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Students Tackle Real-World Issues in TED-Ed Clubs

TED Conferences educational initiative TED-Ed has launched TED-Ed Clubs, part of a global program that through public speaking, helps students present solutions to real-world problems. TED-Ed Clubs were piloted in over 100 schools worldwide starting in July 2013. Students ages 8 through 18 joined the clubs, and one adult educator guided each.

One such pilot school was Burlington High School in Burlington, MA.

“I’ve never seen students present with that much passion and that much depth of knowledge of a topic,” said Jennifer Scheffer, Instructional Technology Specialist at the high school. She went on to say that the process allows students to take ownership of their learning, as opposed to them learning passively. “And the irony is that they were not getting a grade for it.”

Scheffer added that her TED-Ed Club’s experience allowed students to take their big ideas and effectively articulate them. Whether it was alternative fuel sources or social change, they became experts on their topics.

“I think what [student presentations] all had in common, even though some of their topics were pretty different, is that they all took this ‘What if?’ approach to choosing a topic,” said Scheffer. “You know, ‘'What would our political system be like if it was the way it was set out to be initially?’ They were so [reflective]…and I think what it did for them was trigger even more ideas.”

She added that the sophistication of her students’ ideas certainly surpassed her own at that age.

TJ Horgan (at right) is one such student. He focused on social sciences and presented the complex issue of taking democracy out of the hands of special-interest groups. 

“My talk was about taking back our democracy and the basis of democracy, and if it’s prevalent to the United States government right now, which personally I don’t believe it is,” said Horgan. “[I was] spreading the idea that maybe it’s time to do something to bring back the roots of our democracy.”

Scheffer said many of her students pursued topics related to education. One, who takes virtual courses in addition to attending traditional classes, is an advocate for education reform. That passion blossomed into a talk on measuring students academically through test scores and the role that plays in their success. Other student topics included future vehicles, antibiotic resistance and the effects of matter versus antimatter.

“I think students, especially young ones, have some of the best ideas in the world, and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t spread them. This can motivate students, even to pursue this as a career…or maybe it just prepares them to share their next big idea even better,” agreed TED-Ed Director Logan Smalley.

“One of the main points that resonated with us was the ability to offer students something like public speaking, which isn’t offered at every school,” added Stephanie Lo, director of TED-Ed Programs. 

In addition, Lo shared that the teachers volunteering to lead TED-Ed Clubs are “the most enthusiastic and impressive people,” whether they’re helping during the idea-generation stage or the video-production process.

“Production is done with whatever they have. If they have an iPad, they might practice on lighting. If they have an iPhone, they use that to capture a project…So when it comes to production, we’re going to have workshops online available to help them learn some of the needed skills. We won’t take a hand in the physical editing, but we will be training them in how to think about how they cover video,” said Lo. 

TED-Ed already lets educators customize lesson plans, share videos and monitor student progress, but student videos aren’t published publicly unless the student speakers nominate them. Now, with the permission of students, their parents and the guiding educators, some of the best videos will be made available for viewing on TED-Ed’s Web site.

Student videos will even play a part in selecting young speakers for November’s TEDYouth conference, Lo noted.

“Our hope is to have more students speaking there—hopefully a lot of them come from TED-Ed clubs,” she said.

In addition, Lo and Smalley predict, there soon will be hundreds of thousands of students participating, with over a thousand other groups interested in starting TED-Ed clubs.

Learn more about TED-Ed Clubs at


Article by Jason Papallo, Education World Social Media Editor
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