“Man dancing”: Checking the facts

If you haven’t seen it, you may be in a minority that includes mostly people without internet access.

The story behind it is rather innocent and charming. Matt Harding, a young American computer programmer working in Australia, decided to spend a year touring the world. Somewhere along the line he got the idea to shoot video of himself dancing in various places. He posted in on YouTube. A chewing gum company saw the thing, and for reasons known only to public relations freaks and geniuses, called Matt to do it again, with better production quality, for a bit of publicity. So there are two videos of Matt Harding dancing, in exotic and interesting places.

Especially if this is new to you, you’re skeptical. Good. Kempton’s Blog was similarly skeptical, and did some research on the video, and on Matt.

Is there a lesson plan in here for history and other social studies? I think so. This can go directly to the issue of how we know what we know, and what are primary and secondary sources for history, as tested in Texas’s Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS).

There are several ways to use these videos, when I sit down to think about them for a moment, listed below the fold.

First, they would be good break videos — that music and those videos you play in the breaks between classes to get the kids in and out of the class, with their understanding that when the bell rings and the video or music stops, it is a cue to them to pay attention. (This is a technique from the “brain learning” bunch that I spent hours learning about at an alternative education conference, after I had used it; I am probably biased in its favor — your mileage may vary, of course.)

Second, this could easily be made into a quiz for world geography, and with a bit of work, for world history. There’s Matt in front of the Kremlin, and in Vietnam, and at Angkor Wat. Think about it for a few minutes. The first video was shot in 2003 — compare Matt’s view of the top of Kilimanjaro with photos today, for a discussion of global warming.

Third, it can be the basis for an exercise in history sources. Is the video real? Was it done in a studio with lots of special effects? How can we tell? The post at Kempton’s Blog goes directly to those issues. Students with internet access could spend a class period answering a handful of questions about whether it is what it purports to be or was instead done in a studio, and how the students can tell — with primary and secondary sources (the newspapers, for example), and how to tell good secondary sources from bad. Kempton’s Blog links to a story in the Burlington (Vermont) Free Press about Matt speaking at Champlain College, with a photo of his dancing with the Champlain College dance team. Primary source? Secondary source? How does it lend credibility to the story that the videos are real?

In a search of internet sources, Wikipedia will come up often. This is a good time to discuss the reliability of internet sources, too.

Key issue: How to show the video in your classroom? I have no internet link in my public school classroom at the moment, so it will take a bit of preparation to get a way to show it on a television or from a projector, probably including the use of a computer. In the college classes I teach at the moment, each classroom is equipped with high-speed internet connections and projectors, with good sound amplification, with a desktop computer already in place. We just sign in and project it.

Surely there are other good classroom uses for these videos that I am missing.

Oh, and here is the second, more refined version of Matt Harding dancing around the world:

One Response to “Man dancing”: Checking the facts

  1. kempton says:

    Hi Ed,

    Thanks for using my post as example and I think your post here is absolutely wonderful. Love the way you try to teach geography, history, Wikipedia reliability, internet source reliability, etc. all in a very fun and engaging manner.

    I especially love your third point. One thing I would like to add here is that depends on the criticality of the story, it will also determine how “far” we need to go. In the case of “Man Dancing” video, I set my standard at one that “satisfied my curiosity”. As such, I rely on my reporting colleagues at Washington Post, NEWS.com.au, etc.

    If I were writing or reporting on a story of much more important value (e.g. an article about whether my country should go to war or not) and I have the time and resources (e.g. if I were the New York Times or The Globe and Mail), I will then do my own researches and interviews to back things up. My point is even the big media company can and will get things wrong so it is important to think and report independently. I don’t remember the specifics but there was one bad example of not enough verifications by other news media, and they ended up all referencing the same wrong source.

    These are just my two cents.

    Happy teaching,


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