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

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. 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

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 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 To learn more about the TED ED initiative, go to

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 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 as a fascinating and useful resource. Thank you!

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CSTA Is Now Accepting Nominations for Board Members

Posted: Friday, November 17th, 2017

Current, incoming, and outgoing CSTA Board of Directors at June 3, 2017 meeting.

Updated 7:25 pm, Nov. 17, 2017

It’s that time of year when CSTA is looking for dedicated and qualified persons to fill the upcoming vacancies on its Board of Directors. This opportunity allows you to help shape the policy and determine the path that the Board will take in the new year. There are time and energy commitments, but that is far outweighed by the personal satisfaction of knowing that you are an integral part of an outstanding professional educational organization, dedicated to the support and guidance of California’s science teachers. You will also have the opportunity to help CSTA review and support legislation that benefits good science teaching and teachers.

Right now is an exciting time to be involved at the state level in the California Science Teachers Association. The CSTA Board of Directors is currently involved in implementing the Next Generations Science Standards and its strategic plan. If you are interested in serving on the CSTA Board of Directors, now is the time to submit your name for consideration. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

State Schools Chief Tom Torlakson Announces 2017 Finalists for Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

Posted: Wednesday, September 20th, 2017

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today nominated eight exceptional secondary mathematics and science teachers as California finalists for the 2017 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching (PAEMST).

“These teachers are dedicated and accomplished individuals whose innovative teaching styles prepare our students for 21st century careers and college and develop them into the designers and inventors of the future,” Torlakson said. “They rank among the finest in their profession and also serve as wonderful mentors and role models.”

The California Department of Education (CDE) partners annually with the California Science Teachers Association and the California Mathematics Council to recruit and select nominees for the PAEMST program—the highest recognition in the nation for a mathematics or science teacher. The Science Finalists will be recognized at the CSTA Awards Luncheon on Saturday, October 14, 2017. Learn More…

Written by California Science Teachers Association

California Science Teachers Association

CSTA represents science educators statewide—in every science discipline at every grade level, Kindergarten through University.

Thriving in a Time of Change

Posted: Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

by Jill Grace

By the time this message is posted online, most schools across California will have been in session for at least a month (if not longer, and hat tip to that bunch!). Long enough to get a good sense of who the kids in your classroom are and to get into that groove and momentum of the daily flow of teaching. It’s also very likely that for many of you who weren’t a part of a large grant initiative or in a district that set wheels in motion sooner, this is the first year you will really try to shift instruction to align to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). I’m not going to lie to you, it’s a challenging year – change is hard. Change is even harder when there’s not a playbook to go by.  But as someone who has had the very great privilege of walking alongside teachers going through that change for the past two years and being able to glimpse at what this looks like for different demographics across that state, there are three things I hope you will hold on to. These are things I have come to learn will overshadow the challenge: a growth mindset will get you far, one is a very powerful number, and it’s about the kids. Learn More…

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Written by Jill Grace

Jill Grace

Jill Grace is a Regional Director for the K-12 Alliance and is President of CSTA.

If You Are Not Teaching Science Then You Are Not Teaching Common Core

Posted: Thursday, August 31st, 2017

by Peter A’Hearn 

“Science and Social Studies can be taught for the last half hour of the day on Fridays”

– Elementary school principal

Anyone concerned with the teaching of science in elementary school is keenly aware of the problem of time. Kids need to learn to read, and learning to read takes time, nobody disputes that. So Common Core ELA can seem like the enemy of science. This was a big concern to me as I started looking at the curriculum that my district had adopted for Common Core ELA. I’ve been through those years where teachers are learning a new curriculum, and know first-hand how a new curriculum can become the focus of attention- sucking all the air out of the room. Learn More…

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Written by Peter AHearn

Peter AHearn

Peter A’Hearn is the Region 4 Director for CSTA.

Tools for Creating NGSS Standards Based Lessons

Posted: Tuesday, August 29th, 2017

by Elizabeth Cooke

Think back on your own experiences with learning science in school. Were you required to memorize disjointed facts without understanding the concepts?

Science Education Background

In the past, science education focused on rote memorization and learning disjointed ideas. Elementary and secondary students in today’s science classes are fortunate now that science instruction has shifted from students demonstrating what they know to students demonstrating how they are able to apply their knowledge. Science education that reflects the Next Generation Science Standards challenges students to conduct investigations. As students explore phenomena and discrepant events they engage in academic discourse guided by focus questions from their teachers or student generated questions of that arise from analyzing data and creating and revising models that explain natural phenomena. Learn More…

Written by Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke

Elizabeth Cooke teaches TK-5 science at Markham Elementary in the Oakland Unified School District, is an NGSS Early Implementer, and is CSTA’s Secretary.