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Sachem High School East teacher Scott Kennedy turned into cartoon

Scott Kennedy, a math teacher at Sachem High

Scott Kennedy, a math teacher at Sachem High School East, was one of the first 100 teachers chosen to help launch TED-Ed, a website that features animated lesson plans for students and teachers. Credit: Erin Geismar

Scott Kennedy's teaching style could be described as nothing less than animated.

The geometry and Advanced Placement calculus teacher at Sachem High School East is enthusiastic in his descriptions, lighthearted in his humor and energized in his presentation.

And that was even before he was literally turned into a cartoon.

Kennedy, 30, who has taught at Sachem East for six years, was one of 100 teachers around the country chosen to help launch TED-Ed, a website geared at creating animated video lessons for teachers and students across disciplines.

In March, Kennedy wrote and recorded a script that explained the history and the logistics of solving a mathematical proof. The video was published on the TED-Ed website in August and Kennedy was surprised, but pleased, to find the video had been animated and he appeared as a cartoon.

“I was secretly hoping,” he said. “I thought, ‘How cool would it be to be a cartoon character?’ And then when I saw it, I thought, ‘This is amazing. This is exactly how I would want to do it.’”

TED-Ed is a division of TED, which stands for technology, education and design. It was started in 1984 as a conference and evolved into a website that hosts the conferences and other education lectures for a global audience.

Logan Malley, director of TED-Ed, said the educational site is a tool for educators around the world.

“Where TED is amplifying the voice of thought leaders, TED-Ed is trying to amplify the voice of teachers,” he said. “We are trying to create lessons worth sharing.”

He said the website has an open nomination process — in which teachers can also nominate themselves — and the TED-Ed editorial team selects the best lessons to feature on the site and then works with the educator and an animator to create the video.

“The TED-Ed lessons are a new content form so we are constantly experimenting,” he said. “But the general thrust of TED-Ed is to feed the innate curiosity that learners and teachers all over the world have.”

In the animation, the cartoon Kennedy explains how to solve a proof wearing clothes very similar to Kennedy’s own style, the same square-frame glasses and using the same mannerisms.

“They got the gestures,” Kennedy said, “the way he pushes up his glasses and points his finger in the air.”

Kennedy is no stranger to bringing new media into the classroom. For years, Kennedy, who is also a musician and studied musical theater as a minor in college, has been creating YouTube videos to teach math lessons for his own classroom.

Soon after posting his first video, he learned that their reach was far beyond the Sachem community. He started getting hits and responses from all over the world — almost all positive.

“I try to keep things lively,” he said. “I make jokes, I play music, there’s a theme song. In today’s world, it’s hard enough not to be distracted when we all have computers in our pockets.”

Malley said Kennedy’s YouTube channel helped the team envision how relatable Kennedy would be in the animation, and it’s that kind of shining personality that helps make his video successful on TED-Ed.

“Scott’s in particular works because he delivers it with a lot of enthusiasm and he’s incredibly clear,” he said. “Its clarity coupled with the animation removes this idea of math proofs from the abstract and puts it in a place where it can be seen, felt, understood and shared.”

Sachem East Principal Lou Antonetti said Kennedy is one of the building’s “more innovative” teachers that always has his students’ best interests at heart.

“The best part is most of the kids as they are walking out of his classroom,” he said, “they are still talking about his lesson.”

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