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My Love Affair with TED (.com)

Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA
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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 (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 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 that fall under your subject matter. Come on back here and post the URL so that we can all benefit from your exploration.

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Heather Wolpert-Gawron

ELA Teacher, Middle School, Curriculum Coordinator TOSA

Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

brahim elouafi's picture
brahim elouafi
teacher of English at a high school Morocco

very intresting ideas;but why don't we talk it throgh in a sort of webinar?

KatyB's picture

My sixth graders loved Stamets' TED speech, "6 Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World" Even the one's who hate mushrooms were intrigued. When the mushroom popped out of the ant's head they were dazzled. Context, connections, short segments, and careful guidance are all needed to make TED accessible to youngsters.

Bob Calder's picture
Bob Calder
Internet and Society

I've been using TED talks as long as they've been available. Honestly I can't remember. 2003 maybe? But here's my current lineup:
Start with Michael Shermer's why we believe strange things because he's funny, easy to understand, and it starts critical thinking.
Move to Sir Ken Robinson on creativity because he's less accessible but his dry humor can be understood after Shermer when students feel familiar with the venue.
Finally Hans Rosling's 2006 presentation on how what we know about how other people in the world live is wrong. He's an amazing speaker and by the time students get used to TED, they're ready to listen carefully to Rosling.
We then use Google spreadsheets to create a five-d graph.

This serves as the launching pad for my globalization lessons that use the Lexus and the Olive Tree as source material. The first lesson is a talk about technology that frames Lowell as an example of industrial espionage( see American contributors.)that kicks off a cycle of changes that halves upon each iteration, beginning in New England, moving the the Carolinas, then to Singapore and South Africa, ending in a labor cycle that can be less than a year and can hop from one continent to another, taking advantage of cheap labor.
You can use the Harvard archive to connect to women's issues and union history as there were bloody confrontations in the Lowell and Lawrence area.

VRBurton's picture
English I Teacher from New Orleans, LA

I have recently discovered the Ted Talks and I am in love. I have created a wiki to house Talks that my class is going to have to blog about. I tried to collect some according to: subject, recently submitted and age of the speaker. I want them to view, discuss and create their own. I have high hopes and big dreams. LOL

Bob Calder's picture
Bob Calder
Internet and Society

From time to time, I will get an email from a former student specifically about a new TED talk. It's nice to see they are still interested in the lectures.

On the downside, I think TED is a bit like any commercial enterprise that struggles to hold an audience. Sometimes the content is questionable. For instance I firmly believe that Deepak Chopra does not belong in front of impressionable people, young or not.

People do good for many reasons.

PJ Standlee's picture
PJ Standlee
IESL Instructor at Monterey Institute of International Studies

Don't forget the local TEDx events. We used TEDxMonterey as a curriculum tool where I work. It's a good way to connect the local thinkers to the students and vice versa.

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