20 Incredible TED Talks You Should Show Your High School Students

What makes TED such an appealing web series and organization is its desire to offer up a little something for everyone. This includes high school students and the teachers who love, hate, or tolerate them. Honestly, pretty much any video hosted there boasts its own educational value, but some hold more relevance than others. Whether they empower and inspire, shine a light on social injustices or simply show off some seriously cool innovations, the following 20 videos are bound to make class time just a little more interesting.

  1. Viktor Frankl: Why to believe in others

    From TED’s Best of the Web series comes a fabulous lecture by influential psychiatrist, philosopher, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl. In it, he explores youth’s universal quest for meaning. It should be a message that resonates immensely through temporal and cultural boundaries, offering some nourishing, intelligent bits to chew on.

  2. Philip Zimbardo prescribes a healthy take on time

    If there’s one thing high school students need in droves, it’s time management skills “” which they probably won’t really learn here. What they CAN get out of popular psychologist Philip Zimbardo’s lecture, however, is advice on perceiving the past, present, and future in a manner more conducive to health and productivity.

  3. Ben Kacyra: Ancient wonders captured in 3D

    Spice up history, humanities, art, and architecture lessons by introducing students to Ben Kacyra’s revolutionary 3D scanner and its depictions of Babylon, Pompeii, and more. He discusses how educators and other interested parties can find more structures he and his wife created and the myriad academic applications of this exciting new technology.

  4. Kiran Bir Sethi teaches kids to take charge

    India’s Riverside School hopes to “consciously infect the mind with the ‘I Can’ bug” and motivate students toward promoting positive community change “” which, in turn, actually improves their grades. Kiran Bir Sethi, the founder, expounds upon how nurturing healthy, positive neighborhoods doesn’t have to be an adult responsibility.

  5. Steve Jobs: How to live before you die

    TED’s Best of the Web series features the 2005 Stanford commencement address by the late Apple and Pixar CEO Steve Jobs, at the time suffering from intense pancreatic cancer pain. Urging graduates to “‘Stay Hungry,’” he touts the myriad excellent opportunities one can mine out of major personal and professional roadblocks.

  6. Charlie Todd: The shared experience of absurdity

    Since 2001, Improv Everywhere has been delighting New Yorkers with their whimsical public performances and harmless pranks. TEDxBloomington invited him to come talk about how these heavily participatory displays of humor and absurdity encourage interpersonal connections and “” more importantly “” promote the importance of smiles and laughter in life.

  7. Mark Bezos: A life lesson from a volunteer firefighter

    A missed opportunity for more traditional displays of heroism during fires resulted in some humbling (and even kind of humorous) education. Along with his work as head developer with the poverty-eradicating nonprofit Robin Hood, Mark Bezos realizes that even supposedly small gestures can result in some major changes in the recipient’s lives.

  8. Einstein the Parrot talks and squawks

    Spiritual successor to the world-famous Alex, Einstein and her handler and trainer Stephanie White wrap up TED 2006 with a fun send-up of previous speakers. Not only will it kill almost six minutes of class time humorously, it also showcases some truly fascinating avian talents many people don’t know of beyond Polly’s desire for a cracker.

  9. JR’s TED Prize wish: Use art to turn the world inside out

    Beloved French street artist JR depicts social injustices through giant, involved works portraying the faces of the impoverished and displaced. With his TED Prize, he hopes to inspire others to take up his cause and join him in showing oppressors the people they negatively impact or sometimes even outright exploit.

  10. Shukla Bose: Teaching one child at a time

    Shukla Bose’s Parikrma Humanity Foundation goes deep into India’s most economically depressed neighborhoods and provides children with the educational opportunities that are their basic rights as people. Despite the fact that 200 million kids between the ages of 4 and 14 need their help, the organization believes the best strategy involves individual attention at all costs.

  11. Robert Lang folds way-new origami

    Math, engineering, and art intimately intertwine in one of TED’s most astounding technical and creative demonstrations, with some incredible projects taking origami to exciting new levels. Marvel at how he can turn paper squares into highly detailed grizzly bears, frogs, guitarists, and other phenomenal sculptures, some of which boast uses beyond the purely aesthetic.

  12. Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies

    Before shipping those high school kiddos out into the real world, show them social epidemiologist Richard Wilkinson’s research regarding relationships between equality, health, happiness, and finances. Not only does he prove that money doesn’t scientifically equate to life satisfaction, but that more economically divided societies experience higher rates of poor physical and mental health.

  13. Sunitha Krishnan fights sex slavery

    A former sex slave opens up about her horrific experiences, as well as those by other women and children with the hope that activists and citizens alike will find effective ways to heal their trauma. $10 billion cycles annually through these inhumane channels, and teens need to see and process the tragedies heaped upon their counterparts in other countries.

  14. Mother and daughter doctor-heroes: Hawa Abdi + Deqo Mohamed

    These inspiring women reach out to Somali refugees through pharmaceutical medicine and education, which fosters a sense of peace and community in an otherwise depressed region. Viewers of all ages will undoubtedly find their drive to overcome wartime and ingrained (and legal!) misogyny amazing and hopefully motivating.

  15. Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity

    Larry Lessig’s curious TED Talk sews together copyright laws and John Philip Sousa into a provocative glimpse at how American legislation actually discourages creativity and innovation. Three compelling stories support this popular lawyer and blogger’s theories and drive home the major importance of right-brained thinking in school and outside of it.

  16. Debate: Does the world need nuclear energy?

    Even if classes have nothing to do with alternative energy “” or even physics and chemistry “” high school students can still benefit from hearing how Mark Z. Jacobson and Stewart Brand conduct themselves during an informal debate. No matter their ultimate opinions (or lack thereof) on the subject, they should still walk away with some valuable rhetorical lessons that will benefit them throughout their lives.

  17. Paul Lewis: Crowdsourcing the news

    Technology, particularly the Internet, mobile phones, and social media, greatly empowers individuals to relay information about what’s going on in their own neighborhoods. Students wanting to get in on the action should pay close attention to Paul Lewis’ observations and maybe even change a few things afterward.

  18. Dean Ornish on the world’s killer diet

    Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of citizens the world over, no matter the nation’s GDP or average household income. With so many schools pushing students toward making healthy decisions regarding their nutrition, showing them the outcome of poor choices sans sensationalism might prove a worthy resource.

  19. Christien Meindertsma: How pig parts make the world turn

    Entertain and educate tough crowds by introducing them to the myriad surprising ways in which everyone’s favorite bacon source keeps humans going. Few people realize how many pork byproducts end up in everything from aluminum molds and artificial hearts to bullets and bone china and a bizarre array of other necessities.

  20. Wade Davis on Endangered Cultures

    Students hailing from countries built on suppressed, exploited, and murdered indigenous peoples should gain some perspective on how colonialism and imperialism “” both still serious issues today “” aren’t so hot. Photos and a sweet National Geographic job allow Wade Davis a detailed glimpse into the terrible realities behind ethnic and national marginalization, which he shares here.

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