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6 TED Talks all SCHOOL Librarians Should Watch (and Why!)

Recently, Andy Woodworth posted a series of TED Talks that he felt all librarians should read (and why!).  I'd seen a couple of his choices before (like Ken Robinson's incredibly influential talk about how Schools Kill Creativity)  and really enjoyed watching the ones I'd never seen.  In particular, I loved watching William Kamkwamba's 6 minute talk "How I Harnessed the Wind." As Andy points out, the underlying message from this talk is that information access matters - and it does.  It really, really does.  If you've only got time to watch one of Andy's selections, I'd watch that one. (Ok.  You should watch Ken Robinson's too).  (And since you're already there, go ahead and watch the others as well).

I guess it goes without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that I love TED.  Not only have some of the Talks they've captured influenced thinking around the world, but they've both inspired and justified the ideas that a)  it is really cool to be smart and b) sharing your ideas is essential to the evolution of our species.  No matter what your, profession, I think there's something to be learned from TED.

That said, since Andy's post, I've been thinking about some of the other TED Talks that librarians, specifically school librarians, should watch.  So... I've compiled a list of my own.  And here they are (in no particular order):

"the way progress happens is because new generations and new eras grow and develop and become better than the previous ones. It's the reason we're not in the Dark Ages anymore. No matter your position of place in life, it is imperative to create opportunities for children so that we can grow up to blow you away."

In Creating Minds, Howard Gardner posited that one of the common traits that all geniuses possess is the ability to look at the world in the way a child does.  Specifically, Gardner suggests that somewhere between childhood and adulthood, we lose the ability to ask fantastic, foolish questions - intimating that it is schooling and adult expectations for "grown up" behavior that ultimately kill the very intellectual curiosity that sparks discovery, creativity and invention.  In this talk, Adora Svitak challenges all adults to rethink their of definition of what it means to be "childish" and to allow kids the opportunity to think like, well... kids.  As school librarians we need to ask ourselves if we are cultivating a culture of participatory experiences for our students - experiences that encourage them to learn by asking questions, solving problems and dreaming big. If not, what are we cultivating?

"So what did we learn from all this?  Life is messy.  It took us 85 takes to get it on film to our satisfaction. Of those 85 takes, only three actually successfully completed their run. We destroyed two pianos and 10 televisions in the process. We went to Home Depot well over a hundred times. And we lost one high-heeled shoe."

The big take away for me, from this Talk, is the idea that success requires planning, patience, tenacity and a willingness to see failure as a necessary part of the process.  Plus, there's an amazing Rube Goldberg machine at the heart of the Talk, which I find to be the perfect metaphor for teaching.  Think about it.  Every lesson is like a Rube Golberg machine - as teachers, we push down the first domino - which, with any luck, sets the bowling ball into action, which knocks over the can of marbles which... well, you get the picture... until somewhere near the end a light bulb comes on - preferably right above a student's head!  But what if it doesn't?  Do we just scrap the idea and head to the vending machine for a Diet Coke?  Do we toss out the first plans and redesign the thing from start to finish?  Or do we cock our heads and try to figure out exactly where the connection isn't being made? As school librarians, what we can take away from this Talk is that learning is messy and we rarely get it right in one take. 

"...if we continue to look at education as if it's about coming to school to get the information and not about experiential learning, empowering student voice and embracing failure, we're missing the mark."

I love this talk because it tackles the culture of "one right answer."  In her unique (I'm so excited to be a) teacher voice, Diana Laufenberg recounts her own journey as an educator - celebrating her failures and successes and encouraging all teachers to let go of the notion that there has to be a "right answer" in order for real learning to take place. In the end, I think this short Talk is an important one for school librarians because if we can learn to accept and even embrace our own missteps then surely we can do the same for our students.

 "...your filter bubble is your own personal unique universe of information that you live in online. And what's in your filter bubble depends on who you are, and it depends on what you do. But the thing is that you don't decide what gets in. And more importantly, you don't actually see what gets edited out."

This talk, was put on my radar by Buffy Hamilton, who tweeted and blogged recently about its importance.  Watching it reminded me a little of the InfoWhelm video that explores the amount of information being produced today and the skills needed (by both kids and adults) to interpret and analyze it.   However, what this Talk effectively illustrates is that it's not simply the amount of information that our students have to sift through that makes information literacy important, it's the bias that's being built into the very search engines we use to access it that makes viewing the process with a critical eye absolutely essential.  As Buffy put it on her blog, "merely providing students access to the Internet is not enough."  This is an especially important Talk for school librarians because it illustrates just how essential it is for us, the information experts at our school, to emphasize critical thinking as THE skill when teaching our students to evaluate not just information, but the means by which we access it.

"Last year, Pew and the Colombia J-School analyzed the 14,000 stories that appeared on Google News' front page. And they, in fact, covered the same 24 news events. Similarly, a study in e-content showed that much of global news from U.S. news creators is recycled stories from the AP wire services and Reuters, and don't put things into a context that people can understand their connection to it. So, if you put it all together, this could help explain why today's college graduates as well as less educated Americans know less about the world than their counterparts did 20 years ago."

This, under 3 minute, TED Talk blew my mind.  If there's one thing the Internet is credited for, it's busting down the walls around information - allowing anyone with a computer and a modem the ability to learn about the world without someone like Ted Koppel acting as the go between. Unfortunately, as Miller points out, while the delivery method may have changed, the same filters continue to limit what and who we learn about.  For school librarians, this provides another great example of why we must teach our students to ask bigger, tougher questions about information than the standard "how do I find _______?"

"Nothing ever turns out as planned ... ever. And the kids soon learn that all projects go awry --  and become at ease with the idea that every step in a project is a step closer to sweet success, or gleeful calamity."

And finally, I just love this Talk because it's so full of joy.  In his "aww shucks," deeply understated way, Tulley reminds us that a) there is a huge difference between learning a thing and being taught it and b) when teachers provide guidance and encouragement instead of just knowledge AND kids are given the freedom to explore, create and problem solve.... magic happens.  If we let this be (at least one of) our guiding principle(s), our libraries will truly make the shift from that room with all the books to the laboratories of learning that our students need and deserve.


Anyway, as Andy said at the end of the post that inspired this one, there are probably a bajillion other TED Talks out there that could/should inform librarianship.  Given my love for TED, I'd be thrilled to hear about the ones I've missed.


Ok.  This one is just a bonus. 

"Now one of the perks of being a lexicographer -- besides getting to come to TED -- is that you get to say really fun words, like lexicographical. Lexicographical has this great pattern -- it's called a double dactyl. And just by saying double dactyl, I've sent the geek needle all the way into the red."

Though there's a case to be made for this Talk being important to librarianship because it explores the evolution of a beloved, and dare I say, oft romanticized information source, I'm including it simply because it's just so geek-a-licious!  Not only do Erin McKean and I have the same glasses, but she's quirky and snarky and a wonderful example of why geeks rule!  Enjoy! :)


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