20 September 2013

Piloting a TED Ed Club

Back in June, I stumbled across this website on Twitter from TED Ed.  I show TED Talks in my chemistry class, occasionally for chemistry, but mostly just to expose my students to innovative ideas and a different perspective on the world.  A few days after submitting the survey, I received an email from TED telling my that I have been selected to be one of 25 pilot clubs from around the world.

There were 2 choices for the type of the club:  Discussion or Presentation.  Since I received the email on the first day of summer vacation, I chose the discussion format.  I figured that we could treat the club similar to a book club, but we would be watching videos instead of reading chapters from a book.  I sent an email to every student I had had over the past 2 years and a few colleagues posted it on their class Edmodo sites.  In the end I had 12 students sign up.  We met in the public library, classrooms, and a Panera.  The discussions ranged from creating situations of absurdity, alternative fuel sources, what constitutes beauty, and a theory of everything.  The discussions went in every direction and it was amazing to hear what the students had to say.

The most fascinating aspect of the club was the type of student who came to the meetings.  Almost all of the students are those that you might classify as "wallflowers."  They are excellent students who would prefer to sit quietly in class and complete their work rather than answer questions or have any attention drawn to them.  However, pull all of these students out of the classroom, give them a non-school related topic to discuss (that actually interests them), and suddenly they won't be quiet.  Our meetings ran over time every time because the discussions were so interesting.

So fast forward through the summer and we were selected to continue our pilot through January.  While I really enjoyed the discussions, I couldn't see us meeting for another 5 months and continue with the same format.  I was on a family vacation in Portland, ME and my wife starts eagerly pointing at the wall of a restaurant where I see "Before I die..." painted on top of black chalkboard paint.  Then, along the wall people wrote in things they wanted to do in chalk.  Apparently, this is based on the TED Talk by Candy Chang.  And that's when the lightbulb went off.  All of the newer TED Talks have some sort of profound message, what if we create student-driven projects centered around this message?

One of the concerns I have is that my students are going through school without really knowing the people in their classes.  I wanted to create a project that not allow students to feel connected to others around them, but also increase school spirit (something we are really lacking).  Today was our first home football game and our fans are called the MiddSouthNation.  So I printed out 3000 of these stickers
and starting at 6:30 in the morning, members of the TED Ed Club started handing out stickers to every member of our school:  parents, students, staff, cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers.  We also contacted our Touchdown Club to get the giant inflatable South Eagle mascot for the front entrance.  Have you ever seen kids getting excited to be at school at 6:30am??  Me neither, but these kids sure were because they were engaged in something meaningful to them.

So the MiddSouth TED Ed Club has become a community impact club.  Our purpose is to use the profound messages from TED Talks to create student-driven projects that help our community see the world just a little differently. Every student wasn't wearing a sticker and many didn't really understand what we were doing.  But, the staff were smiling a little more today than yesterday, several hundred students were more involved in school than yesterday, and we increased attendance at the football game.

I can't wait to see what our next project entails.