September/October 2017 – Vol. 30 No. 1

Technology for the Classroom: An Examination of TED-Ed

Posted: Monday, April 2nd, 2012

by Donna Ross

Technology has become a central component of the science classroom, but it can be overwhelming to consider the vast array of resources. During the next few months I will review a few of my favorite free or low-cost options for teachers. This month I am starting with TED-Ed. In case you haven’t used TED talks, I will start with a brief overview before exploring their new educational initiative.

TED is a nonprofit that began nearly 30 years ago as a conference. The underlying goal was that there are some ideas so important that they are worth sharing. People were invited to come and give a brief talk that would be shared with others. Since then, the conferences have continued, generally two per year with up to 100 presenters sharing talks that last from six to eighteen minutes. Eventually, the goal became even bigger. It seemed that if the ideas were worth sharing, they were worth sharing even more widely. For the past five years, many of the talks have been shared with the world on the TED website http://www.ted.com/talks.

The topics are wide-ranging. Certainly not all are appropriate for the classroom, but many are well-suited for teachers or classes. A teacher might show David Gallo’s talk about amazing sea creatures during a biology lesson on adaptations as an example or as a motivational hook for a marine science unit. In less than six minutes, the oceanographer is able to share his passion for the subject, highlight the wonders still to be discovered, and show incredible ways some marine animals protect and defend themselves.

Do you have students who are great thinkers but have been trained by school to consider science as a collection of dry facts?  If so, they probably have trouble imagining how science can still be creative or innovative.  Some of the longer TED talks might be too in-depth for the whole class, but they may be perfect for a few students who need inspiration for a particular project.  Mycologist Paul Stamets talks about the largest organism, a fungus in the Pacific Northwest, and describes his experiments showing how mycelium fungus can benefit our environment.  In fact, Stamets humbly calls his talk “Six Ways Mushrooms can Save the World.” He has done experiments on fungi that can break down neurotoxins, break down petroleum waste, and kill termites and carpenter ants.  Again, the passion for science comes through in the TED talk.

Another feature of TED is the “Best of the Web.” In this section, they have collected many excellent excerpts of talks and videos beyond those connected to TED talks. In essence, they have already done what many of us keep meaning to do. They have created a library of presentation clips by marvelous speakers and thinkers so we don’t have to search for them. Take a moment to think of a scientist who inspired you. There might be a clip about that person. For example, I have always been in awe of Richard Feynman, as much for his wonder about the world as for his amazing grasp of quantum mechanics. TED.com has Richard Feynman talking about the role of imagination in physics in their “Best of the Web” series. It wouldn’t be an effective choice for my whole classes at the high school, but it is a good choice with my pre-service teachers to show them why Feynman was such a popular figure. The Feynman clips might also help my pre-service students step back from the pressures of the teacher education program, with the obligatory focus on state mandates and assessments, to remember why we initially entered this field. The “Richard Feynman: Physics is fun to imagine” talk can be found at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/richard_feynman.html.

Having contact with an active scientist can be motivating and inspirational. Some students are fortunate enough to know a scientist in their personal lives, but others do not. The TED talks can provide a type of virtual role models for our students. One of the TED initiatives is to select forty young professionals each year who have shown unusual potential in their fields. These TED Fellows have their expenses paid to attend the TED conference. Then they participate in a TED coaching program during the year and have an opportunity to give a talk at the following TED conference. If their talk is selected, it is posted on the TED website. Many of these TED Fellows are younger and of different ethnic backgrounds than the original TED conference participants. In addition, many of the newer talks are translated with subtitles in up to 40 different languages. I use some of these TED talks to help my students connect with the idea that everyone can be a scientist. I can have students watch the videos in small groups, so that students can use subtitles with their own home languages, including Vietnamese, Croatian, and Arabic. Although I do not teach astronomy, I recently used a clip of Lucianne Walkowicz’s talk about her work on NASA’s Kepler mission as part of a technology lesson. In approximately four minutes while Walkowicz talks about planetary systems, she manages also to remind students that physical sciences are fascinating disciplines for smart, articulate, passionate young women. For my urban students, this is an important lesson.

Another initiative of TED.com is TED TV and you may have seen some of the TED talks on your public broadcasting channel or on the Science Channel. The mission of TED is to spread good ideas. To that end, they use a creative commons license. All of the details are available on the website, but essentially it means that if you do not change, edit, alter, or use the talks for commercial gain, you may share the TED talks. Therefore, you may show them in your classes for free. You may post them on your class websites without breaking any laws as long as you follow the guidelines about not editing or removing the TED attributions.

And finally, to TED Ed, one of the most recent TED initiatives. The tag line for TED is “Ideas Worth Sharing.” For TED Ed it is “Lessons Worth Sharing”, this month’s Science Video of the Month.  With so many excellent teachers around the world, there are millions of wonderful lessons being taught every day that could be shared with other teachers. This site is designed to do networking for free. The site should be up and running later this month, although there is currently a prototype on youtube. TED Ed is seeking educators to submit lesson ideas. They are pairing educators with animators to design original lessons that will be shared on the new TED Ed site. You can nominate an educator to teach the lesson, an animator to do the animation for the lesson, or a specific lesson idea. To submit a suggestion, or to nominate yourself, go to http://education.ted.com. To learn more about the TED ED initiative, go to http://youtu.be/FfJ5XG5i2aw.

So, here is your opportunity to share your favorite lesson with other teachers across the world. The internet really can change the way we teach, if we take the opportunities it affords. But, we must continue to use our professional skills and judgment. Teachers are still needed to design effective learning environments. We need to select carefully to choose resources that meet the needs of our students. The internet can help us to differentiate and to communicate our ideas and lessons worth sharing. TED talks and TED Ed have to potential to support teachers in both of these endeavors.

Donna Ross is associate professor of science education at San Diego State University and is CSTA’s 4-year college director.

Written by Donna Ross

Donna Ross is Associate Professor of Science Education at San Diego State University.

One Response

  1. Thank you for making me aware of this website! It is absolutely incredible. I am a fifth grade teacher in the Los Angeles area. I am also the science lead teacher in my school and make presentations in science, history, and gifted education to my school staff and others on the local and district level. I will definitely use Ted.com in my classroom to inspire students into the science field (they have no clue how wide that is). I will also pass on to other educators Ted.com as a fascinating and useful resource. Thank you!

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