Ted Talks

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After you browse the Ted Talks I’ve chosen to highlight, you might notice two themes: 1.) women and minorities need to have an attitude remake and become involved in STEM careers, and 2) STEM is powerful. To address my first point, I am a firm believer that girls, boys, moms, dads, teachers, and just about anyone else need to support girls and women in science, technology, math, and engineering – whether it be in 2nd grade, college, or a career. The most important point I’ve learned while studying STEM (while, actually, in life overall) is that attitude is behind everything. If you’re a girl, you probably think you can’t. If you’re a boy, you probably think she can’t.

I recently spoke with a doctor who is highly successful in her career. She has held prestigious positions but told me that even in high positions, sometimes male colleagues would repeat what she’d just said–signaling that they didn’t hear her, or that they took her idea as their own. (How many females can relate to being tuned out by their male partners or colleagues? Hands up!)

STEM careers are powerful. That’s my second point. As an engineer, you can save lives. As a scientist, you can improve quality of life. As a mathematician, you have the power to fuel science, technology, and engineering because they all use math. Bam! Power! And technology? Are you using a computer, tablet, or phone to read this blog? Information is available to almost everyone almost everywhere. (As an aside, read Melinda Gate’s book, The Moment of Lift, or The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World, by Jacqueline Novogratz, to see how technology changes and even saves lives.)

We must equally share this power between males and females, and among people of all races/ethnicities. This will take work on the part of all of us because attitudes need to be changed on all levels. When the world begins to understand that diversity of thought, background, culture, education, and so on, brings innovation, then our differences will be celebrated and all people will be lifted up. Geez, it sounds like I think STEM could bring world peace or something like that! What I believe deeply is that all human beings ultimately would enjoy doing something for someone that eased their hardship. Becoming a practicing scientist, technologist, engineer, or mathematician just might be the ticket! Enjoy the videos.


Summary & Critique: Heidi Olinger, “How to get girls to like STEM”

Math proofs! This is where Heidi’s “mistake” started years and years ago in geometry when she decided she didn’t need to bother to learn proofs.  Result: Lower math grade = lower self esteem = failure. At one point, the teacher told her she didn’t belong and hissed, “get out.” Oh my goodness! Heidi had a rough road until she met up with a guidance counselor in her high school who told her the teacher did not have the authority to throw you out, has a responsibility to teach you, and “you can do it.” From then on, “geometry as chief authority in my life lost ground,” she said. Heidi went back and “claimed” her place in class, earning an A. How does this apply to today’s girls in mathematics? 

Forty years later, the attitude that being feminine precludes an aptitude in math persists. More accurate, girls have the aptitude but don’t DO math. Let’s see girls’ primary attributes as critical thinking and problem solving, Heidi stated, and then gave stunning (sad) statistics about thoughts on smart girls and academic “profiling.” Here’s one that stands out: “The number of mathematics and computer science degrees earned by women peaked 30 years ago” and has been in significant decline ever since then.

How do we attract girls to STEM?

  • What do girls value? Let’s appeal to things that interest them (fashion, horses, their current crush). The STEM of Fashion Design (physics, business math, etc.)
  • Parents and teachers must demonstratively encourage girls in STEM. Research shows a girls interest in STEM is tied tightly to her faith in herself.
  • Girls need belonging with other mature girls in STEM. Let’s create collaborative environments for girls that give them STEM projects related to their interests.
  • We must make it safe for girls to make mistakes and understand iteration. Iteration is the new standard! FAIL = first attempt at learning. 

“The path of least math is no longer an option.” Girls cut themselves off from 75% of the current and future jobs when they stop taking math courses.

This is a fabulous video. It should be shared with girls, teachers, parents… boys, men, businesses. We must strive for equity in the work world by supporting girls in STEM.


Summary and Critique: Sir Ken Robinson, “Bring on the Learning Revolution”

I’m always amused by Sir Ken Robinson as he weaves so much humor into his Ted Talks. In this one, he says that education reformation–which is happening worldwide–isn’t enough because its basis is in improving a broken model. Instead, what’s needed is a revolution in education.

Two main ideas helped Robinson make his point. First, the idea of linearity in that we’re trained to think that if we follow a certain path in life, we’ll end up set. Schools teach linearly: first algebra, followed by geometry, trig, calculus; first grade, second grade, third grade, and so on; academic subjects follow a curriculum path and a pacing guide from semester to semester, grade to grade. Similarly, parents raise children to think linearly. Go to school, do your homework, get a summer job, apply for internships, get high scores on the SAT, go to college, get a job (and maybe get married, have children, and repeat the cycle of linear thinking as you raise them).

As Robinson points out, life is not linear–it’s organic and unpredictable. So why do we use this model in education, parenting, business?

Secondly, Robinson talks about the idea of conformity and relates our education model to fast food in which everything is standardized. He states that standardization is “impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.” This model just doesn’t match the diversity of ability and thinking among human beings, and as noted in other Ted talks and research, diversity drives innovation.

How does this Ted talk relate to STEM education? Well, as Robinson said, we must leave behind the manufacturing model of education that is so linear and conformist and recognize that to flourish, humans need not be treated in mechanist ways. Education should create conditions that allow people to flourish. To me, that is the integrated STEM model of education. In it, students work in teams, collaborating to solve authentic problems through the engineering process, while using math and the scientific process and the technological tools available to them. Also, when students feel safe to share their diverse ideas because they’re in an environment that does not encourage conformity, when students see failure as integral to finding the right solution, when students use reflective journaling to process the day’s learning, when academic subjects are joined together in the learning environment, when learning becomes fun and hands-on at all times–only through these revolutionary tactics will all students begin to get excited about their learning. As Einstein said, “logic will get you from A to B, but imagination will take you everywhere.”


Summary and Critique: Stephanie Hill, “The Superpowers of STEM”

Stephanie considers herself to be “an accidental engineer.” She is the Senior Vice President of Corporate Strategy and Business Development at Lockheed Martin.  Her journey into engineering is amazing to hear! (She is a software engineer.)

As a school girl, she had no idea how much difference you could make in the world in a career in STEM! She wants to encourage young people to take this path, but to get there, they must see that the career is rewarding, fun, and important. She says we must “tell our stories, and make STEM come alive for young people.” Watch this video!

“Minorities, and in particular underrepresented minorities, are the fastest part of the growing population in this country today.  Yet we are the least likely to obtain a degree in engineering. And this has to change.” Further, here’s a thought: 2nd grade girls decide whether or not they’re good at math. What? That young, they’re limiting themselves?? We have to change this!

Shout it from the rooftops! Stephanie talks with fervor about her career and the need to let people know how great STEM careers are, and she says to use your superpowers to get the message out about the marvel of STEM (she says she is living proof)! She saved the world at one point. She has an amazing story. 

The excitement of solving problems, creating something that didn’t exist before — just two things she mentions about the “awesomeness” of her job. However, our nation faces a critical challenge: We do not have enough people majoring in STEM. You and I, students at ETSU working on a STEM certificate, understand this. But our job as advocates and educators is to get the word out, inspire young people, and shout the good news from the rooftops!

Given that our nation’s demographics are more and  more diverse, STEM needs diversity too. Diversity drives innovation! 

Stephanie gives some very specific “superpower” examples that could be used to inspire students. The technologies she talks about are “lifesavers.” Watch the video to learn more! But be warned – her enthusiasm is contagious! 


Summary and Critique: Harry McCann, “The power of STEM”

Summary from YouTube (my summary/critique follows): Interdisciplinary STEM teaching is just entering the curricular of schools around the globe, but this subject is not only engaging and shifting traditional belief of what science is, but also encourages students to invent and tackle global problems. Harry believes that youth should be empowered and believed in to be able to create life-changing innovations already in school years, and this empowerment can be built through STEM education. Harry is an 18-year-old entrepreneur from Kildare, Ireland. At the age of 15, he founded his first business – Kid Tech. Over the space of sixteen months, he went on to teach over 800 kids to code all around Ireland. In 2014 he founded the first Digital Youth Council in the World, which he is currently Director of and since 2013 has been working with government and industry to make sure young people are influencing the future of the STEM sector in Ireland and Europe. Harry has spent the last two years working on several startup ideas and taking on advisory/board roles in the Irish government, and some of the biggest multinational businesses in the World. His most recent business venture is Trendsterpress.com which he founded in January 2016, and it is currently one of his main focus. 

My Summary/Critique:  I just had to share this video with you! The power of STEM  – just the title says it all. Additionally, here is someone who founded his first technology business at age 15.  What did I learn from this amazing young person? 

He says, “I’ve had the absolute pleasure of dealing and working with some of the most talented young people this world has to offer, young people who want to combat global issues, who were trying to build life-saving technology designs, life-changing apps–who were trying to have a meaningful impact in this world from a young age using STEM.”  This is the power of STEM. Harry goes on to talk about how teachers need to allow students hands-on learning and exploration in open-ended situations. He gives an example of three young people who won the Google science fair in 2014 with a real-world, problem-solving project aimed at eliminating global hunger.

Harry makes a simple but honest case for how STEM education can have positive global effects, and who doesn’t want teaching/learning environments to be that authentic?! I recommend this video because 1.) we need to hear from young people who advocate for STEM education, 2.) it gives a solid overview with examples of how STEM education is beneficial and makes a case for it, and 3.) it touches on ethical issues that STEM can address.  Additionally, Harry gives some inspiring examples of other successful young people such as Patrick Collison (see more at https://g.co/kgs/nX1z3R). 

“Never underestimate the power of our youth,” Harry says. He wraps up by talking about WHY the world lacks more young innovators–blaming it on the current education system that “exists only to test [a] narrow range of skills or competencies.”

STEM is powerful. Harry makes a great case. I hope you will watch his Ted Talk.


Summary and Critique: “Inspiring the next generation of female engineers”

Debbie is an engineer and founder of GoldieBlox (Curiosity Killed The Stereotype: Let’s build an army of maker girls.)

When Debbie told her mother she wanted to major in engineering, her mother said, “Ew, why?” In her 2013 TEDx Talk, Debbie stated that only 11% of engineers are females, and then she asks, “why do we care?” Good question. Maybe it is a matter of including the female perspective since engineers make some of the biggest advances in life (think climate engineering, medical breakthroughs) and also because 1/2 the population is female, Debbie says.

Debbie tells her story about becoming an engineer, starting with a description of a global study that found that belief in ability in STEM subjects is cultural, not biological, and it is in the U.S.A. more than any place else where girls start believing they can’t do math as young as age six. She herself did well in math, but never considered any type of STEM field for a career. One of her high school teachers had suggested she go into engineering, but she secretly thought to herself, train engineer. Still, she took her advice and as a Stanford freshman, having no idea what to major in, signed up for an engineering class–fearful it would be her first F. She said,  “to my surprise we weren’t fixing train engines; in that class, we got to invent and design things.” This appealed immensely to her creative side, and it was fun. She learned that engineers learn the skill set to build things, but as one of only a handful of girls, she felt very alone. Still, she stuck with it until she took an engineering drawing course. (Yay art!) Drawing in 3D challenged her, but worse, her professor humiliated her in front of the whole class–sending her out of the room in tears and thinking she was done with engineering. (Oh the challenges females face because of gender stereotypes.) But a male friend told her not to quit! She realized it’s not about being a born genius, but about how hard you work.

What fascinated me the most about her talk was this connection: She learned that kids who score better on spatial skills tests grew up playing with construction toys, and having spatial sense makes engineering a little easier to understand. She felt it was a shame that her parents never bought her Legos or erector sets or Lincoln Logs to play with. (Those were “boy” toys.) I suspect this cultural phenomena is behind a lot of girls’ discouragement. Here is what I think girls should do with all those girly toys: https://youtu.be/V4BuUnimp8s (That’s her company’s video. She now makes toys for girls. See GoldieBlox.)

She is funny and entertaining! She is all about empowering girls for STEM. Enjoy her talk!

Related resources I love:

  • National Girls Collaborative Project brings together organizations throughout the United States that are committed to informing and encouraging girls to pursue careers in STEM.
  • Girl Scouts has developed a unique, “fun with purpose” K–12 curriculum to inspire girls to embrace and celebrate scientific discovery in their lives.
  • Girls Inc provides nationally researched, gender-specific and age-appropriate programs that offer girls informal education and opportunities.
  • 1000 Girls, 1000 Futures is is a groundbreaking initiative designed to engage young women interested in science, technology, engineering, and math, and advance their pursuit of STEM careers through mentoring and 21st-century skills development.
  • Understanding Science is an awesome resource that is funded by the National Science Foundation to communicate how science works, why it matters and what scientists do; they include lots of examples of outstanding female scientists.

Summary and Critique: Dave Eggers, “Once Upon a School”

The Once Upon a School website is no longer in existence, but the idea Dave Eggers came up with won him a TED prize: connecting people from the community with schools and students. [This post is under construction.]


I wish that you — you personally and every creative individual and organization you know — will find a way to directly engage with a public school in your area, and that you’ll then tell the story of how you got involved, so that within a year we have 1,000 examples of innovative public-private partnerships

Dave Eggers

Summary and Critique: Bunker Roy, “Learning From a Barefoot Movement”

When Bunker Roy wanted to start a school in a poor village in India, he had to speak with the elders first. They said, “Please, don’t bring anyone with a degree and qualification into your college.” To work at this school, here are the requirements, they said: “You have to work with your hands. You have to have a dignity of labor. You have to show that you have a skill that you can offer to the community and provide a service to the community.” And so begins the story of the Barefoot College, in which professionalism found a new definition.

Who is a professional? A professional is someone who has a combination of competence, confidence and belief. A water diviner is a professional. A traditional midwife is a professional. A traditional bone setter is a professional. These are professionals all over the world. You find them in any inaccessible village around the world. And we thought that these people should come into the mainstream and show that the knowledge and skills that they have is universal. It needs to be used, needs to be applied, needs to be shown to the world outside — that these knowledge and skills are relevant even today.

Bunker Roy

Roy continues by explaining that anyone with a crazy idea needs to come to the Barefoot College and try it, and then he takes about failure and iteration. He says, “It doesn’t matter if you fail. Battered, bruised, you start again. It’s the only college where the teacher is the learner and the learner is the teacher.” No certificates are given–no paper ones, that is–as the certification comes from “the community you serve.” A paper certificate is not what makes you an engineer; what you do makes you an engineer. I am reminded of the principles of integrated STEM here in that hands-on, collaborative, and authentic work across disciplines equals successful learning and happy students. It isn’t about getting a diploma; it’s about learning how to learn.

In his TED Talk, Roy gives many examples of profound successes students have had at the college. I think this is an excellent way to communicate to educators, policy makers, students, and parents that it is the hands-on learning that sticks, becomes meaningful, engages everyone, and makes a difference. Roy’s experiences and explanations make me think of Sugata Mitra’s principles on Self-Organized Learning Experiences, which he introduced through the Hole-in-the-Wall experiments. (Learn more here.)

There’s a lot to be said for rethinking how we do school, especially when we look outside of ourselves and find examples of things that worked in the most unexpected places.


Summary and Critique: Sir Ken Robinson, “How to Escape Education’s Death Valley”


Summary and Critique: Elon Musk, “The Mind Behind Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity”

Who hasn’t heard of the Tesla or SpaceX? Isn’t Elon Musk a household name nowadays? In most of this TED talk, we hear about some of the amazing things Elon Musk has accomplished as well as some things he is currently working on. While this video doesn’t directly speak about STEM education, it is absolutely a perfect example of what one can accomplish with the right skill set and attitude. Musk hints at what that might be toward the end of the video when the TED curator, Chris Anderson, asks him how it is that one person has been able to do so much and to be so innovative. Interestingly, Musk first states that he really doesn’t know. He suggests maybe it’s just hard work. In turn, Anderson ventures a very interesting guess by saying the Musk’s genius comes from a combination of Design, Technology, and Business and states that this model should be put into our education system. (Could DTB replace STEM as the future model?) In the end, Musk offers advice that seemed so relevant to the topic of STEM education that I just had to include this video. He says that rather than approaching innovation from an analogy perspective (as most people do), it should be approached from physics, which is the most basic of all sciences, by asking what is needed to do something new. Secondly, he says one must solicit negative feedback. That may sound like unusual advice, but if you think about the iterative process of engineering, and how failing is really one’s first attempt in learning, then his advice makes perfect sense.

If we are to convince whomever needs convincing that integrated STEM needs to become our new model of education in this country, we need to pay attention to successful people such as Elon Musk and carefully consider any advice he gives or examples he sets. I don’t know what his schooling experiences were like or how he was raised, and those things may be worth investigating to understand his ability to be so successful, but I do believe he is a great role model or even hero for this day and age. Young people could be encouraged by his successes and failures, and they should take to heart his message that with hard work and a physics class, amazing things can happen.

Genius is 1 percent talent and 99 percent hard work.

Albert Einstein

Summary and Critique: Ziauddin Yousafzai, “My Daughter, Malala” (Please see the Mighty Girl post regarding this by linking here.)




The following video isn’t about STEM per se, but it includes information critical to the STEM education and careers. It’s all about a mindset, about self-limiting beliefs. Maybe there’s a message in here that can help anyone who wants a career in STEM but fears the academic subjects needed to achieve such a career. No holding back! Program your mind for success!