Can TED Talks Really Work in a Classroom?

| May 22, 2012 | 17 Comments
  • Email Post

By Katrina Schwartz

There’s been a lot of excitement around TED’s foray into education, bringing its inspirational video model to the classroom. TED-Ed launched the YouTube Channel with produced and animated videos about two months ago and now includes a free service that lets teachers upload any YouTube video to its polished platform. Teachers can also make any of the videos — TED or any other — more relevant to their classes by adding customized questions and quizzes.

But it’s a work in progress at the moment, until educators can figure out the best ways to use the videos. The standard TED talk typically features a speaker, usually an expert in a subject, talking about innovations and inspirations. Most speakers cover topics in big, broad strokes, unlike, for example, Khan Academy videos, which parse and explain specific lessons in different subjects.

Under the math topic, for example, TED-Ed includes videos like How Folding Paper Can Get You to the Moon or Peter Donnelly Shows How Stats Fool Juries. For the curious, there are videos like Questions No One Knows the Answers To and The Power of Simple Words.

“It’s by no means a comprehensive understanding. It’s a good introduction.”

And it’s this curiosity that most teachers expect TED-Ed videos will feed. “I see them as a valuable inspirational tool,” said Aaron Sams, a high school chemistry teach in Woodland Park, Colorado who uses video lectures to supplement in-class learning. “It’s by no means a comprehensive understanding. It’s a good introduction.”

For example, Sams showed his class Just How Small is an Atom and incorporated the pre-made questions that accompanied it to give them a sense of awe about chemistry.

TED-Ed videos aren’t meant to be a substitute for what happens in the classroom, said Logan Smalley, TED-Ed’s director. “The videos, and the new TED-Ed platform, are resources that teachers can use to excite, inspire, and bring to life lessons that are already being taught,” he said. “The great thing about TED-Ed is that educators can use these tools however best suits their – and their students’ – needs.”

Stacey Roshan, a math teacher in Potomac, Maryland uses the videos in a similar way as Sams. She’s spent the last month preparing her juniors and seniors for the AP Calculus exam and said TED-Ed is “not good for cramming for the AP. But as far as inspiration to get them thinking and thinking critically it’s hugely useful.” Roshan sees TED-Ed videos as a way to access great lesson plans from teachers across the country.

TED-Ed is actively reaching out to educators for effective material that can be jazzed up by animators. “The animation piece alone engages the learner in such a different way,” Roshan said. “It’s such a powerful visual.”


But the real power of the new TED-Ed site is the platform itself. Teachers can upload any YouTube video, including their own, to TED-Ed’s platform. They can add discussion questions, quizzes and monitor the progress of their students through a unique URL that the site generates.

“They made a really flexible tool for teachers,”  Sams said. He values the connection he forms with his students through his own videos, but he  thinks that TED-Ed’s animated videos are slick and potentially better than his own for getting his students excited about a topic. His own instructional videos can subsequently delve into the subject matter more deeply. Sams would like to submit his videos to the animators to be polished up.

Quiz from the "Power of Simple Words" video.

The platform for flipping YouTube videos also appeals to Roshan, who has embraced the flipped classroom model. Now students watch and re-watch the lecture at home, where they can absorb it at a leisurely pace. Class time focuses on solving problems. Like Sams, she’s excited by the opportunity to customize videos.

TED-Ed will be adding more videos to the site in the coming months – videos chosen to catalyze curiosity. Teachers can submit lesson plans for animation and TED-Ed staff will actively be seeking new material. That could include taking a video that a teacher has already made and found useful, adding animation and production finesse to make it catchier and then posting it to the site for anyone to use.



Explore: ,

  • Email Post
  • Gsatwood

    I think that TED is great and this new way of using it in education will be a big plus.  I do think, however, that it’s funny how lecturing in person gets knocked as a terrible way to teach, but then people turn around say how great it is to use a video of someone standing up and, essentially, lecturing.  I understand that’s a gross over-generalization and TED-Ed doesn’t suggest that their videos are replacements for other educational content.  What if teachers did the same thing as TED presenters, though?  Would standing up and talking for the same amount of time then be considered good?  

    • tsbray

      I think there is a big difference, because TED Talks are 20 minutes at most, some teachers/professors talk for 60+ minutes.

    • George Chilton

       True, lectures are a bit 19th century (!) but they are the most efficient way of talking to a lot of people at once. However, as an education resource, a TED lecture can be used in a different way in the classroom.  Although the content of the video itself is didactic and closed, we can overcome that by pausing, questioning, rewatching and responding together as a group.

  • Ollielulu

    I’ve used them quite a few times to introduce and inspire as well as explain difficult topics. The students really enjoy them and get excited when they see the logo pop up. Many of them watch the videos at home related to their own personal interests. I’ve used in with classes as young as third grade up to 8th.

    • Anonymous

      Great! Can you include some links of your favorites, for younger and older students? ________________________________________

  • Karen Kelly

    As I understand it, one of the future features of TEDed is that teachers will be able to create the quiz/questions from any/other videos of their own choosing. I know there are some more specific/content videos that my coworkers use in their classes. With this feature teachers would be able to use those even more effectively. And it sounds like they are working on finding teachers to match up with illustrators to give more content- heavy videos that will more  directly impact specific curriculum.  It will be good to keep watching it’s development. 

  • Jo Hawke

    I teach high school English, usually 9th- and 10th-graders. I’ve used Helen Fisher’s TED Talk on “The Brain in Love” ( ) as a discussion tool during a study of Romeo and Juliet.  And I’ve used Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir video ( as a writing prompt on many using technology to work together toward a shared goal. ANDDD I just decided the other night that next year I’m going to use Joshua Foer’s “Feats of memory” ( as an introduction to oral recitation of memorized texts. :)

  • musicisimportant

    I think everyone should watch at least one ted talk each week.  They get you thinking and isn’t that important to always be questioning why we do things or why things are the way they are.

  • Charles Perry

    Michael Crichton once talked about his own novels as the “first stage of a rocket” that can foster curiosity and excitement about the possibilities of science. I feel the same way about TED-Ed’s ability to jump start students’ interest in almost any subject.

  • Joe Wagner

    At the K-12 level, TED-Ed, Khan Academy, MIT+K12 are all excellent supplements but not substitutes for the human touch of teachers and parents.  

  • George Chilton

    I often use TED talks in my ESL classes. The students find them engaging, and the video topics usually provoke a lot of discussion.

  • Hypnosis Downloads

    Well, exactly: adding inspiration to the classroom. That’s something that’s bitterly missing. I remember sitting in chemistry class and being bored to death, and I even remember the yellowish hue on the old, boring textbook. If there’s some inspiration, kids might actually be able to recognize that there is something fascinating to be discovered in this subject.

  • Mike

    I did a Blog Post about using TED Talks in the classroom

  • Austin Duggan

    I totally support Ted talks. They have lots of interesting content, really appealing for young students. By the way, I am using an app for the classroom called Nearpod, in which I prepare my class and launch it as a presentation on each student mobile device and it has already-made presentations with Ted Education topics. Really interesting, it’s a wonderful combination for the classroom: technology and learning.

  • Julia T

    My high school AP bio teacher used TEDtalks as lead ins for various topics. When he lectured, he hooked some of what we talked about back to the TED talks. I think they were very effective at engaging the class, getting us more interested in what would otherwise be boring (e.g. fungi).

  • Pingback: Flipped Classroom 2.0: Competency Learning With Videos | MindShift

  • Pingback: Flipped Classroom 2.0: Competency Learning With Videos | MindShift | Techie 4 Teachers