25 Incredible TED Talks for Educators

By Jill Gordon

A non-profit dedicated to bringing “Ideas Worth Sharing” to the world, TED offers some of the best and brightest sharing their perspectives on technology, entertainment, and design. Many of those who speak at TED discuss topics relevant to education. The following talks include thoughts on creativity, play, technology, the future of entire countries through their children, projects to nurture learning in at-risk students, and much more. Educators from all backgrounds will find something of value from these incredible TED talks.

  1. Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity. This creativity expert speaks about nurturing creativity in the educational setting rather than continuing with a system that kills creativity in students. This humorous talk is loaded with serious information about children being born with creativity and the educational system teaching the children to lose this creativity. Ken Robinson currently lives with his wife and children in Los Angeles, California.
  2. Michelle Obama’s plea for education. The first lady speaks to a girl’s school in the UK on her first official foreign business. She speaks about the importance of strength, dignity, and compassion and the importance of applying these qualities to education. She speaks to these girls about making a difference to the whole world through their education and about empowerment they can gain through education.
  3. Patrick Awuah on educating leaders. After leaving his Microsoft job in Washington, Awuah returned to his home in Ghana and has helped to open a liberal arts college there. This polished speaker shares his experience in Africa and uses this experience to plead his case for the importance of incorporating a liberal arts education in order to create true leaders.
  4. Richard Baraniuk on open-source learning. A professor at Rice University in Houston, Texas and the founder of Connexions, an open-source education system, talks about the benefits of open source for educators. Specifically, Baraniuk speaks about the drawbacks of texts books and how using online open-source information provides more current and relevant material. Students pursuing an online bachelor’s degree in Education may have a particular interest in this resource.
  5. David Hoffman shares his Sputnik mania. This filmmaker shares a part of his documentary, Sputnik Mania. Through this movie, Hoffman explains how it contributed to the space and arms race that, in turn, lead to an inspirational movement of math and science education.
  6. Mae Jemison on teaching arts and sciences together. A Renaissance woman herself, Jemison discusses the importance of teaching arts and sciences together–providing an education that balances intuition and logic. Jemison asserts that by educating students in this comprehensive manner, we create strong thinkers. Without this type of education, she says, we are not responsibly looking out for the future of our society.
  7. Sugata Mitra shows how kids teach themselves. Mitra has run several experiments in a project called “Hole in the Wall” that show children, when curious, will learn on their own without any guidance or formal teaching. Mitra speaks about his experiments, the implications of this power of learning on education, and what educators can learn from this.
  8. Neil Turok makes his TED Prize wish. While accepting his TED prize, this physicist shares his wish to provide opportunity for the future of Africa through opening and nurturing the creativity available in the young people there. Turok uses his math and science background to understand why and how Africa has been left behind–and how we can change it.
  9. Bill Joy muses on what’s next. Looking to the future, this co-founder of Sun Microsystems discusses how society and individuals have reacted to situations in the past. He then explores the path we can take to ensure positive growth in the areas of health, education, and technology.
  10. Joseph Lekuton tells a parable for Kenya. This member of parliament in Kenya discusses education, both his own and the importance of education to children in Africa. He has a vision for making this education possible and shares it passionately.
  11. Woody Norris invents amazing things. This inventor shares two of his inventions that can change the way we think about sound and also discusses his perspective on invention and education. He claims that “virtually nothing…has been invented yet” and supports education though hands-on learning.
  12. Bill Strickland makes change with a slide show. This man grew out of a tough neighborhood where few were expected to rise above their surrounding and went on to live a successful life. Strickland found his future through ceramics, and he has watched the power of fine arts and beauty inspire at-risk children. He now advocates the arts as an important part of inspiration and education.
  13. David Merrill demos Siftables. This MIT grad student demonstrates his invention, Siftables, which are tiny computers. These tiny computers interact in amazing ways. The educational possibilities with these “toys” is endless, including art projects, English, math, music, and more.
  14. Ben Dunlap talks about a passionate life. The president of Wofford College in South Carolina shares the story of a Hungarian Holocaust survivor and his life both in Europe and America. His speech focuses on passionate living and passionate learning as learned through this Hungarian man and two other men he has known through life. Dunlap is eloquent and shares his passion well.
  15. Jose Abreu on kids transformed by music. The founder of a Venezuelan youth orchestra, El Sistema, Abreu speaks about his wish to spread music throughout Venezuela and the world as a tool of social change and empowerment. Abreu speaks in Spanish (with English subtitles) with such passion about his vision for the future of the world.
  16. Gustavo Dudamel leads El Sistema’s top youth orchestra. Watch this video of Dudamel and his students as they perform Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 10, 2nd movement and Arturo Marquez’s Danzon No. 2. The power of this performance is a testament to why El Sistema works.
  17. Dave Eggers’ wish: Once Upon a School. Surrounded in a culture of educators, Eggers grew up realizing the importance of education. He talks about his tutoring center, 826 Valencia, and how it has helped and inspired others to become involved in education. The power of this tutoring center is inspirational to those concerned with education.
  18. Tim Brown on creativity and play. Brown explores the relationship between creative thinking and play, and how this relationship can be nurtured. Using activities presented in the talk, he illustrates his points that are useful for all who work with children as well as those who want to nurture creativity in adults.
  19. Paul Sereno digs up dinosaurs. This paleontologist describes his work and what he’s learned about prehistory and science. He also presents a teaching project designed to recruit students that might typically fail in science and technology. Project Exploration in Chicago has a great track record of helping students failing or near failing go on to college.
  20. Jonathan Drori on what we think we know. This expert on culture and educational media offers four questions to the listeners as a starting point to explore how we get ideas in our heads and how difficult it is to shake ideas once they are there. Drori also reviews some “bad practices” that serve to reinforce wrong ideas and some better ways of helping students learn correctly.
  21. Alan Kay shares a powerful idea about ideas. Kay talks about techniques for educating children by using computers to illustrate experiences. By looking at simplicity and complexity, traditional teaching modes that rely on complex adult ideas, and approachable methods of teaching students in ways that are more simple and intuitive.
  22. Ann Cooper talks school lunches. Known as the “renegade lunch lady,” Cooper discusses how she serves local, sustainable, and organic food to the students at Berkeley schools in California as the head of nutrition. She speaks about the reasons why we should care how we are feeding our children. Discussing big business, childhood obesity, sustainability. She also outlines how to change children’s relationship to food in a positive way.
  23. Stuart Brown says play is more than fun. Brown describes why play is important and how it contributes to happy and healthy adults–not just children. Using examples from the natural world, Brown shows how play is an integral part of life and how it can change behaviors.
  24. Nicholas Negroponte on One Laptop per Child. The founder of the MIT Media Lab in Massachusetts, discusses his program called “One Laptop Per Child.” This project hopes to build $100 pedal-powered laptops and distribute them to children in developing countries around the world in an effort to promote education. Coming from the perspective of children being the most important natural resource of any country, Negroponte’s project hopes to provide students with opportunities for their future and the future of their countries.
  25. Bill Gates’ talk on mosquitoes, malaria and education — transcribed. In a written transcript of a speech Bill Gates gave, he talks about his project to eliminate malaria, then moves on to his second topic–how to make a teacher great. The answer is to learn from the best teachers in the country, model their teaching techniques, and provide all teachers with the tools necessary for success. He discusses the work of the KIPP charter schools and a book Work Hard, Be Nice based on the work done in these schools. This can be a valuable resource for students working on an online bachelor’s degree in health care or education.