One more reason to get a good night’s sleep

The brain uses a quarter of the body's entire energy supply, yet only accounts for about two percent of the body's mass. So how does this unique organ receive and, perhaps more importantly, rid itself of vital nutrients? New research suggests it has to do with sleep.

How schools kill creativity

Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining and profoundly moving case for creating an education system that nurtures (rather than undermines) creativity.

Teachers need real feedback

Until recently, many teachers only got one word of feedback a year: “satisfactory.” And with no feedback, no coaching, there’s just no way to improve. Bill Gates suggests that even great teachers can get better with smart feedback — and lays out a program from his foundation to bring it to every classroom.

20 words that once meant something very different

Words change meaning over time in ways that might surprise you. We sometimes notice words changing meaning under our noses (e.g., unique coming to mean “very unusual” rather than “one of a kind”) — and it can be disconcerting. How in the world are we all going to communicate effectively if we allow words to shift in meaning like that?

What makes a word "real"?

One could argue that slang words like ‘hangry,’ ‘defriend’ and ‘adorkable’ fill crucial meaning gaps in the English language, even if they don't appear in the dictionary. After all, who actually decides which words make it into those pages? Language historian Anne Curzan gives a charming look at the humans behind dictionaries, and the choices they make.

The magic of Fibonacci numbers

Math is logical, functional and just ... awesome. Mathemagician Arthur Benjamin explores hidden properties of that weird and wonderful set of numbers, the Fibonacci series. (And reminds you that mathematics can be inspiring, too!)

Don't kill your language

More and more, English is a global language; speaking it is perceived as a sign of being modern. But — what do we lose when we leave behind our mother tongues? Suzanne Talhouk makes an impassioned case to love your own language, and to cherish what it can express that no other language can. In Arabic with subtitles. (Filmed at TEDxBeirut.)

Building blocks that blink, beep and teach

Imagine a set of electronics as easy to play with as Legos. TED Fellow Ayah Bdeir introduces littleBits, a set of simple, interchangeable blocks that make programming as simple and important a part of creativity as snapping blocks together.

Where is home?

More and more people worldwide are living in countries not considered their own. Writer Pico Iyer — who himself has three or four “origins” — meditates on the meaning of home, the joy of traveling and the serenity of standing still.

Why dieting doesn't usually work

In the US, 80% of girls have been on a diet by the time they're 10 years old. In this honest, raw talk, neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt uses her personal story to frame an important lesson about how our brains manage our bodies, as she explores the science behind why dieting not only doesn't work, but is likely to do more harm than good. She suggests ideas for how to live a less diet-obsessed life, intuitively.

Impossible photography

Erik Johansson creates realistic photos of impossible scenes — capturing ideas, not moments. In this witty how-to, the Photoshop wizard describes the principles he uses to make these fantastical scenarios come to life, while keeping them visually plausible.

Why work doesn't happen at work

Jason Fried has a radical theory of working: that the office isn't a good place to do it. In his talk, he lays out the main problems (call them the M&Ms) and offers three suggestions to make work work. (Filmed at TEDxMidWest.)

Love — you're doing it wrong

In this delightful talk, philosopher Yann Dall’Aglio explores the universal search for tenderness and connection in a world that's ever more focused on the individual. As it turns out, it's easier than you think. A wise and witty reflection on the state of love in the modern age. (Filmed at TEDxParis.)

The emergent patterns of climate change

You can't understand climate change in pieces, says climate scientist Gavin Schmidt. It's the whole, or it's nothing. In this illuminating talk, he explains how he studies the big picture of climate change with mesmerizing models that illustrate the endlessly complex interactions of small-scale environmental events.

4 Animations That Show What’s Really Going On With Our Climate

Trying to understand what’s actually going on in the world’s climate seems like it might be truly impossible. For one thing, there are so many different factors at work. Everything from how light travels through the atmosphere to how the winds move the ocean around to how rain hits the ground has an effect on what actually happens on Earth both now and in the future. That also means there’s absolutely no use in looking at each piece individually … to understand what’s really going on, the climate jigsaw puzzle needs to be complete.

How To Help Your Doctor Give You Better Care

Rishi Manchanda
As a doctor in South Central Los Angeles, I’ve come to realize: my job isn’t just about treating a patient’s symptoms, but about getting to the root cause of what is making them ill — the “upstream” factors like a poor diet, a stressful job, a lack of fresh air.

What makes us get sick? Look upstream.

Rishi Manchanda has worked as a doctor in South Central Los Angeles for a decade, where he’s come to realize: His job isn’t just about treating a patient’s symptoms, but about getting to the root cause of what is making them ill—the “upstream" factors like a poor diet, a stressful job, a lack of fresh air. It’s a powerful call for doctors to pay attention to a patient's life outside the exam room.

The quantified self

At TED@Cannes, Gary Wolf gives a 5-min intro to an intriguing new pastime: using mobile apps and always-on gadgets to track and analyze your body, mood, diet, spending — just about everything in daily life you can measure — in gloriously geeky detail.

Break the silence for suicide attempt survivors

Even when our lives appear fine from the outside, locked within can be a world of quiet suffering, leading some to the decision to end their life. At TEDYou, JD Schramm asks us to break the silence surrounding suicide and suicide attempts, and to create much-needed resources to help people who reclaim their life after escaping death. Resources:

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Resources for suicide prevention, post-attempt survivors and their families

For those moved by JD Schramm’s powerful TEDTalk, this list of resources is a place to start. We’d love to know more — add suggestions to the comments or email us.

Remaking my voice

When film critic Roger Ebert lost his lower jaw to cancer, he lost the ability to eat and speak. But he did not lose his voice. In a moving talk from TED2011, Ebert and his wife, Chaz, with friends Dean Ornish and John Hunter, come together to tell his remarkable story.

Why privacy matters

The line between public and private has blurred in the past decade, both online and in real life, and Alessandro Acquisti is here to explain what this means and why it matters. In this thought-provoking, slightly chilling talk, he shares details of recent and ongoing research — including a project that shows how easy it is to match a photograph of a stranger with their sensitive personal information.

The curly fry conundrum: Why social media “likes” say more than you might think

Do you like curly fries? Have you Liked them on Facebook? Watch this talk to find out the surprising things Facebook (and others) can guess about you from your random Likes and Shares. Computer scientist Jennifer Golbeck explains how this came about, how some applications of the technology are not so cute — and why she thinks we should return the control of information to its rightful owners.

What are you revealing online? Much more than you think

What can be guessed about you from your online behavior? Two computer privacy experts — economist Alessandro Acquisti and computer scientist Jennifer Golbeck — on how little we know about how much others know.

The art of choosing

Sheena Iyengar studies how we make choices — and how we feel about the choices we make. At TEDGlobal, she talks about both trivial choices (Coke v. Pepsi) and profound ones, and shares her groundbreaking research that has uncovered some surprising attitudes about our decisions.

Feats of memory anyone can do

There are people who can quickly memorize lists of thousands of numbers, the order of all the cards in a deck (or ten!), and much more. Science writer Joshua Foer describes the technique — called the memory palace — and shows off its most remarkable feature: anyone can learn how to use it, including him.

How to truly listen

In this soaring demonstration, deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie illustrates how listening to music involves much more than simply letting sound waves hit your eardrums

Your elusive creative genius

Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person "being" a genius, all of us "have" a genius. It's a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.

The danger of silence

"We spend so much time listening to the things people are saying that we rarely pay attention to the things they don't," says poet and teacher Clint Smith. A short, powerful piece from the heart, about finding the courage to speak up against ignorance and injustice.

How prisons can help inmates live meaningful lives

In the United States, the agencies that govern prisons are often called ‘Department of Corrections.’ And yet, their focus is on containing and controlling inmates. Dan Pacholke, Deputy Secretary for the Washington State Department of Corrections, shares a different vision: of prisons that provide humane living conditions as well as opportunities for meaningful work and learning.

Music is medicine, music is sanity

Robert Gupta, violinist with the LA Philharmonic, talks about a violin lesson he once gave to a brilliant, schizophrenic musician — and what he learned. Called back onstage later, Gupta plays his own transcription of the prelude from Bach's Cello Suite No. 1.

For parents, happiness is a very high bar

The parenting section of the bookstore is overwhelming—it's "a giant, candy-colored monument to our collective panic," as writer Jennifer Senior puts it. Why is parenthood filled with so much anxiety? Because the goal of modern, middle-class parents—to raise happy children—is so elusive. In this honest talk, she offers some kinder and more achievable aims.

How to speak so that people want to listen

Have you ever felt like you're talking, but nobody is listening? Here's Julian Treasure to help. In this useful talk, the sound expert demonstrates the how-to's of powerful speaking — from some handy vocal exercises to tips on how to speak with empathy. A talk that might help the world sound more beautiful.

The courage to tell a hidden story

Eman Mohammed is one of the few female photojournalists in the Gaza Strip. Though openly shunned by many of her male colleagues, she is given unprecedented access to areas denied to men. In this short, visual talk, the TED Fellow critiques gender norms in her community by bringing light to hidden stories.

Re-engineering mosquitos to fight disease

In a single year, there are 200-300 million cases of malaria and 50-100 million cases of dengue fever worldwide. So: Why haven’t we found a way to effectively kill mosquitos yet? Hadyn Parry presents a fascinating solution: genetically engineering male mosquitos to make them sterile, and releasing the insects into the wild, to cut down on disease-carrying species.

Why I fell in love with monster prime numbers

They're millions of digits long, and it takes an army of mathematicians and machines to hunt them down — what's not to love about monster primes? Adam Spencer, comedian and lifelong math geek, shares his passion for these odd numbers, and for the mysterious magic of math.

America's native prisoners of war

Aaron Huey's effort to photograph poverty in America led him to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where the struggle of the native Lakota people — appalling, and largely ignored — compelled him to refocus. Five years of work later, his haunting photos intertwine with a shocking history lesson in this bold, courageous talk. (Filmed at TEDxDU.)

How to learn? From mistakes

Diana Laufenberg shares 3 surprising things she has learned about teaching — including a key insight about learning from mistakes. (Filmed at TEDxMidAtlantic.)

Business 101: A Reading List For Lifelong Learners

Ready to level up your working knowledge of business? Here’s what to read now — and next.

Got a meeting? Take a walk

Nilofer Merchant suggests a small idea that just might have a big impact on your life and health: Next time you have a one-on-one meeting, make it into a "walking meeting" — and let ideas flow while you walk and talk.

Why I must speak out about climate change

Top climate scientist James Hansen tells the story of his involvement in the science of and debate over global climate change. In doing so he outlines the overwhelming evidence that change is happening and why that makes him deeply worried about the future.

The mystery box

J.J. Abrams traces his love for the unseen mystery –- a passion that’s evident in his films and TV shows, including Cloverfield, Lost and Alias — back to its magical beginnings.

Big data is better data

Self-driving cars were just the start. What's the future of big data-driven technology and design? In a thrilling science talk, Kenneth Cukier looks at what's next for machine learning — and human knowledge.

The invisible man

Can a person disappear in plain sight? That’s the question Liu Bolin‘s remarkable work seems to ask. The Beijing-based artist is sometimes called “The Invisible Man” because in nearly all his art, Bolin is front and center — and completely unseen. He aims to draw attention to social and political issues by dissolving into the background.

Happiness and its surprises

Cognitive researcher Nancy Etcoff looks at happiness — the ways we try to achieve and increase it, the way it's untethered to our real circumstances, and its surprising effect on our bodies.

Meet the founder of the blog revolution

The founding mother of the blog revolution, Movable Type's Mena Trott, talks about the early days of blogging, when she realized that giving regular people the power to share our lives online is the key to building a friendlier, more connected world.

Adventures in Twitter fiction

In the 1930s, broadcast radio introduced an entirely new form of storytelling; today, micro-blogging platforms like Twitter are changing the scene again. Andrew Fitzgerald takes a look at the (aptly) short but fascinating history of new forms of creative experimentation in fiction and storytelling.

Winning the oil endgame

In this energizing talk, Amory Lovins lays out his simple plan for weaning the US off oil and revitalizing the economy.

4 environmental 'heresies'

The man who helped usher in the environmental movement in the 1960s and '70s has been rethinking his positions on cities, nuclear power, genetic modification and geo-engineering. This talk at the US State Department is a foretaste of his major new book, sure to provoke widespread debate.

A 40-year plan for energy

In this intimate talk filmed at TED's offices, energy innovator Amory Lovins shows how to get the US off oil and coal by 2050, $5 trillion cheaper, with no Act of Congress, led by business for profit. The key is integrating all four energy-using sectors—and four kinds of innovation.

The power of introverts

In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.

Innovating to zero!

At TED2010, Bill Gates unveils his vision for the world's energy future, describing the need for "miracles" to avoid planetary catastrophe and explaining why he's backing a dramatically different type of nuclear reactor. The necessary goal? Zero carbon emissions globally by 2050.

The magic of the Amazon: A river that flows invisibly all around us

The Amazon River is like a heart, pumping water from the seas through it, and up into the atmosphere through 600 billion trees, which act like lungs. Clouds form, rain falls and the forest thrives. In a lyrical talk, Antonio Donato Nobre talks us through the interconnected systems of this region, and how they provide environmental services to the entire world. A parable for the extraordinary symphony that is nature.

Please, please, people. Let's put the 'awe' back in 'awesome'

Which of the following is awesome: your lunch or the Great Pyramid of Giza? Comedian Jill Shargaa sounds a hilarious call for us to save the word "awesome" for things that truly inspire awe.

The hidden light of Afghanistan

Photographer Monika Bulaj shares powerful, intimate images of Afghanistan — of home life, of ritual, of men and women. Behind the headlines, what does the world truly know about this place?

The Web's secret stories

Jonathan Harris wants to make sense of the emotional world of the Web. With deep compassion for the human condition, his projects troll the Internet to find out what we're all feeling and looking for.

FBI, here I am!

After he ended up on a watch list by accident, Hasan Elahi was advised by his local FBI agents to let them know when he was traveling. He did that and more ... much more.

High-tech art (with a sense of humor)

Artist and TED Fellow Aparna Rao re-imagines the familiar in surprising, often humorous ways. With her collaborator Soren Pors, Rao creates high-tech art installations — a typewriter that sends emails, a camera that tracks you through the room only to make you invisible on screen — that put a playful spin on ordinary objects and interactions.

Wry photos that turn stereotypes upside down

Artist Uldus Bakhtiozina uses photographs to poke fun at societal norms in her native Russia. A glimpse into Russian youth culture and a short, fun reminder not to take ourselves too seriously.

Embrace the remix

Nothing is original, says Kirby Ferguson, creator of Everything is a Remix. From Bob Dylan to Steve Jobs, he says our most celebrated creators borrow, steal and transform.

Are you human?

Have you ever wondered: Am I a human being? Ze Frank suggests a series of simple questions that will determine this. Please relax and follow the prompts. Let's begin …

Lead like the great conductors

An orchestra conductor faces the ultimate leadership challenge: creating perfect harmony without saying a word. In this charming talk, Itay Talgam demonstrates the unique styles of six great 20th-century conductors, illustrating crucial lessons for all leaders.

The doubt essential to faith

When Lesley Hazleton was writing a biography of Muhammad, she was struck by something: The night he received the revelation of the Koran, according to early accounts, his first reaction was doubt, awe, even fear. And yet this experience became the bedrock of his belief. Hazleton calls for a new appreciation of doubt and questioning as the foundation of faith — and an end to fundamentalism of all kinds.

An ode to envy

What is jealousy? What drives it, and why do we secretly love it? No study has ever been able to capture its “loneliness, longevity, grim thrill” — that is, says Parul Sehgal, except for fiction. In an eloquent meditation she scours pages from literature to show how jealousy is not so different from a quest for knowledge.

What's the next window into our universe?

Big Data is everywhere — even the skies. In an informative talk, astronomer Andrew Connolly shows how large amounts of data are being collected about our universe, recording it in its ever-changing moods. Just how do scientists capture so many images at scale? It starts with a giant telescope …

The puzzle of motivation

Career analyst Dan Pink examines the puzzle of motivation, starting with a fact that social scientists know but most managers don't: Traditional rewards aren't always as effective as we think. Listen for illuminating stories — and maybe, a way forward.

7 must-read books on work and productivity, from Dan Pink

In 1962, Princeton psychologist Sam Glucksberg performed an experiment based on the classic candle problem test. He presented two groups with the same task, but with different rewards: One would receive monetary rewards based on speed, while the other was told only to complete the task as quickly as possible. The results were counterintuitive. The latter group performed the task on average three and a half times faster than the first. Why?

Sweat the small stuff

It may seem that big problems require big solutions, but ad man Rory Sutherland says many flashy, expensive fixes are just obscuring better, simpler answers. To illustrate, he uses behavioral economics and hilarious examples.

My solar-powered adventure

For the dawn of a new decade, adventurer Bertrand Piccard offers us a challenge: Find motivation in what seems impossible. He shares his own plans to do what many say can't be done — to fly around the world, day and night, in a solar-powered aircraft.

Why bees are disappearing

Honeybees have thrived for 50 million years, each colony 40 to 50,000 individuals coordinated in amazing harmony. So why, seven years ago, did colonies start dying en masse? Marla Spivak reveals four reasons which are interacting with tragic consequences. This is not simply a problem because bees pollinate a third of the world’s crops. Could this incredible species be holding up a mirror for us?

The shrimp with a kick!

Biologist Sheila Patek talks about her work measuring the feeding strike of the mantis shrimp, one of the fastest movements in the animal world, using video cameras recording at 20,000 frames per second.

Why people believe weird things

Why do people see the Virgin Mary on a cheese sandwich or hear demonic lyrics in "Stairway to Heaven"? Using video and music, skeptic Michael Shermer shows how we convince ourselves to believe — and overlook the facts.

I am the son of a terrorist. Here's how I chose peace.

If you’re raised on dogma and hate, can you choose a different path? Zak Ebrahim was just seven years old when his father helped plan the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. His story is shocking, powerful and, ultimately, inspiring.

Why I live in mortal dread of public speaking

Megan Washington is one of Australia's premier singer/songwriters. And, since childhood, she has had a stutter. In this bold and personal talk, she reveals how she copes with this speech impediment—from avoiding the letter combination “st” to tricking her brain by changing her words at the last minute to, yes, singing the things she has to say rather than speaking them.

Math class needs a makeover

Today's math curriculum is teaching students to expect — and excel at — paint-by-numbers classwork, robbing kids of a skill more important than solving problems: formulating them. In his talk, Dan Meyer shows classroom-tested math exercises that prompt students to stop and think. (Filmed at TEDxNYED.)

The bridge between suicide and life

For many years Sergeant Kevin Briggs had a dark, unusual, at times strangely rewarding job: He patrolled the southern end of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, a popular site for suicide attempts. In a sobering, deeply personal talk Briggs shares stories from those he’s spoken — and listened — to standing on the edge of life. He gives a powerful piece of advice to those with loved ones who might be contemplating suicide.

Why 30 is not the new 20

Clinical psychologist Meg Jay has a bold message for twentysomethings: Contrary to popular belief, your 20s are not a throwaway decade. In this provocative talk, Jay says that just because marriage, work and kids are happening later in life, doesn’t mean you can’t start planning now. She gives 3 pieces of advice for how twentysomethings can re-claim adulthood in the defining decade of their lives.

The mysterious workings of the adolescent brain

Why do teenagers seem so much more impulsive, so much less self-aware than grown-ups? Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore compares the prefrontal cortex in adolescents to that of adults, to show us how typically “teenage” behavior is caused by the growing and developing brain.

A park underneath the hustle and bustle of New York City

Dan Barasch and James Ramsey have a crazy plan — to create a park, filled with greenery, underneath New York City. The two are developing the Lowline, an underground greenspace the size of a football field. They're building it in a trolley terminal abandoned in 1948, using technology that harvests sunlight above-ground and directs it down below. It's a park that can thrive, even in winter.

6 ways mushrooms can save the world

Mycologist Paul Stamets lists 6 ways the mycelium fungus can help save the universe: cleaning polluted soil, making insecticides, treating smallpox and even flu viruses.

Listening to shame

Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior. Brené Brown, whose earlier talk on vulnerability became a viral hit, explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Her own humor, humanity and vulnerability shine through every word.

To create for the ages, let's combine art and engineering

When Bran Ferren was just 9, his parents took him to see the Pantheon in Rome — and it changed everything. In that moment, he began to understand how the tools of science and engineering become more powerful when combined with art, with design and beauty. Ever since, he's been searching for a convincing modern-day equivalent to Rome's masterpiece. Stay tuned to the end of the talk for his unexpected suggestion.

My 12 pairs of legs

Athlete, actor and activist Aimee Mullins talks about her prosthetic legs — she's got a dozen amazing pairs — and the superpowers they grant her: speed, beauty, an extra 6 inches of height ... Quite simply, she redefines what the body can be.

The opportunity of adversity

The thesaurus might equate "disabled" with synonyms like "useless" and "mutilated," but ground-breaking runner Aimee Mullins is out to redefine the word. Defying these associations, she shows how adversity — in her case, being born without shinbones — actually opens the door for human potential.

On being wrong

Most of us will do anything to avoid being wrong. But what if we're wrong about that? "Wrongologist" Kathryn Schulz makes a compelling case for not just admitting but embracing our fallibility.

All it takes is 10 mindful minutes

When is the last time you did absolutely nothing for 10 whole minutes? Not texting, talking or even thinking? Mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe describes the transformative power of doing just that: Refreshing your mind for 10 minutes a day, simply by being mindful and experiencing the present moment. (No need for incense or sitting in uncomfortable positions.)

The visual magic of comics

In this unmissable look at the magic of comics, Scott McCloud bends the presentation format into a cartoon-like experience, where colorful diversions whiz through childhood fascinations and imagined futures that our eyes can hear and touch.

The politics of fiction

Listening to stories widens the imagination; telling them lets us leap over cultural walls, embrace different experiences, feel what others feel. Elif Shafak builds on this simple idea to argue that fiction can overcome identity politics.

The clues to a great story

Filmmaker Andrew Stanton ("Toy Story," "WALL-E") shares what he knows about storytelling — starting at the end and working back to the beginning. Contains graphic language ... (Note: this talk is not available for download.)

The danger of a single story

Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

Tales of passion

Author and activist Isabel Allende discusses women, creativity, the definition of feminism — and, of course, passion — in this talk.

Aliens, love — where are they?

Humorist John Hodgman rambles through a new story about aliens, physics, time, space and the way all of these somehow contribute to a sweet, perfect memory of falling in love.

Let's talk parenting taboos publishers Rufus Griscom and Alisa Volkman, in a lively tag-team, expose 4 facts that parents never, ever admit — and why they should. Funny and honest, for parents and nonparents alike.

Love, no matter what

What is it like to raise a child who's different from you in some fundamental way (like a prodigy, or a differently abled kid, or a criminal)? In this quietly moving talk, writer Andrew Solomon shares what he learned from talking to dozens of parents — asking them: What's the line between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance?

Love letters to strangers

Hannah Brencher's mother always wrote her letters. So when she felt herself bottom into depression after college, she did what felt natural — she wrote love letters and left them for strangers to find. The act has become a global initiative, The World Needs More Love Letters, which rushes handwritten letters to those in need of a boost.

Love — you're doing it wrong

In this delightful talk, philosopher Yann Dall’Aglio explores the universal search for tenderness and connection in a world that's ever more focused on the individual. As it turns out, it's easier than you think. A wise and witty reflection on the state of love in the modern age. (Filmed at TEDxParis.)

How to live passionately—no matter your age

Author Isabel Allende is 71. Yes, she has a few wrinkles—but she has incredible perspective too. In this candid talk, meant for viewers of all ages, she talks about her fears as she gets older and shares how she plans to keep on living passionately.

One very dry demo

Mark Shaw demos Ultra-Ever Dry, a liquid-repellent coating that acts as an astonishingly powerful shield against water and water-based materials. At the nano level, the spray covers a surface with an umbrella of air so that water bounces right off. Watch for an exciting two-minute kicker.

Designing objects that tell stories

Designer Yves Behar digs up his creative roots to discuss some of the iconic objects he's created (the Leaf lamp, the Jawbone headset). Then he turns to the witty, surprising, elegant objects he's working on now — including the "$100 laptop."

10 top time-saving tech tips

Tech columnist David Pogue shares 10 simple, clever tips for computer, web, smartphone and camera users. And yes, you may know a few of these already — but there's probably at least one you don't.

How to succeed? Get more sleep

In this short talk, Arianna Huffington shares a small idea that can awaken much bigger ones: the power of a good night's sleep. Instead of bragging about our sleep deficits, she urges us to shut our eyes and see the big picture: We can sleep our way to increased productivity and happiness — and smarter decision-making.

How to grow a tiny forest anywhere

A forest planted by humans, then left to nature’s own devices, typically takes at least 100 years to mature. But what if we could make the process happen ten times faster? In this short talk, eco-entrepreneur (and TED Fellow) Shubhendu Sharma explains how to create a mini-forest ecosystem anywhere.

What the best education systems are doing right

In South Korea and Finland, it’s not about finding the “right” school.

Fifty years ago, both South Korea and Finland had terrible education systems. Finland was at risk of becoming the economic stepchild of Europe. South Korea was ravaged by civil war. Yet over the past half century, both South Korea and Finland have turned their schools around — and now both countries are hailed internationally for their extremely high educational outcomes. What can other countries learn from these two successful, but diametrically opposed, educational models? Here’s an overview of what South Korea and Finland are doing right.

The Korean model: Grit and hard, hard, hard work.

For millennia, in some parts of Asia, the only way to climb the socioeconomic ladder and find secure work was to take an examination — in which the proctor was a proxy for the emperor, says Marc Tucker, president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy. Those examinations required a thorough command of knowledge, and taking them was a grueling rite of passage. Today, many in the Confucian countries still respect the kind of educational achievement that is promoted by an exam culture.

The Koreans have achieved a remarkable feat: the country is 100 percent literate. But success comes with a price.

Among these countries, South Korea stands apart as the most extreme, and arguably, most successful. The Koreans have achieved a remarkable feat: the country is 100 percent literate, and at the forefront of international comparative tests of achievement, including tests of critical thinking and analysis. But this success comes with a price: Students are under enormous, unrelenting pressure to perform. Talent is not a consideration — because the culture believes in hard work and diligence above all, there is no excuse for failure. Children study year-round, both in-school and with tutors. If you study hard enough, you can be smart enough.

South Korea women pray for their children's success in the annual college entrance examination. Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Thinkstock.

South Korea women pray for their children’s success in the annual college entrance examination. Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Thinkstock.

“Koreans basically believe that I have to get through this really tough period to have a great future,” says Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at PISA and special advisor on education policy at the OECD. “It’s a question of short-term unhappiness and long-term happiness.” It’s not just the parents pressuring their kids. Because this culture traditionally celebrates conformity and order, pressure from other students can also heighten performance expectations. This community attitude expresses itself even in early-childhood education, says Joe Tobin, professor of early childhood education at the University of Georgia who specializes in comparative international research. In Korea, as in other Asian countries, class sizes are very large — which would be extremely undesirable for, say, an American parent. But in Korea, the goal is for the teacher to lead the class as a community, and for peer relationships to develop. In American preschools, the focus for teachers is on developing individual relationships with students, and intervening regularly in peer relationships.

“I think it is clear there are better and worse way to educate our children,” says Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way. “At the same time, if I had to choose between an average US education and an average Korean education for my own kid, I would choose, very reluctantly, the Korean model. The reality is, in the modern world the kid is going to have to know how to learn, how to work hard and how to persist after failure. The Korean model teaches that.”

The Finnish model: Extracurricular choice, intrinsic motivation.

In Finland, on the other hand, students are learning the benefits of both rigor and flexibility. The Finnish model, say educators, is utopia.

Finland has a short school day rich with school-sponsored extracurriculars, because Finns believe important learning happens outside the classroom.

In Finland, school is the center of the community, notes Schleicher. School provides not just educational services, but social services. Education is about creating identity.

Finnish culture values intrinsic motivation and the pursuit of personal interest. It has a relatively short school day rich with school-sponsored extracurriculars, because culturally, Finns believe important learning happens outside of the classroom. (An exception? Sports, which are not sponsored by schools, but by towns.) A third of the classes that students take in high school are electives, and they can even choose which matriculation exams they are going to take. It’s a low-stress culture, and it values a wide variety of learning experiences.

But that does not except it from academic rigor, motivated by the country’s history trapped between European superpowers, says Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish educator and author of Finnish Lessons: What the World Can Learn From Educational Change in Finland.

Teachers in Finland teach 600 hours a year, spending the rest of time in professional development. In the U.S., teachers are in the classroom 1,100 hours a year, with little time for feedback.

“A key to that is education. Finns do not really exist outside of Finland,” says Sahlberg. “This drives people to take education more seriously. For example, nobody speaks this funny language that we do. Finland is bilingual, and every student learns both Finnish and Swedish. And every Finn who wants to be successful has to master at least one other language, often English, but she also typically learns German, French, Russian and many others. Even the smallest children understand that nobody else speaks Finnish, and if they want to do anything else in life, they need to learn languages.”

Children in a Finnish school choir perform a song called "The Time Is Now" on their Climate Action Day. Photo by Aapo-Lassi Kankaala/Flickr.

Children in a Finnish school choir perform a song called “The Time Is Now” on their Climate Action Day. Photo by Aapo-Lassi Kankaala/Flickr.

Finns share one thing with South Koreans: a deep respect for teachers and their academic accomplishments. In Finland, only one in ten applicants to teaching programs is admitted. After a mass closure of 80 percent of teacher colleges in the 1970s, only the best university training programs remained, elevating the status of educators in the country. Teachers in Finland teach 600 hours a year, spending the rest of time in professional development, meeting with colleagues, students and families. In the U.S., teachers are in the classroom 1,100 hours a year, with little time for collaboration, feedback or professional development.

How Americans can change education culture

As TED speaker Sir Ken Robinson noted in his 2013 talk (How to escape education’s death valley), when it comes to current American education woes “the dropout crisis is just the tip of an iceberg. What it doesn’t count are all the kids who are in school but being disengaged from it, who don’t enjoy it, who don’t get any real benefit from it.” But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Notes Amanda Ripley, “culture is a thing that changes. It’s more malleable than we think. Culture is like this ether that has all kinds of things swirling around in it, some of which are activated and some of which are latent. Given an economic imperative or change in leadership or accident of history, those things get activated.” The good news is, “We Americans have a lot of things in our culture which would support a very strong education system, such as a longstanding rhetoric about the equality of opportunity and a strong and legitimate meritocracy,” says Ripley.

One reason we haven’t made much progress academically over the past 50 years is because it hasn’t been economically crucial for American kids to master sophisticated problem-solving and critical-thinking skills in order to survive. But that’s not true anymore. “There’s a lag for cultures to catch up with economic realities, and right now we’re living in that lag,” says Ripley. “So our kids aren’t growing up with the kind of skills or grit to make it in the global economy.”

An American classroom ca. 1899: students studying the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Mass. Photo via The Library of Congress.

An American classroom ca. 1899: students studying the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, Mass. Photo via The Library of Congress.

“We are prisoners of the pictures and experiences of education that we had,” says Tony Wagner, expert-in-residence at Harvard’s educational innovation center and author of The Global Achievement Gap. “We want schools for our kids that mirror our own experience, or what we thought we wanted. That severely limits our ability to think creatively of a different kind of education. But there’s no way that tweaking that assembly line will meet the 21st-century world. We need a major overhaul.”

Indeed. Today, the American culture of choice puts the onus on parents to find the “right” schools for our kids, rather than trusting that all schools are capable of preparing our children for adulthood. Our obsession with talent puts the onus on students to be “smart,” rather than on adults’ ability to teach them. And our antiquated system for funding schools makes property values the arbiter of spending per student, not actual values.

But what will American education culture look like tomorrow? In the most successful education cultures in the world, it is the system that is responsible for the success of the student, says Schleicher — not solely the parent, not solely the student, not solely the teacher. The culture creates the system. The hope is that Americans can find the grit and will to change their own culture — one parent, student and teacher at a time.

Featured image via iStock.

The evolution of the school of the future

When Salman Khan shared his vision for “a free world-class education for anyone anywhere” at TED2011, he turned the education world on its head. As he introduced Khan Academy — a virtual classroom that uses video lessons to create an individualized, self-paced learning experience — his alternative model fueled the nascent dialogue about online education. The conversation only exploded from there.

In the three years since his talk, Khan has doubled down on his efforts to cultivate Khan Academy into the education model of the future. The site now has more than 10 million unique users per month, with five million exercises completed daily. The lessons are available in 29 languages, and are hosted on five fully translated sites. Through collaborations with MIT, the Getty Museum and the MOMA, Khan Academy is focusing its efforts on expanding and deepening its content offerings. It has even partnered with LeBron James, to up its cool factor.

Khan himself has been busy reimagining the education experience. After his talk ignited impassioned dialogue, he wrote a book that digs deeper into his idea – a landscape where teachers work in tandem with technology to foster the best learning environment for each student.

We spoke with Khan about the academy’s incredible growth, and what’s on the horizon for classrooms both physical and virtual. Below, an edited transcript of that conversation.

Khan Academy has seen incredible growth since you spoke in 2011. Where are you focusing your efforts as you expand?

Content coverage is a big thing. We’re making sure that, by next school year, our math experience is a very strong implementation of the Common Core, the math standards adopted by 46 states. Relative to where we were in 2011 when the TED Talk happened, back then we already had reasonable coverage — a scaffold of K-12 math and beyond — but now we’re serious about absolute full coverage of all of the major concepts that one would need to know for the K-12 Common Core, as well as AP Calculus. We’re doing a partnership with the AP tests to make sure that our AP Calculus is fully comprehensive. Since the talk, we’ve dramatically increased our coverage of physics and chemistry, math and history, and we brought on some art historians. Our broader video content has broadened dramatically.

In my TED Talk, I didn’t talk a lot about the use of data and analytics to fine-tune the experience — and that’s something we’re kind of doing all-out as we speak. We probably have 20 experiments on the site about retention, learning, engagement — whatever you want to call it. We have postdocs from Stanford and other places to actually do tests in cognitive science and learning science. That’s a big part of what we’re doing now. We’re also strengthening the personalization piece — we’re using very sophisticated machine learning in the background system to understand what the student likely knows and doesn’t know, and to give recommendations based on that. At the time of the TED Talk, we were going in that direction but it was a much simpler and more basic system. Now it’s really cutting edge.

The other big thing that’s happening is internationalization. It’s something that we’ve been working on for about a year and a half now, but we’ve just launched Spanish Khan Academy, and Brazilian Portuguese Khan Academy, Turkish and French and all the world’s major languages. This is not just redoing or translating the videos, it’s the whole experience — the software, the dashboard.

How have you seen the thinking about education shift since you gave your TED Talk?

The conversation around the classroom of the future really took off. A lot more people are  talking about what a classroom should be like. I don’t want to make too much of that — I think people have always been talking about that, and I don’t think it’s the TED talk alone that did it — but I do think it did help catalyze more conversation around what a school should look like, and what its credentials should be.

Since the talk, I published my book, The One World Schoolhouse. I hadn’t even agreed to write a book at the time of the TED Talk, and I think the talk catalyzed what people were interested in and helped it get published. The book pushes the TED talk to a deeper level –it’s also talking about credentialing and higher education.

An interesting element to this conversation is the rise of MOOCS. Where do you see Khan Academy in relation to online university courses?

I think we share a common lineage. I wouldn’t claim that Khan Academy was the first — we kind of grew out of MIT open courseware. But Sebastian Thrun was the first to launch a MOOC — he was apparently in the audience at my TED Talk and he was thinking, “Well, I’m a Stanford professor, I should be able to do this too!” He went off that very next fall and launched the first MOOC. And of course that was followed by Coursera and edX. I think we’re all focused on a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere. So I think in that way we are completely aligned.

The difference is the implementation approach. I think MOOCS are trying to take a traditional university course model: start on a certain day, have problem sets due, everyone goes together in a synchronous way — it’s a virtual experience of a classroom. You register for a MOOC and you get a credential at the end of it. At Khan Academy, we’ve been trying to go a little more clean slate: if this is someone’s goal, how can they go at their own pace, how can we use exercises and analytics and dashboards to rethink the classroom? So a MOOC is: you’re going to take a course. Khan Academy is anywhere between, “I have a test tomorrow on L’Hôpital’s rule, so let me go get some practice on it,” all the way to, “I am running a calculus class and I want all my students to learn at their own pace with me as their teacher to see where they are so I can see who’s ready for a project or a conversation and if someone’s falling behind I can pair students together.” Khan Academy and MOOCS are taking different approaches to helping people learn.

There has been a lot of debate about the limits of online education. What content do you think works best online and what’s better left to a real-life setting?

I think the ideal is to have both.

Anything that lasts more than 30 seconds — or any explanation — makes sense to have in a video form. Or it could be in a text form and video form, so that students can get it whenever they want and they don’t have to feel judged. They can pause and repeat. Practice and feedback for a large set of classes — especially math and science — can be done really well online. I think it hasn’t been done really well, but it can be done well online if you have large item banks. Before the computer was invented, there was a multibillion-dollar industry of people writing algorithm problems. Why wasn’t there just a shared bank for these things? Now that we have the Internet, you can have these shared banks and you can also have a common way to interface with them and give the teachers analytics and feedback that is really good through software tools.

What that means for the teacher is a much higher value task of mentoring students, motivating students, having conversations with students. To a large degree, this is what’s always been true in humanities class. In a seminar, the professor doesn’t read the textbook or the novel to the students — they do that on their own — and then class time is much more valuable for richer experiences. We’d like to push that one step further with math or science material and allow students to move at their own pace. Because even if I didn’t read the last book in my literature class, I can engage in the next book. But, if I didn’t understand the last three chapters of math, I’m not going to be able to engage on the next one.

What are some surprising ways people are using Khan Academy?

The two that jump out at me: One example is a school in Oakland — Oakland Unity School — which is a charter school that takes students who are several grade levels behind coming out of Oakland City public schools. They’ve achieved dramatic results. The year before they were using Khan Academy, they were in the 50th percentile in California, and then using Khan Academy, they’re approaching the 98th percentile. I can’t imply that’s purely due to Khan Academy because it’s just one of many things they’re doing, but it’s incredible. And what’s so surprising about that is there’s a teacher there and he’s very adamant about using Khan Academy to teach math, but he’s also using math as a pretext for a tool around changing his students’ mindset about having a more active role — to have them take more ownership over their learning. He sees his role as: change their mindset. Once you change their mindset, they become really good students.

The Innova Schools in Peru, which are low-cost private schools for the Peruvian middle class, use Khan Academy as a core part of their math curriculum. And it was surprising because, when they launched, we didn’t even have Spanish Khan Academy but they were using it with students who for the most part did not know English. We started seeing some interesting learning gain. I visited last spring and was wondering how are they doing it, and they just use Google Translate to copy and paste the text and read the subtitles. That was enough to get by. That was a surprisingly good implementation of Khan Academy.

While we’re talking about Khan Academy in other countries, tell me more about the translation effort.

When I gave the talk, we had a very nascent translation effort, and that’s accelerated dramatically. It’s mainly around finding really good partners in different geographies, and the partners do everything from provide funding to the work of the translation, to the vetting to actually implementing it. We’re trying to understand how it can be used in the region’s schools. In Spanish, our main partner is the Carlos Slim Foundation and they do most of the on-the-ground work. In Brazil it’s been the Lemon Foundation that’s been doing most of everything. Our goal is to find groups like that in every major geography.

Are you tailoring content, like history lessons, to specific regions?

Not yet — most of the interest has been around the math content and the science content.

Do you see English lessons as a potential language-learning tool for someone who might want to learn math and English at the same time?

We’ve heard some things like that, but it isn’t really our focus at the moment. An incredible example is a letter I got from this young girl in Mongolia. She has a video that she uses through Khan Academy. I assumed she was middle- or upper-class but turned out that there was a group of engineers from Silicon Valley using their vacation time setting up computer labs in orphanages in Mongolia and she was one of the orphan girls. It was cool by itself that she was using Khan Academy. What’s even cooler is she’s gone off to be one of our main contributors to the Mongolian language of videos so we do have some one-off examples of surprising use case with surprising results who are also helping to translate.

You have a number of exciting partnerships — MIT, the Getty, the MOMA — and LeBron James. How did that one come about?

Yes, MIT, the MOMA and LeBron James. It was one of those strange things where someone emailed us and said, “I work with LeBron James and we’re interested in learning what you’re doing. LeBron wants to help with education and your nonprofit and he wants to do something that really matters.” So we were like, “Yeah, sure.” We met with LeBron and he’s obviously busy, so we tried to come up with something to leverage him but not take up his time. He watched the video about the scale of the sun and was fascinated. And that’s cool — if more kids knew that LeBron was fascinated by it, they would be too. We had a back and forth where LeBron asked a question about science, and then I or someone else tried to answer the question.

Where do you see Khan Academy evolving in the next 2-5 years? What’s the next big step?

The Common Core is a big thing — it’s about Khan Academy trying to fully empower teachers. What we’re doing with the common core is we want this to be a really useful tool that can really help teachers and that they’re really getting the common core materials and having time to work on other things. Hopefully in the next few years, we can really validate the utility of the Khan Academy in all types of classrooms.

I think internationalization may be three to five years out. I imagine that Spanish and Portuguese and Urdu and Hindi and Arabic could be useful for Khan Academy. We haven’t found the right partners for Japanese and Korean yet.

We have a core math experience that’s really interactive and exercise driven, and then there’s our tutorial experience, which includes a curated set of videos and exercises that you might find useful — so that’s our art history experience, our history experience. Hopefully in the next three, four, five years, we can get other areas like physics and chemistry as rich as our core math experience, maybe other things as well — art history, history. And we can leverage the community to do things like writing, and computer science. That’s a big thing that’s happened since the talk was the computer science platform launching — it’s different than the traditional Khan Academy. It’s very hands on and you share what you’ve made and it’s active. Those are the big things. And in terms of reach, who knows where we might get to.

Elizabeth Jacobs is an editorial freelancer at TED.

“We need to change everything on campus”


Whenever something is declared the subject of “the year of,” you know that subject is ripe for a big fat backlash. So, when The New York Times declared 2012 “the year of the MOOC,” it thus came to pass that massive open online courses should next become the subject of massive, open, often online criticism, as critics gathered to air both their disappointment that said courses had not in fact proven the savior of a broken education system — and almost transparent delight and glee at same.

That’s not to say that the MOOC bubble couldn’t stand to lose some of its air. Maybe it’s no bad thing that some of that shiny techno-utopian language got buffed from the courses’ gilded surfaces. The reality is that those responsible for MOOCs are still figuring out how to make them work, and they’re experimenting and adjusting as they go.

Case in point: Anant Agarwal, who spoke at TED Global in Edinburgh in June 2013. Agarwal is president of edX, the nonprofit “online learning destination” founded by Harvard and MIT. We caught up with him on the phone to find out what he makes of the anti-MOOC rhetoric — and why he thinks a “blended learning” model of education that includes online and offline resources might just prove the real key to a vibrant education system of the future. An edited version of our conversation follows.

So let’s start with the question on everyone’s lips: what do you make of the backlash against MOOCs?

Initially there was a lot of talk about MOOCs being the solution to all of the world’s problems. And clearly they’re important; they can increase access to students who don’t have access to good quality education. But even when we started edX, we talked about MOOCs and the blended model on campus and of campus education as being a key part of the whole equation. So for us it comes as no surprise that a pure MOOC model, a completely online model, will not work so well on campus. There, a blended model can be even better than a purely online model. The backlash you’re seeing was more a backlash to the statement that MOOCs can cure the world of all educational ills. The answer is no. MOOCs have a very important place in increasing access to a large community of students. At the same time, if you take MOOC technology and blend it with in-person class help, we can achieve the blended model, which is even better and can improve campus education.

In your talk, you describe the idea that the education system has to be rethought from the ground up. But what I’m hearing is that actually this isn’t revolution; it’s evolution. This is bringing technology in where appropriate, not imagining that technology can cure everything. Is that accurate?

I guess what I’m saying is we really have to reimagine education as we know it. We won’t solve it just by tweaking one aspect of it. We don’t have a clear answer yet but as an example, we need to change everything on campus. We need to move from students coming to lectures and sitting around for an hour to their watching video and doing interactive exercises at their own pace. We need to change our spaces from large lecture halls to small learning spaces. We need to think about unbundling content, where previously the professor would produce everything, but instead now the content may come from online sources and the professor. Instead of imagining a full year of university, what about a different program where students take half the courses as MOOCs, and half on campus as blended courses? I do hold to the view we have to rethink all aspects of education from the ground up and that a little tweak here or there is not going to be the answer.

Do you see this happening? Are you heartened by the discussion or are you finding there’s a kneejerk defensive stance from university leaders to this kind of thinking?

I think the kneejerk reaction and negativity you see is in the press, but I’m actually very heartened. A number of universities are moving in the direction and experimenting with the blended model. I see that as the next step, the evolutionary way for heading towards the right answer in 20 or 30 years down the road. We don’t know what the right answer is but the blended model is an evolutionary step in path, and we’re seeing more and more of that.

At MIT, for example, over 2,000 of the 4,500 undergraduates are accessing the edX platform and online content in some form or the other already. It’s just 1.5 years since we began and now we have nearly 100 blended courses happening around the world.

Unlike some of the other MOOC providers, edX is a non-profit. Obviously the initiative also needs to sustain itself – where are you with the business model currently?

Certainly we have a lot more understanding of that now than when I gave the talk. We are getting revenues as we speak. One model is that we open-sourced the platform. That means it can be used by anyone to host and offer courses. We’ve seen huge interest in this: the Chinese education ministry and Tsinghua university created a consortium of universities in China to offer a platform they call XeutangX. France launched France Universite Numerique; in the Middle East, the Queen Rania Foundation launched Edraak, an Arabic language platform. All of these national platforms use the open edX code and that creates a revenue model, in that they look for support from edX, and they’re interested in licensing courses from edX partner universities for a fee, translating them and offering these courses to their own populations.

We also have a “business to consumer” model where students pay a fee for identity verified certificates. That’s going quite well. We currently have 12 courses offering certificates.

So you’re at MIT, you’re working with Harvard and Berkeley and so on. These are well-funded well-established institutions; they attract students without difficulty and those students pay a lot of money to go there. How does this framework exist on top of that university-funded model without being, well, parasitic on that existing infrastructure? How do MOOCs benefit the professors and colleges themselves?

I see MOOCs as being completely synergistic with the traditional university model. As professors and universities produce MOOCs and run MOOCs on the edX platform, we also make the platform available to universities to use on campus for blended education. For example, Professor Armando Fox teaches a MOOC on edX on software as a service, and he uses the same content in his own class at UC Berkeley, where he teaches a blended class.

Then there’s what I call the unbundling of time. Today, universities have a four-year program. I see a time in the future where rather than students coming in for four years to do a bachelor’s degree, they’ll come in having taken their first year of courses as MOOCs. Then they’ll spend two years on campus, spend the final year getting a job and continuing to take MOOCs and becoming lifelong continuous learners. That might be another way in which the MOOC education might become a continuous blend into campus education over time.

I confess, I am not an engineer. I studied English and Latin at university and I’m curious about how you’re managing humanities within the edX platform. You tell a great story in your talk about a guy who really missed the green check mark that shows he answered a question correctly. How does that check mark apply when it comes to something like English literature?

We do have a large number of humanities courses on our platform. “Was Alexander Great?” is from Wellesley College. There’s a course on Chinese history from Harvard, one on globalization from Georgetown. You could hardly call these technical courses, and we have various technologies to work with humanities courses.

First of all, many humanities courses use discussion forums liberally. Students have discussions on forums about concepts in the class. The second approach is we are able to create cohorts, which are smaller group discussions within a larger discussion forum. Third is that we have a number of technologies to grade humanities courses. One is self-assessment, where the students grade themselves. Next is peer assessment, where students grade each other’s work. And third is AI assessment, where we have a machine learning computer program grade student essays. There are multiple ways to grade essays. But we know in reality these are still in experimental form and our hope is over time we will keep improving these technologies to best serve the humanities.

I do wonder how kindly my peers would have graded my papers. I’m not sure they’d have been all that generous.

Absolutely. Grading humanities is always challenging. Particularly because, unlike in some of the sciences, in humanities, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. From my own experience, rarely have I submitted an essay where I have been happy with the grade or thought it was consistent with what I thought the grade should have been. With science there tends to be more consistency, humanities less so. The qualitative aspect certainly makes things more challenging.

There’s a lot going on at edX. You just launched Forum Academy, a new platform offering professional leadership courses presented in collaboration with the World Economic Forum. Meanwhile, 150,000 students signed up almost instantly for a Harvard computer programming course taught by David Malan. That’s pretty crazy growth… so what keeps you up at night?

Oh, that’s an endless list. We are doing something here, trying to improve something that is so fundamental and so important to everybody. The stakes are really high. We have to do it right. We have to improve quality of education and we also have to increase access to education. We really need to do a good job, and the task is really daunting, but our team is up to it.

How to teach a young introvert

What should we do with the quiet kids? A conversation with Susan Cain on the future of classroom education.

Susan Cain sticks up for the introverts of the world. In the U.S., where one third to one half the population identifies as introverts, that means sticking up for a lot of people. Some of them might be data engineers overwhelmed by the noise of an open-floor-plan office. Others might be lawyers turning 30, whose friends shame them for not wanting a big birthday bash. But Cain particularly feels for one group of introverts: the quiet kids in a classroom.
Cain remembers a childhood full of moments when she was urged by teachers and peers to be more outgoing and social — when that simply wasn’t in her nature. Our most important institutions, like schools and workplaces, are designed for extroverts, says Cain in her TED Talk. [Watch: The power of introverts.] “Nowadays, your typical classroom has pods of desks, and kids are working on countless group assignments.” Yet if up to half the population has introvert tendencies, why is it that kids who prefer to go off by themselves or to work alone are seen as outliers?
We gave Cain a call to talk about how schools, both right now and far off in the future, could better care for the needs of introverted students. Below, an edited transcript of that conversation, with some very surprising answers. Could we rethink the chaotic school cafeteria? How about recess? How about the very definition of “class participation?” Cain offers bold ideas in these areas and more.

What kind of response did you get to the part of your TED Talk about the education system and how it isn’t optimized for introverts?
I’ve heard from so many teachers and school administrators and parents and students about the problems that they feel are embedded in the system. I’ve heard from students feeling that they are unfairly docked for not meeting current standards of class participation. I’ve heard from teachers who now, in many cases, are required to make a majority of their lessons centered on group work. Even when the teachers feel that’s not a good idea, they have to do it, because the teachers themselves are evaluated on that basis. They don’t have the wiggle room to modify it, even though they think they should. Overall, I’ve seen firsthand in the wake of my TED Talk that there’s such an enormous need for parents and teachers to better understand how to love and cultivate the introverted kid.
“What an extroverted act it is in the first place to go to school. All day long, you are in a classroom full of people with constant stimulation.”
What can be done in the short term to help teachers better understand how to do that?
I believe that we need to do general teacher training to just make them aware of what makes a student an introvert, what that means, and how best to cultivate the talent of those students. To raise awareness of what an extroverted act it is in the first place to go to school. All day long, you are in a classroom full of people with constant stimulation. Even for introverted kids who really like school, it’s still a very overstimulating experience.
In general, teachers should avoid setting social standards for what is normal. There’s research that shows that if a student has no friends at all — zero friends — that is problematic and should be addressed. But a student who has one or two or three friends, and prefers to go deep with their friendships instead of being one of a big gang, there’s nothing wrong with that at all, in terms of it being a predictor for adulthood. That style of socializing is perfectly fine. So we should identify problems when they are there — like a student who would really love to make friends but doesn’t know how. But at the same time, we shouldn’t make problems when they aren’t there by saying, “You should be more social.” If the kid is perfectly happy the way they are, they need to get the message that the way they are is cool.
Photo by lecercle/Flickr.
Photo by lecercle/Flickr. 
One thing I think that educators should bear in mind: we allow adults all kinds of flexibility in terms of what kind of social life they want. Adults who have two or three friends, no one thinks twice about it. But we don’t allow children the same degree of flexibility. I often ask people to imagine their next big, milestone birthday and to think how they would want to celebrate it. Some people want to celebrate with a big bash full of friends, and other people would rather just go out with family or a couple of close friends. But think about what we expect children to do for their birthday parties. We expect them to invite the whole class, and make it this big, uproarious affair. I get letters from parents all the time, saying, “We invited the whole class over for the birthday, and my child seemed happy for the first 15 minutes, and then she went to her room and wouldn’t come out.” What I’d say is: celebrate the way the kid wants to celebrate. Don’t give the kid the idea that there’s only one way to do it.
What are some small changes that teachers can make in the classroom right now that might make a big difference for kids who are introverts?
Number one would be to make sure to build quiet time into the school day, especially when kids are younger. Have 15 minutes set aside every day where the students just read. Make sure that the classroom design accommodates nooks and crannies so you’re not just reading within groups of people, but you can go and sit on a sofa in the classroom and curl up with your book. When I was researching Quiet, I traveled around and sat in as a fly-on-the-wall in all kinds of classrooms, and many already do this — but not all of them. That would be one easy thing.
Another would be reforming recess. Teachers should think about providing alternatives to recess, which for many students is unnecessarily chaotic and not that interesting. Open up a classroom and let students sit and play board games in small groups, or read a book, or just hang out and chill. The notion that all students should restore themselves by running out into a big, noisy yard is very limiting. Some will like it, some won’t. Some will like it on some days, but would prefer an alternative on other days.
“The classroom is crying out for a solution that is less one-size-fits-all.”
Interesting. So the theme seems to be giving students more options.
Yeah, the idea is just to maximize choice. All the suggestions that I’m giving are along those lines of providing lots of different alternatives for how you get your learning and how you get your restorative time. Let it be more of a pick-and-choose situation instead of it being, “Oh, let’s do it this way.” There’s a well-known study in psychology by a guy named Russell Geen. He gave learning tasks to kids to solve, with varying levels of background noise. He found that the extroverts did best when the noise was louder, and the introverts did best when the noise was softer. If you take that research and apply it to the classroom, it’s crying out for a solution that is less one-size-fits-all — and that allows students to pick the amount of stimulation that is right for them in that moment.
How can teachers make introverted students feel more comfortable when class is in session?
I’d say: less group work in general. Teachers should really mix it up fairly between individual work, group work, and have students do more work in pairs, which is a way that both introverts and extroverts can thrive. There’s one technique that a lot educators will know of already, but should be reminded of: it’s called “think-pair-share.” What you do is ask a question, like “Why did Romeo do what he did?” or “Why did Juliet react the way she did?” and then the teacher thinks about it, and students sit by themselves for a minute or two and they think too. Then they pair up, and discuss their thoughts with their partner. The share part is when they share their thoughts with the group. A lot of students who might be reticent at first will feel emboldened by having first discussed it with a partner.
Photo via iStock.
Photo via iStock.
I’d like to challenge teachers to rethink what they mean by class participation and start thinking of it as classroom engagement instead. Participation ends up rewarding quantity, so you get kids raising their hands for the sake of talking, and that’s not really in anybody’s interest. But engagement recognizes that there are a lot of different ways to engage with the material and with your peers. If you think more broadly about it, a student who’s a good listener or who gives one really great, reflective comment is just as valued as the one who’s always raising their hand.
By the way, Greenwich Academy in Connecticut has adopted a lot of these ideas and has really been using them to great effect.
Was that jumpstarted by your talk and book?
Yes. Their teacher reading assignment over one summer was to read Quiet. They also had a group of students who embraced it and started really getting their peers and teachers to address it. They started a little movement within the school.
In May, I talked to the TED Blog about our whole Quiet Revolution. One of the segments that we are going to be tackling is education, because the need is so great. This is the area that is closest to my heart. With our Quiet Revolution, we plan to be doing versions of this with schools across the world — we just need to build out the resources for it. We’re just at the beginning, but our intention is to partner with private and public schools all over the U.S., and ultimately globally, to really make sure that everything I’ve just been talking about can actually happen. We’re looking for the right leader for that right now. Once we have the right leader, I think it will move at the speed of light, because there is so much groundwork in place already. So watch this space. We’re trying to create something that will really give schools the tools that they need.
“We should be getting away from school design that has students jostling together in one gigantic mass of humanity.”
Now, forget school in the form we know it. If you were designing schools of the future, what would they look like?
I really love the whole “flipped classroom” — Salman Khan’s model, where students do a lot of the hard work on their own the night before, and then come in and have the opportunity to engage one-on-one or in small groups with a teacher to resolve the remaining questions that they have. I think that’s really key for all students. The best way to learn, for sure.
I also think we need to rethink classroom design. It’s definitely integrating way more nooks and crannies and alternative sorts of spaces into our classrooms, but also rethinking our school designs in general. We should be getting away from school design that has students jostling together in one gigantic mass of humanity. There are a lot of students who just don’t thrive like that.
So instead of crowded halls, a design that channels students into different spaces?
Yeah. I’m imagining spaces that are more flexible so at any given moment, you can choose: Do I want to be in a solo space? Do I want to be in a small group space? Do I want to be in a more crowded, lively space? A design that really takes into account the fact that all of us toggle back and forth in our days between wanting each of those three kinds of spaces. Right now, our schools are designed with a kind of monolithic sense of space.
How will the curriculum in schools of the future vary from what we see now?
I think the future of education will take into account the research of Anders Ericsson, who invented the concept of “deliberate practice.” He’s a psychologist, and he studied what makes people into really expert, superstar performers — whether it’s in tennis or chess or math. He found that for most people, it’s not a question of having superior talent, but rather a question of having engaged in many, many hours of really concentrated, deliberate practice at the craft that they wanted to master. He says that the key to deliberate practice is that you shouldn’t be doing it in a group where you’re going to be spending too much of your time working on stuff that’s either too hard for you, too easy for you, or not interesting to you. You should be working alone or one-on-one with someone who can coach you along, and answer your questions at the right time. That whole body of work — and it’s pretty extensive right now — really needs to be integrated into the curriculum. That’s one of the reasons I love the flipped classroom idea, because I think it’s heading in that direction.
What kinds of differences would you imagine in how teachers are trained and evaluated?
In terms of teacher training — and I should say, I’m not an educator per se, so I am speaking from my specific corner on this — I think we need way more instruction in knowledge of temperament. There’s a lot of attention in education paid to difference in learning style, and I think not enough understanding of differences of temperament and how that shapes who children are and how they learn and socialize. In terms of how teachers are evaluated, we need to give them way more freedom to design curricula they think will work for their students. Earlier, I was telling you how many teachers tell me that they don’t want to do so much group work, but have no choice. Gosh, that really needs to change.
What kind of social activities are not part of the school day now that could be in the future?
Small-scale socializing. Socializing in pairs and small groups. If you look at your typical school cafeteria, it is set up with the expectation that the students will eat lunch at gigantic tables full of kids. Why? A lot of us would much prefer to socialize with one or two people at a time. So we should have small tables too. I think playgrounds could be designed to encourage more one-on-one or small group play as well. All the social structures should keep that modus operandi in mind.
Let’s talk about technology. How could technology be integrated into the classroom of the future to give more options, and be there in positive ways for students who are introverts?
I know from talking to educators that there are already tools that can be incredibly helpful — tools that allow students to participate through their electronic devices as opposed to raising their hand. Apps that allow students to contribute to class discussions, sometimes anonymously and sometimes not. Even if it’s not anonymous, the fact that a student is participating in a class discussion or a class blog online removes some of their own psychological barriers to participation. The same kid who might not raise their hand in class might write something really interesting into some kind of classroom app or blog. Then other students see their ideas, and they start talking about it in real life. It’s a bridge to participation.
I think we’ll move toward anything that encourages student participation through an online medium. It could be for student artists or student writers, for example — giving them opportunities to contribute to a class blog or something where their classmates will get to see their hearts and minds in this other forum. I think that really opens things up.
Featured illustration by Dawn Kim.