The 11 Most Inspiring TED Talks for Modern Educators

by | Mar 19, 2018

There is no reason why teachers shouldn’t embrace a role as fundamental players in the creativity revolution sweeping across global economies and societies. But being an innovative modern educator on the cutting edge of educational design can become a tedious effort without outside inspiration and support from peers.

Instead of being bombarded by the same old educator rhetoric, you can rediscover a sense of your vision and momentum by gleaning something from these selected and diverse inspiring TED talks below.


1. John Hunter and the World Peace Game


By teachers, for teachers, this is a TED classic presenter who brought relevance to his 4th-grade classrooms in Virginia with this creative game meant to simulate real world geo-political constructs and diplomatic scenarios, all in the pursuit of world peace. You can check out the documentary World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements which came out in 2010.


2. Sugata Mitra—Build a School in the Cloud


This is Sugata Mitra’s follow up award-winning TED Prize talk about self-motivated learners from his “Hole in the Wall” experiments in the streets of New Delhi in India. From the TED website, Sugata’s experiments showed “in the absence of supervision or formal teaching, children can teach themselves and each other, if they’re motivated by curiosity and peer interest.” In this 2013 talk, he discusses what’s next for his work.


3. Marcin Jakubowski—Open-Sourced Blueprints for Civilization


Marcin Jakubowski is working to create an industrial toolkit to reconstruct our developed society from scratch. This is a personal favorite about pushing the creative limits of our post-industrial society’s ability to reimagine and recreate itself in an unforeseeable future. The work demonstrates design fiction dystopias, stretches of the imagination, critiques on modern society, and perhaps could help support a possible future. It’s foremost a great demonstration of open-source ideals and bold imagination.


4. Neil Gershenfeld—Unleash Your Creativity in a Fab Lab


Get to know a bit about the director of the Center for Bits and Atoms, an interdisciplinary MIT group (and partner with the MIT Media Lab) responsible for the fabrication labs which have taken hold in schools and programs across the country. It’s an early 2006 TED talk and very dense, but puts some of the lighter, fluffier TED talks in a historical TED context. It also explains some of the foundations of a lot of Maker Education, which is currently trending a decade later.


5. Dale Dougherty—We Are Makers


The founder and CEO of Make Magazine who carried the DIY in education movement to the mainstream of our country and world.


6. David Kelley—How to Build Your Creative Confidence


A great talk from one of the brother partners of IDEO (and founder Stanford’s that will inspire anyone to muster up their own confidence to move boldly forward with trust in their creative capacity. If you’re involved in innovation culture, it’s important to know this man and his work.


7. Gever Tulley—Life Lessons Through Tinkering


What does Tinkering mean, exactly? Tully was one of the forerunners introducing this verb into education dialogue. In this 4 minute talk, he discusses creativity and learning through explorative process, play, and doing, or what he calls “tinkering.”


8. Navi Radjou—Creative Problem-Solving in the Face of Extreme Limits


How do we design with a lack of resources in our environment? A discussion of lean, frugal innovation across India and how that encourages reuse of resources and agile thinking. This is important for anyone interested in taking a stance on sustainable design, design imperialism, and ethics of design.


9. Jack Andraka—A Promising Test for Pancreatic Cancer … From a Teenager


A famous example and inspiring look at Jack Andraka, a 15-year-old who discovered an earlier detection tool for pancreatic cancer. His story shows how one optimistic student overcame our disbelief that children can innovate. This talk underlines a profound faith in childhood ingenuity that we should all adopt moving forward.


10. William Kamkwamba—How I Harnessed the Wind


Another example of child inventors who create out of necessity and inspiration. In this follow up TED talk, William describes more about his wind-powered generator that he made for his village in Malawi. (Bonus: Read the book and start a book club around the book with students to open up discussions around innovation, courage, and cultural difference.)


11. Logan LaPlante—Hackschooling Makes Me Happy


A great TEDx video by youngster Logan LaPlante on self-motivation and learning which went semi-viral in the Spring of 2014.


Bonus:  Christopher Emdin—Teach Teachers how to Create Magic


Christopher Emdin inspires us to remember that it was magic which brought us into this profession. Magic is what keeps us all engaged in life and learning!

These were some inspired choices from an innovative and international maker educator and 4th grade teacher. Which of these inspiring TED talks switch you on to the profession? How can we inspire more youth activism and leadership in design like we saw above? How can we hack these and other inspiring TED talks in the classroom to teach presentation and persuasion skills? Please share your thoughts with our community in the comments below!

Further Resources

This post was written by Lisa Goochee, a 4th-grade teacher at the School of the Nations in Brasília, Brazil. 

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