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Developing Student Voice Is Critical. TED-Ed Clubs Can Help.

By Marcos Navas     Jan 9, 2018

As John stood on the stage discussing the importance of equity so eloquently, I wondered how he had gotten to that point. He was 11 years old, but his ideas were so clear, his words so refined.

It was TED-Ed Weekend 2016 in New York City and I had recently been selected to participate in a yearlong professional development program as a TED-Ed Innovative Educator, along with 29 other educators. Our entire cohort had flocked to the city to meet one another in person as part of our initiation to the TED-Ed family. During the trip, we got a chance to visit the newly built stage in lower Manhattan and witness compelling talks from students around the country who had participated in TED-Ed Clubs, a program where students collaborate to discuss and share creative ideas.

I knew John had prepared for this moment, but his time on stage was still mind-boggling to me. I didn’t have a strong sense of what the process looked like—the entire world of TED was still new to me. I later found out that he had dedicated two hours every week after school for three months of his fifth grade year to developing his idea and practicing how to share it. I was in awe of his dedication and truly admired his teacher and the school community that supported them.

From discussing why education matters for all, especially for girls in Saudi Arabia, to sharing about how the setting of a barbeque grill on fire led to an innovative idea, these 7- to 17-year-old students had a platform to voice concerns, ideas and creative solutions to complex problems through the format of a TED Talk. Their work was made possible because their schools had implemented TED-Ed Clubs.

I wanted that for my students.

I’m a technology facilitator for the Union City Board of Education in Union City, NJ, which is a Title I district serving one of the mostly densely populated areas in the entire country. Our district serves over 14,000 students and is making great strides in urban education. Our students have a lot to say, and during the TED-Ed weekend, I realized that we needed to do more to help them develop their ideas and get their voices heard.

Although I had been selected as a TED-Ed Innovative Educator, my district did not yet have TED-Ed Clubs so I dashed to submit the application and waited anxiously to hear back.

Little did I know that creating these clubs isn’t just about preparing students to speak on stage. It’s about changing the culture and mindset of a school. My journey to build this opportunity for my students has helped me recognize the importance of student voice and simultaneously lead me down a road of self-evaluation as an educator and facilitator.

Diving Into the Deep End

It takes passion and buy-in from the entire community to implement the program successfully. I knew districts would want as much information as possible before committing to launching a program like this, so when I received word that our district had the green light to run and create a club, I decided that it was important for districts to deeply understand the impact of the TED ecosystem.

Instead of jumping headfirst into starting a club at a school in my district, I collaborated with three nearby TED-Ed Innovative Educators to organize a statewide event. We created the TED-Ed Clubs D.I.V.E. event to give students, educators and administrators the opportunity to dive into the TED world and to experience this unique approach to developing student voice. This summit was also designed to give current local clubs a bigger platform. We spent five months planning the event with support from TED-Ed.

On December 9th, 2017, 300 students and educators came to Grover Middle School in West Windsor to learn more about TED-Ed Clubs. During the daylong event, students participated in workshops and breakout sessions to build their presentation skills, explore ways to take local and global action on topics they care about and to develop their animation chops—to give their talks some visual flair.

After a very successful event in December, we will be launching our first after school club program at a new STEM high school in Union City in January 2018.

So What is a TED-Ed Club Exactly?

TED-Ed Clubs provide students with the tools and skills to create their own idea-spreading TED Talk. Students in the club meet with a club leader or facilitator who is provided a curriculum that helps students develop passionate ideas and creative ways to express them in a 10-minute framed talk.

These clubs can take place during or after the school day and can vary in size. A club leader can be an educator who is passionate about amplifying student voices or a student who feels inspired to step up and lead the next generation of ideas worth spreading. The curriculum provides club leaders with tools to run exploration sessions designed to spark curiosity, focus ideas and develop a talk.

Starting a TED-Ed Club at your school encourages the community to think about how to transition to a student-centered learning environment where learners make choices based on their passions. This can be a real shift in school culture, and that can be daunting for an educator.

Those of us who were taught to believe that we are the sole expert in the classroom and need to maintain control over the learning environment need to “unlearn” the tactics we were taught during our classroom management courses. The TED-Ed Clubs program challenges these ideas, instead supporting the notion that the role of an educator is to facilitate student inquiry, interest and passion to guide the learning process.

With this shift, these clubs allow students to identify and voice school challenges and possible solutions, and remind the community that students possess unique perspectives about their schools that adults may not necessarily have.

Implementing TED-Ed Clubs

My assumption was that like starting any other school club, a few meetings and lessons and my students would be ready to take the stage. I was wrong. There is a lot of work that needs to occur before the stage curtains open. It takes commitment from a lot of stakeholders—students, educators and school and district-level administrators.

In order to get on a stage for 10 minutes to share an idea or solution in a compelling way, students must go through a non-traditional learning process.

Thankfully, TED has loads of examples of amazing talks as learning points for students in the club. The curriculum includes 13 explorations, which help students equip themselves with the necessary tools to find a strong passion, and take it through a design process in order to have an end product they can take to the stage.

Each exploration gives students an opportunity to find what makes their heart beat fast, practice brainstorming and visualizing ideas, create a story arc, write and edit their thoughts and rehearse their talks with peers. These explorations go much deeper than writing an essay or performing a play. They give students tools, tips and experiences that can help them navigate both the toughest of times and the greatest successes of life.

Bringing TED-Ed Clubs into your school can help students grow their sense of civic responsibility and recognize that their voices possess the power to make change in their community. By participating in a club, students develop citizenship and public speaking skills, develop tolerance and learn to effectively and respectfully question authority.

Marcos Navas is a technology facilitator for the Union City Board of Education in New Jersey.

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