Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What I wish for my TED-Ed video.

In a few hours the folks at TED will be launching a new website, TED-Ed.  The site is meant to build on the popularity of the incredibly viral TED talks on the TED.com website.  TED talks have become so popular largely because, as the tagline says, they share "riveting talks by remarkable people, free to the world". However, I think that they have also become so pervasive because of their share-ability.  One click and they are posted on your Facebook wall or attached in an email to a friend.  This has been an extremely powerful tool for spreading ideas.  Indeed the average TED talk is viewed online more than 100,000 times and the most popular talks have been viewed millions of times. The most popular of which is Ken Robinson's talk, Schools Kill Creativity; it has been viewed more than 10 million times. (If you haven't seen it, watch it now!)

With the launch of TED-Ed, they are hoping to take that extremely powerful brand for sharing ideas, and extend it to the world of teaching.  They want to take the best lessons from teachers around the world and help that teaching go viral. To do that they are concentrating on a format that has the best chance of being easily spread online and into classrooms everywhere. They are keeping the videos short (all less than 10 minutes with most at around 5-6 minutes).  They are also pairing teachers with some of the world's best animators to give the lessons visual snap and and an element of surprise that can be tough to do with a straight lecture format.

After being lucky enough to be invited to give a TED talk last month at TED 2012, I am now also lucky to have one of my lessons up on the TED-Ed site for its official launch.  Therefore as TED's new creation is about to be judged by the world at large, so is mine. To be fair, it is not entirely my own creation. I worked with legendary animator Candy Kugel on the project and her work breathed a playful spark into my teaching that I wish could be there everyday. None the less, I do feel very connected to the work and I definitely feel a sense of shared ownership for the project.  As my lesson is about to take its first few steps out into the internet, I find myself reflecting on my hopes for its online future.

My lesson, Sex Determination: More Complicated Than You Thought, is really a 5 minute summary version of 3 of my favorite 45 minute lessons that I teach on sex determination in animals. Over the last seven school years of teaching high school biology, I have seen that these lessons consistently fascinate my students.  When the folks at TED asked me about creating a lesson, sex determination was immediately on my mind as a possible topic.  When they told me that they wanted it to be about 5 minutes long it forced me to stop looking for a way to recreate my best lessons on the topic and instead create a new type of lesson.  A lesson that would distill the essence of those other lessons, but still remain clear and would leave students wanting to know more.  That is indeed my biggest hope for this project; that it will make students want to learn more.

I know that in five minutes I could never thoroughly teach a topic as complex as sex determination throughout the animal kingdom.  I also know that videos, no matter how captivating, will never replace a passionate teacher.  However, I do believe that you can inspire a student's curiosity in a single moment and that curiosity can propel a student to learn for a long time. So that is my hope for this video and I think it is TED-Ed's hope for their new website.  I hope that it will help teachers to generate that spark of curiosity in their own students and become a great tool that is used to support and inspire great teaching as it was meant to be- curiosity driven person to person.


  1. Congratulations on the TED-Ed video! I wish you continued success! You are inspiring a more vibrant future.