Williston Senior Finding Viral Fame by Sharing Love of Math

Figuring out the formula for viral fame isn’t easy, but for one Williston Northampton School senior, her love of math has opened the door to wider internet fame.

Elsa Frankel ’23 used her Head’s Holiday last week to create a TikTok video using a filter—or overlay—she created that has garnered 2.4 million views so far. Her filter works like many you might have seen that prescribe you—roulette-style—a personality or food preference, as you record your reaction. What was different, though, is Frankel’s filter assigned users an answer related to the unit circle.

The unit circle is a math tool often used by students in high school—including here at Williston. In simple terms, a unit circle is a circle with a radius of 1, and equations derived from that circle are used in different math fields, including trigonometry.

For Frankel, learning the unit circle created the proverbial lightbulb moment in her head.

“The different patterns that you recognize are fascinating, and it really taught me that I was able to do math, that I was good at math,” Frankel said, “and now I’m taking Honors Discrete because of it.”

The filter video isn’t the only one garnering attention for Frankel. She has generated over 800,000 “likes” on her page. Other videos have also drawn plenty of eyeballs—one video showcasing her unit circle-themed room has amassed over 900,000 views, and another video highlighting a project she did has over 500K.

Frankel’s foray into content creating started, as she said, on a whim recently. While she used to record videos growing up, it wasn’t until she transitioned from day student to boarder for her senior year that Frankel thought up creating videos around math themes—specifically the unit circle.

“I saw some of my friends had been doing videos and I saw videos online, so I thought let’s make some TikTok videos I had from inspiration. I was planning to come board here this year, so I thought wouldn’t it be funny if I had a unit circle dorm room, so I put that on there, and that was one of the first videos that blew up.”

The process to creating her filter—and the video that truly took off—was simple, according to Frankel. With an idea in hand, it took a pair of programs and a little handiwork to get it uploaded to TikTok. Shortly after the filter went up, it was approved and Frankel was off to creating her moment.

Since then, over 4,000 people have used the filter to make their own videos and get assigned a point from the circle, ranging from fellow peers to high school and college math professors.

“That’s the coolest part,” Frankel said, “because I’ve seen people using their teachers, and then actual teachers using it saying ‘this is so cool, I love math, let’s test this out.’”

Frankel hopes she can keep her momentum going. In a space where a lot of social math content is about tutoring and by nature more rigid, Frankel’s effort to bring levity and humor gives her an angle to stand out.

“I’ve always been interested in ways to make math more accessible to different learning styles,” Frankel said. “I think this style, of doing it through social media and getting people excited about math in a way they haven’t seen it before is a really interesting opportunity.”