Friday, September 16, 2011

TED Talks AHS Style

Towards the end of second semester, our ninth grade Honors students were challenged to deliver their own TED talk based upon a subject they were passionate about. Maura Moritz and I heavily borrowed this idea from Christian Long who encouraged, supported, and motivated our efforts to build off what he had done with his students in Texas. All he asked was that we give credit back to his students and their work, and make it better. Hopefully, we made you proud, Christian.

Christian gave us access to his resources on his wiki that was instrumental in the success of our students’ projects. Having a basis from which to work, Maura and I constructed a similar website to guide our students and ourselves. We asked our students to answer the question, “What Matters?” in a 5 minute Pecha Kucha or Ignite style presentation.

I think this is one of the scariest parts on undertaking an idea you have never done before, nor have any idea where the project is going to go, or how it might turn out in the end. We were navigating in un-charted waters, with a minimalistic map of where we wanted to go. Luckily for us, we had students who were patient, reflective, and willing to try anything we challenged them with. I love those kids!

From the students’ perspective this was scary territory too. They were riding without seat belts on our learning adventure. Not only were they responsible for creating their own TED talk, but their talk was going to be shown live on Ustream for all to see. The students’ job was to “Change the World” by what they discussed. As TED requests, they were to “Spread an idea worth spreading” and “Inspire.” NO PRESSURE! Plus, Maura and I have never given out an assignment before that was so individual, so raw, so independent and so challenging to our students and to ourselves as teachers. Usually when we take on a speaking project, we ask that kids complete the project in groups. However, this time, with issues so controversial yet so personal, it only could be a solo project.

In the beginning we had our students watch numerous TED talks to get a feel for what makes a quality talk. As we were wrapping up our readings from Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind and selections from Drive, we started viewing various TED talks: Sir Ken Robinson, Dan Pink, Clay Shirky, and Dave Eggers. Additionally, our students had to watch TED or TEDx videos on their own. Using their own blogs, our students reflected about each video. Here was the assignment:

Students will offer a written summary of all 8+ videos they are assigned. Each summary will be uploaded as an individual blog entry following these simple rules (to guarantee a ‘Gentleman’s C’, so to speak): 1) write respectfully and thoughtfully, 2) write about "What Matters" from the video c) write about the speaker's effectiveness and purpose and d) attempt to be “remarkable” — to borrow from TED speaker Seth Godin’s talk — so that visitors will want to “remark” about your post and also consider the video itself. Beyond that, write in a way that is meaningful and compelling. Period.

If you need a more detailed list of what to reflect upon consider:

1-What are your take-aways from this video?

2-What are the speaker’s effective speaking techniques?

3- What is his/her presentation style?

4-What matters from this video? How does it connect to you personally? To education? To the world?

Asking the students to be reflective not only about the content, but about the speaker’s style forced the students to examine their own speaking styles they would employ for their presentation. What works? What definitely doesn’t work? How were they going to stand apart from the rest? Here is a sample of one student’s reflective blog post:

Megan M:

Dave Eggers is bent on improving education. By providing students with one-on-one attention and by incorporating relaxed fun into learning, he has already initiated a movement to change the face of learning. Eggers describes in his TED video the multiple, new-era tutoring facilities that have popped up around the country in response to his original site. These educational building are unique; the front rooms of them contain stores in which fun and comedic items, such as pirate or super hero supplies, are sold. In the back room, several volunteers tutor individual students that arrive after school. Not only do students receive help at these sites, they also have the opportunity to compose their own novels alongside interns and journalists. In my opinion, these new learning facilities should be included in every community nation-wide because they help tackle two of education’s largest challenges today.

Many students struggle through their curriculum simply because they cannot remain engaged in their studies. After all, with all of the information teachers drill into students’ heads, it becomes hard to avoid a loss of interest. By the time high school, and even middle school, rolls around, kids’ views of school have switched from an engaging, learning experience, to a chore. One hundred years ago, society would have deemed children crazy for not valuing their educations and feeling grateful for every minute they spent in school. Back then, an education was a luxury that spelled out certain success for those lucky enough to receive one. Education has developed, however, to become commonplace; an education does not guarantee success, nor does a college degree. Instead of ensuring future prosperity, these accomplishments are merely the baseline requirements to even open the doors to success. Thus, students no longer are able to see the direct effect their learning will have on their futures. Kids today may understand that in the long run a better education equals greater prosperity; yet in the classroom, each day of note-taking and memorizing equations seems hardly relevant. For example, I eventually hope to enter into medical school, and thus my main concerns lie in science and mathematics. However, in order to graduate from my high school, I must obtain over twice as many credits in English as I must in math. To me, this means that I must waste my time studying a subject that I will not need extensive knowledge of. The tutoring/teaching style Eggers has set up is the first step towards solving this problem. Students in his original facility learn next to magazine writers and interns, who both help and inspire them. While in the facility, kids also have the opportunity to write and publish their own books with the help of editors. Instructors speak to the kids individually and concentrate directly on their needs, allowing students to concentrate their efforts on the subjects they are most concerned with and focus on the assignments that will benefit them personally. These methods display for kids exactly how their day-to-day work, especially in English, will apply to their futures. Since the kids also learn in a fun, friendly, environment, the drudgery associated with schoolwork disappears. Instead of trudging home to independently complete tedious homework, kids travel to a club filled with people willing to help them and wanting to discuss. Students are released, often with their homework completed, by 5:30 pm. This accomplishment solves the largest issue I personally have with education. At times, it completely consumes my life. One quarter may be peaceful and result in at most two hours of homework each night. The next quarter usually then explodes, and my minimum nightly homework requirement shifts to at least three hours, normally four or five (plus around ten hours on the weekends). With the amount of time my classes demand I dedicate to homework, I must sacrifice several things I enjoy in life to meet my teacher’s expectations. If I could accomplish everything I need for school and still have three to four hours remaining every night to pursue whatever passion I choose, undoubtedly I would enjoy and appreciate my education much more.

Egger’s talk about the buildings in which he holds his tutoring sessions in reminded of Daniel Pink’s words on the importance of design. Eggers’ facilities are a prime example of the benefits of good design. When Eggers first advertized for his tutoring studio, he placed a sandwich sign outside of his shop announcing free tutoring inside. Unsurprisingly, he had no business the first few weeks. His sign appeared unprofessional and sloppy, eliminating all chance of parents trusting him to teach their children. Also, the initial sight people saw upon entering his facility was a shop selling pirate paraphernalia. People who did not already know who Eggers was or what he was trying to accomplish would immediately dismiss him as a joker or a loon. If Eggers had placed his teaching workshop or magazine offices in front, or set out a professional advertisement, he would have attracted much more business. Eggers did succeed with design, however, in a few ways with his building. As I mentioned in the paragraph above, the pirate shop adds and air goofiness and play to the tutoring workshop, allowing kids to escape the mentality of being trapped in a schoolroom. The room in which students learn is further visible to parents and other people as they enter the store, creating a feel of openness, community, and faith in the honesty of what Egger is doing.

Eggers finally made a point that students produce their best work when they know it will be published for the world to see. When Eggers made this point, he was referring to the novels several classes had composed together in his shop. This idea of publishing could be made accessible to all classrooms, however, without a publishing facility. Technology has opened the door for all of us to let our voices be heard, independent of assistance from others. If teachers want to encourage students to always produce their best quality work, all they need to do is have students create blogs and websites and post their assignments on them. Once information is on the web, anyone in the world can read it. Essentially, it is published. The more well-known the website, the more pressure students will feel to post quality work. While publishing work online is a terrific idea for ensuring effort is put into important assignments, having students publish everything they write often overwhelms them. When students are asked to publish too much, they give up after realizing they cannot possibly make every piece of work their best quality. Thus, using the internet as a medium for publication is an effective trigger of instrinsic motivation when used in moderation.

Education truly should learn from the expeditions of Dave Egger, and bring more fun, individualized attention, good design, and publishing into its curriculum.

More about the author: or

More about the tutoring shops:

As the students progressed through the last few weeks, they were required to meet with Maura and I individually. We discussed each topic, gave suggestions, encouraged, and reminded them of what a great opportunity this was. The world was ready to hear their ideas! They needed to practice, practice, practice. They needed to look again and again at the visuals they chose for their backgrounds. They needed to think about their dress and speaking voice too.

In class, each day there was a focus regarding their presentation: work on slides, find images that capture idea, rehearse first minute, work on posture and voice, add more slides, practice at front of classroom using clicker, rehearse second minute, rehearse third minute, stand up straight, change slide order, rehearse final minute, smile, appearance, etc…

Finally, the presentations began. All I could hear from the students was how nervous they were but how meaningful this assignment was to them. This could make a difference. This could change the way people thought about bullies, cancer, eating, smiling, and physical attributes. This project would change the world! And boy did they blow me away. As each student presented, his classmates would leave feedback regarding the presentation on the individual’s blog post on our class blog. What a powerful reinforcement for their work and ideas. Here are some samples:

KendallC2014 said...Lauren-Your presentation was very powerful. The stories show just how bullying affects kids. Your message will go straight to people's heart, and make them feel ashamed to judge people. Many people dismiss bullying as trivial, but you have showed them it is a serious issues. Your facts really emphasize your point. Good job!

ians2014 said...Lauren, your topic was very deep and confrontational. It is interesting because because you had tons of stories including a personal story. And not everyone sees bullying from the bullied perspective. I think that your tone was very helpful get your point across. It was very emotionally evoking. Great job honing in on us personally.

VivianD2014 said...Her voice was very passionate and really caught my attention. Her stories were very moving. I was very moved and it really made me think about bullying. I loved how her points flowed. I like how she connected bullying to her own life. The talk was very moving and she knew her topic. I was speechless after Lauren's talk. I now want to be nicer and watch what I say.

As I write this, thinking back to last semester, tears are in my eyes. I can’t express how proud I was of each student. From some students overcoming fears of standing in front of their peers, to other students making us laugh and cry, each student ended their presentation with a challenge to us as the audience. Each challenge came from the heart. Each challenge required more of us as human beings in these crazy times. Each challenge made me want to be more and do more for my students. I was overwhelmed by the energy they created in their presentations. Paraphrasing Dr. Seuss, these kids will move mountains. My students have an amazing digital portfolio of their work from the freshman year. They have left the world a better place because they have challenged the world to be better and do better by them.

I don’t know what this year will bring with a new set of students and their TED talks, but they will have big shoes to fill. Watch, comment and learn. These kids have something to teach us all. and

Here are a suggested few: (there are more on our Ustream channel )

Lauren B

Lauren C

Megan M

Maddie F

Steven A

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