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December 1, 2016
Vol. 74
No. 4

The Techy Teacher / Join the TED-Ed Club

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Students deliver TED-style talks, sending their ideas into the world.

Instructional StrategiesTechnology
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Credit: Kevin Davis
Classrooms exist in an insular environment, and the work done there often feels disconnected from students' lives, interests, and hobbies. However, students today must cultivate the ability to navigate an increasingly connected global society. Global-ready graduates must be able to tackle real-world challenges, publish their work online, and connect with a worldwide audience. Of all the strategies I've tried to help my students develop these skills, delivering and publishing TED-style talks proved one of the most effective.
Two years ago, I heard about the free TED-Ed Clubs program, which is designed to support students in "discovering, exploring, and presenting their big ideas in the form of short TED-style talks." Naturally, I applied to be a TED-Ed Club facilitator. I was excited about the opportunity to guide my students through the process of identifying a real-world challenge, exploring and articulating an idea worth sharing, and delivering a powerful talk to publish online.

Getting Started

When I enthusiastically announced, "You are going to give TED-style talks!" my students were daunted and dismayed. One student asked, "Who's going to want to watch our talks?" That upset me. Too many teenagers assume they cannot add anything of value to the global conversation. It's my job to help students understand—and believe—that their ideas are worthwhile and their voices can reach a global audience.
Despite students' initial hesitation, I plowed ahead, using the TED-Ed Club curriculum to guide them through the process of identifying their passions, developing a great idea, writing a talk, and designing a presentation. The curriculum, organized into 13 meetings, includes club goals, meeting outlines, and clear deliverables, so it's easy for teachers to guide a group of students through the process.
As students explored issues and challenges that interested them—from the rising cost of college tuition, to concussion rates for athletes, to the potential power of social media—we focused on conducting strong online research to develop compelling ideas that are worth sharing. Students learned how to use site-specific and domain-specific Google searches to refine their results. They practiced using Google's Advanced Search, applying multiple operations at one time to limit results—for instance, to a specific window of time or a particular region of the world.
They also practiced evaluating website credibility to ensure that the information they found was worth citing in their talks. I emphasized that credibility was especially important in a talk that would be published, viewed, and potentially critiqued by large numbers of people all over the world. My students learned to ask specific questions about their online resources: Does the author have expertise in this field? How current is the information? Is the site funded by an organization that might be biased?

Developing Topics

In addition to doing online research, I encouraged my students to reach out to experts in the field through social media. Too often, students assume the only place to find information is in a book or online text, but Twitter and Facebook provide avenues to connect with and learn from experts who are wrestling with real-world issues. Connecting with these knowledgeable people requires that students learn how to set up an appropriate social media profile and engage online in a respectful and appropriate way—valuable skills for the global-ready graduate.
While students developed and researched their ideas, we watched, discussed, and critiqued several famous TED talks. In their critiques, students highlighted the importance of hooking the audience early. They liked the talks that blended storytelling with research, and they preferred talks that incorporated visual media. They also noted other details—for instance, that small movements were sometimes distracting, and that the absence of filler words like "um" and "uh" made the talks more powerful. My students realized quickly that even though these talks felt fluid and natural, they had been well-rehearsed.
As students wrote their scripts, designed their visual presentations, and practiced their delivery, they referred back to their critiques of other TED talks and tried to develop talks that would appeal to a global audience. Because students focused on topics that mattered to them—topics like the importance of sex education in high school, redefining and reclaiming the word feminism, and developing more dynamic female comic book characters for young girls—they were motivated to do the challenging work. This personal investment in their topics resulted in talks that were varied and interesting.

Sharing with the World

After two months of work, students took the stage. I was there digitally recording them, and I sat stunned as I listened to the first student deliver her TED-style talk about the beauty of chaos in our lives. She was rehearsed, eloquent, and passionate. She beautifully wove together her life experiences and her research. Her talk clearly resonated with her peers, too: When she finished, the room exploded in applause. As I stopped the recording, I imagined her watching her talk. I knew she would be proud of her work, but I didn't anticipate what would happen after she published her talk online: The TED-Ed team invited my student to New York City, where she delivered her talk on the TED stage.
This project helped all my students find their voices and learn how to push their ideas into the world. The students published their TED-style talks on their personal YouTube channels, and several students had hundreds of views on their talks. This level of visibility online helped my students realize that their ideas matter—a crucial understanding for students who plan to make their mark in our increasingly global society.

Catlin Tucker is a Google Certified Innovator, bestselling author, international trainer, and keynote speaker. Catlin is currently working as an education consultant and blended learning coach while pursuing her doctorate at Pepperdine University.

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