Friday, October 1, 2010

Education and Entertainment

Entertainment is education. Unfortunately, the converse is not always true. That’s why made-up words like edutainment are redundant. It’s like saying infodata or buggy software.

So what makes something entertaining? Usually it’s a story … something with characters the audience cares about facing some conflict. So how can we apply this to teaching something like, for example, the Pythagorean Theorem?

Pythagoras (from the Greek Pythagoras meaning “a guy whose name is Pythagoras”) had this theorem, which is like a theory but in math. His theorem said that the square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides.

Digging further, we find that in math, a square is something multiplied by itself. Of course, all literature from the Bible on down tells us you can’t multiply by yourself. It takes two to be fruitful. (So when one angle says of another, “Hey, that’s acute angle. We’d be so right together,” it’s not just being complementary.)

Suppose the sides of a triangle are streets in the heart of a town, and Mr. Pythagoras wants to build a store on one of these streets. Stretch the imagination even further to suppose that each block in this town is a perfect square. This picture sums it up.

So, if Pythagoras wants the biggest possible store, does he build on East-West Street, or on North-South Street, or on Hypotenuse Street? Pythagoras came up with his famous theorem that the block on Hypotenuse St. is the size of the other two blocks put together.

But then he said "Screw it!" and decided to build right on the triangle in the middle! He gets more walk-in traffic, and he has three sides facing main streets to put up windows and show off his stuff. If he needs more room, he’ll just build up. Besides, a triangular building will get some interest.

But then Amazon put him out of business.