5 YouTube Accounts for a Brain Snack

These days, YouTube is still a great place to find videos of cats or middle school students acting out the Scarlet Letter, equipped with shaky camera shots and wind-buried dialogue. But it’s also a fascinating place to find some videos for a quick brain snack, a short (3-15 minute) video about an “educational” topic, often released weekly. Not only are such videos great background noise for morning routines, they can add some pep and multimedia to a lesson.

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PBS Idea Channel: I put this first, as it’s the first one of these I found. Idea Channel, hosted by Mike Rugnetta, explores contemporary or near-contemporary topics through various academic lenses, told in a fast-paced, meme-filled manner. Topics are very expansive. Gender performativity, Internet “laws,” cultural studies, anime analysis, questions of democracy, country music, logical fallacies, and more, drawing heavily from critical theory. For a video based on algorithms, consider this:

But Idea Channel is just one out of many PBS channels with great content. I recently found The Art Assignment, for example, and have been a long-time watcher of PBS Game Show, about game studies, and It’s OK to Be Smart, for science education. Seeing PBS branch out successfully into YouTube, I’m excited to see how such outreach grows.

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The School of Life: With variety in mind, I wanted to choose this one. The School of Life, with a book series featured on Brain Pickings, connects strongly with British popular philosopher and writer Alain de Botton, but is by no means his own brainchild or enterprise. The YouTube channel features informative videos about philosophers, artists, sociologists, and more, from many contributors, like this one about Cy Twobly:

But it also has inspiring LEGO animations, sobering meditations, playful, poignant (or crushingly awkward) dramatizations and animations about relationships, and Monty Python-style videos on questions of taste or meaning. Some videos may be more controversial, like the episodes connected to pornography or sex, and others may be somewhat prescriptive, but they often provide a relevant perspective on everyday life, as their orienting video urges:

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VSauce: “VSauce, Michael here,” and so opens these wandering, connection-heavy trips into various concepts and concept clusters. One of the bulwarks of thought-provoking YouTube for some time now, VSauce has inspired various offshoots, up to VSauce 3. It draws from a range of sources, but often centers back to science (especially physics), linguistics, culture, and history. I think the interesting thing here, as alluded to, is the associative mode that the videos take. Starting at point A, the videos hardly lead to point B, and when they do, Michael guides the trip around a whole slew of letters first. Watching may be the best way to experience these, as the clip below shows. You may also like Veritasium.

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SciShow: As with Mike Rugnetta and Idea Channel, Hank Green and the others at SciSchow can represent many channels, including SciShow Space, Vlog Brothers, and Crash Courses. Unlike many of the other channels in this list, SciShow updates quite often and generally has short videos, including presentations (and dissections) of current science news or scientific topics, called a “dose.”

I feel that this channel does a great job with two things: [1] videos that address questions you always wanted to ask your science teacher but never did and [2] videos that discuss science news in an accessible way. For example, what are the most dangerous chemicals? So many high school kids want to know, but fear to ask. Regarding the news component, this recent video deals with the “woman” on Mars:

As with the PBS channels, SciShow and its related channels play a key role in science education for ongoing, upcoming generations. They are accessible and fit the sort of “hyper reading” that may grow more common with current students.

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Physics Girl: I chose Physics Girl because women are still a bit rare on social media, especially in these contexts, and often endure comment-level cat calling or demeaning jabs. Plus, she represents the only woman-dominated channel on this list, another possible extension of that trend.

Diana Cowern breaks down complex cosmology and fascinating poolside and kitchen experiments with playful, yet robust explanations. Inspiring for women entering into STEM fields, people like Cowern provide key examples of success. She clearly describes complex concepts in accessible, terse videos more clearly than most other physics videos. For an example, consider this one:

-A final note-

I had to leave out a lot for this list, but a range was my emphasis. In particular, I quite like Philosophy Tube, This Exists, Wisecrack, Healthcare Triage, and Feminist Frequency. But a whole range of videos exists if one knows where to look, and with the brilliance (and troubles) of algorithms, YouTube channels lead to their likes. So happy searching.

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