Category Archives: engaging students

Reflections of TEDYouth 2014

I had the opportunity to take three members of my TED Ed Club to the TEDYouth event this past weekend at the Brooklyn Museum and it was a fantastic experience. For those who don’t know, TEDYouth is basically a TED Conference, but attendees are entirely Middle and High School students and their chaperones. The theme was “Worlds Imagined” and every talk had the underlying message of ‘You can do whatever you want in this life’ and ‘Your ideas matter.’ There were about twenty speakers ranging from a 15 year old chef to an astrophysicist to a street dancer to a social photographer to a leech guy. At the bottom of this post you can see some of the pictures I took.

As with every conference, there were good speakers and some less-than-stellar performances. I wanted to discuss 2 of them in this post: Ruddy Roye and Flynn McGarry.

Ruddy Roye is a photojournalist who describes himself as a ‘social photographer.’ One of my students had the chance to introduce him on stage and he turned out to be my favorite speaker of the day.

During his talk, he explains how he feels it is his job to tell the story of the people on the street that he meets through his photographs. He said everyone has a story and we rarely make any effort to learn other people’s stories.  There was one story he told that I wanted to relay to you. He said he was walking down the street and heard some men behind him catcalling at a woman that he realized was walking up from behind him. He let her pass and noticed that she crossed the street to stand in front of a door with a cross on it. He thought this was very odd so he followed her to ask why she was standing there. She turned to him and told him that it was Easter and for Lent every Christian was supposed to give up something. On that day, she decided to give up being a prostitute and Ruddy knew he needed to capture her image (unfortunately not pictured above). I was so completely taken by surprise that I actually lost my breath for a second. The story was so touching and the picture was beautiful. I highly recommend following Ruddy on Instagram (@ruddyroye) to see his amazing work.

The other speaker who had a great story was from Flynn McGarry who is a 15 year old chef. He started cooking when he was 10 because his father kept serving him beets and he very much disliked them. One day he was watching a cooking show and thought ‘what if I cooked them like meat?’ So he started using methods you would use on different meats to cook the beets such as smoking, grilling, barbequeing.

He found a few recipes that seemed to work and began to apply them to other vegetables as well. Instead of meat being the focus, he would use the flavors of the meat to highlight the vegetables. Then he asked his mother if he could hold a dinner party in their living room. The family kitchen couldn’t keep up with his experimenting so he asked his parents to turn part of his bedroom into a kitchen (seen above). Eventually his home-based dinner parties expanded to restaurants in both New York and Los Angeles. During the activities session we had the opportunity to taste one of his creations. It was a smoked, grilled beet with a cranberry reduction and Greek yogurt. I am not a beet lover and I found it delicious!

But, the most important part of the day had nothing to do with sessions or activities. One of the reasons I love being an advisor is the opportunity to build relationships with my students outside of the classroom; to see them as young people instead of just students. Eating lunch with my students, hearing their ideas, joking with them, recording a stop-motion animation, watching the smiles on their faces as they got to experience a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; these will be the memories from TEDYouth 2014 that will stick with me forever.

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Best. Meeting. Ever.

We had another TED Ed Club meeting this afternoon.  These meetings always have 3 parts:  evaluation of our recent project, discussion about the newest TED Talk, and setting an agenda for the next meeting.  After school meetings are tough because so many students are involved in extra-curricular activities that they just can’t find time for everything.  But, in the end, we had about 15 attend with a few of those arriving late.

Our latest project involved what we were calling the “Thank You Wall.”  Using the TED Talk by Drew Dudley as our inspiration, we decided to create a space for anyone in the building to say thank you to someone who had a positive impact on their life.  It was extremely well received as you can see from the pictures below.  The columns we created were 6ft tall by 2 feet wide so between the 2 of them there was 96 square feet of whiteboards filled with nearly 400 messages of thanks.



The project was headed up by one of our seniors.  He commented in the meeting that on one day he saw a girl glance up at the board, see a message that was written to her, and a huge smile broke out on her face.  He said right then it made all the planning and time worth it.

But what I really wanted to share was the discussion that ensued for the next hour.  The talk we chose was by Shawn Achor about what makes us happy.  There have been a lot of changes in our school/district, not all of which have been well received by the students.  I thought this video would be a chance for the students to get refocused on the important things in their life.



This discussion was intense!  I decided to try a new system and had the students write down their comments on post-it notes and stick them to their faces whenever they had something to say.  We have a tendency to get very passionate and talk over each other so this was a way for us to stay organized and keep track of our next comments.  Students had 3 and 4 notes stuck to their face, they are standing on desks trying to be recognized next.  Two girls who are best friends got into a huge argument over the ability to have selfless acts.  It was amazing!!!  I have never seen students debate so adamantly before over something that was, in reality, so trivial.

In this whole discussion, the students decided that we needed to have a better focus, a mission statement to guide us in our future meetings.  Here is what they came up with (I had no part in this at all!):


Objectives of the MiddSouth TED Ed Club:
1. Make a positive impact on the school community
2. Do something to benefit others
3. Change the way people treat each other.
4. Create a bonded community.
5. Make a change in ourselves.
6. Do something that other schools don’t.
7. Provide a forum for unique ideas that have nothing to do with what happens in the classroom.
8. Put ideas into action.
9. Bring our ideas to younger kids.

In all the years I have been an advisor, I have never seen a group of students so excited at a meeting. I can’t wait until next week’s meeting and I wish it wasn’t only 30 minutes long.

Going through the motions

This week I received my second observation of the year and on it was the phrase “teacher and students appear to be ‘going through the motions.'”  Anyone who is doing the Flipped Classroom knows that it is very difficult to simply “go through the motions.”  Being the scientist that I am, I decided to test a hypothesis and start doing what the observation said I was already doing.  I discovered some interesting things about myself and the class:

  1. I hate going through the motions.  When I reduced the amount of effort that I was putting in each class, I became frustrated.  I felt like I wasn’t being myself and, in turn, wasn’t giving my students the best version of me.  On a related note, it is really boring sitting at a desk and just watching people work, even if it was for only 5 minutes.  How do people do this on a regular basis?
  2. I was far more frantic getting things ready for class when I wasn’t preparing properly beforehand.  I found I needed to print out material right in class that should have been copied, the advanced students were always waiting for me to get to them and therefore wasted valuable class time, and I ended up cleaning up the lab benches after my students were done because I wasn’t making sure they were doing as they went along.  In the end, I felt more overworked while attempting to do less.  This led to feeling exhausted at the end of the end; drained of energy for the wrong reasons.
  3. My students are hate not going through the motions.  Whenever they encountered something that required real thought or directions that didn’t clearly state every single thing they needed to do, they balked at it.  There are guided inquiry activities in each unit we do and those represented the biggest struggles for my students.  I had known this was the case already, but it was more obvious when I was spending more time behind my desk simply observing them at work.  This isn’t true for all, but the majority (even many of the “A” students) kept asking for me to “just tell me what I need to do next.”
This last part really disturbed me.
Why is it that students are frustrated when they have to think/problem solve in school?
So it comes down to expectations.  Is what we expect students to do during the school day too low level for them?  Do their brains really want more?  From their teachers? from the school? from the curricula?  From society?  
Somewhere along their path to my class, they learned the wrong message about what school should really be.  Now, how do we unlearn them?