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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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My Love Affair with TED (.com)

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night

I don't know what our civilization will be remembered for, but one of the concepts I would like to nominate as most valuable is our recent era's ability to democratize information.

The democratization of information centers on this explosion of new, free, high-level information that has become available to anyone. It's a miracle really. It is the great equalizer in education, the ability for anyone to tap into the innovations of our time, to become witness to the greatest minds of our time, and to even participate in the conversation and help to create the information as it happens.

And this concept, this revolution in accessible high-level concepts, should be tapped into as a teacher. The students may understand the tools, but it is up to us to introduce our students to the diversity and rigor of content that is out there so that they aren't always seeking out burgers when they could be digesting lobster.

I recently attended a symposium on 21st Century Learning in Los Angeles. The keynote speaker, Cheryle Lemke, President and CEO of the Metiri Group said the following: "we are no longer at the center of the learning for our students." Our task now, she says, is to leverage the learning possibilities from outside our school walls and from the online possibilities that are out there, and harness them into ways to teach our students how to find their own lessons and how to love the act of learning.

There are so many ways to exploit the democratization of ideas: the creation and sharing of digital classroom textbooks, the use of video conferencing and distance learning, the use of hyperlinking resources into student research papers, just to name a few.

But I want to start small in today's post and just introduce you, if you haven't been introduced already, to TED.com. TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a conference of the brightest minds on the planet speaking on the topics in their expertise. Want a brain massage? Just jump online and pull up a 20-minute lecture on the topic of your choice and recharge your batteries or reinvigorate your knowledge base with one of their videos. In fact, I admit it, my last date night with my husband did not descend into late-night amor, but rather shared late-night TED viewing.

Now think about the possibilities in the classroom. Just imagine beginning your week on Monday with a 15-minute lecture, for free, on the topic that you are covering as taught by the geniuses of our current historic and scientific era.

So what I've done just to give you a taste of the process and to help you dip your toe into the TED pool, is breakdown some great key lectures by subject matter. Sure, some of it is over the heads of the kids, but maybe there's a few minutes chunk or a 30-second nugget that you can share.

What's great about TED is that it can be used as a routine intro to any class and it doesn't need a whole computer lab. You can use your laptop and LCD projector to bring the most innovative minds of our time into your classroom or you can assign a student to view a particular part of a speech by identifying the particular time code to fast forward to in order for the piece to be accessible.

Here are the TED lectures:

Now go beyond TED to the very heart of the democratization of ideas. Introduce your students to the free classes out there from some of the best universities. Introduce them to clips from YouTube EDU, from iTunesU, from NASA, from data.gov. The beauty of this era, the miracle of this decade, is that we get to celebrate the information that has opened its doors to the layman.

Sure, as middle school students or elementary students, much of university level work is, for the time being, out of their reach; but as a teacher, you can front-load a lesson with a clip of a lecture, a quote from an author, a PowerPoint from a graduate student and make "for the time being" seem like no time at all.

Invite TED into your classroom and introduce your students to the miracle of this educational age. Watch enough of them, and students will want to democratize their own ideas.

Hey, why not hold your own TED conference with student experts on different topics that they submit, practice, perform in front of an audience, record for future review and watching? These videos can then be used for resources for your next year's classes. And so you have created a venue for student ideas democratized, reflecting the world that exists online and in their futures.

So go and explore clips on Ted.com that fall under your subject matter. Come on back here and post the URL so that we can all benefit from your exploration.

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

Middle School teacher by day, Tweenteacher by night
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