 100% of the participants wondered how long it will take him to read the whole Bible.

    Put the picture of the jingle dress in front of a group of students. What percentage of them will wonder how many jingles two girls each have if they have 545 jingles together and one girl has 185 more than the other?

    That’s pseudocontext.

  10. Dan, I agree with you on the last point, that context can be defined by the fact that those participating immediately find the context (100% of the participants wondered how long…). But I guess that’s where I struggle. I had to (while holding their hands) walk my students to that question. Less than 10% of my students went there on their own. How do you adjust when going from an online discussion of your readers to the students? Especially the students you taught last year? (since I think the population I work with is roughly the same)

  11. I’ll say again publicly that I have no problem just asking a particular question. The point of asking the students for questions (a move that came about later in the WCYDWT process) is two-fold: one, it gets them in the habit of asking questions and having those questions validated, if not through classroom investigation, through your enthusiasm for the creativity in those questions, and two, the student responses are invaluable for my curriculum development.

    Off your feedback, I might open up a Word document with the entire Bible pasted in and highlight the first three verses that Eli read, then scrolling down the entire document. I might re-edit that into the movie for the next year. It’s likely the case that younger students are less familiar with the length of the Bible than its other aspects.

    Year by year, by pivoting off their responses, we can make the current of the problem seem more natural.

    I’m curious about one other thing, though: how did you solicit their questions? If it was through hand raising, you have all kinds of group biases working against you there. If you’re having them write the question down on a scrap of paper and passing it forward, well that’s a different deal.

  12. In my mind the greatest advantage of WCYDWT problems like this one is how well they engage students. Much of the problems I face with the students I teach (urban students behind grade level) is getting them to engage in math, think about it and talk about it. The very few WCYDWT lessons I have tried have done a far better job at promoting that then a standard story problem from a textbook. A small video clip of a recent movie with a very recognizable actor is something I certainly think will get the students engaged. The fact that this video lends itself to one particular question I think only adds to the strength of the video. Then the process of searching out the information needed to answer that question is a great way to build problem solving skills.

    Also Dan, thanks again for hosting the WCYDWT sessions. I have enjoyed both that I have participated in. I look forward to more in the future.

  13. Good point. I solicited questions through dialogue. I’ve often used, which I didn’t here, tell your neighbor one thing that comes to mind regarding this video clip. The kids have almost no fear in asking questions to one another.

    Awesome idea on the Word Doc as well. I think for SpEd kids that would make a huge difference.