Students and Teachers Have Ideas Worth Spreading

It’s time for the 2017 TED Conference, and neuroscientists, inventors, technologists, and performers have gathered in Vancouver, British Columbia to share their ideas worth spreading.

A group of a dozen educators are joining them, and with the staff of TED-Ed they are examining how to get more students and teachers into spreading their ideas.

TED-Ed has been around since 2011 with lessons worth sharing, combining teacher’s best lessons with voice actors and world-class animation to deliver powerful lessons that are seen by millions.  It’s a rewarding act for a teacher, who may have reached hundreds or even thousands of teachers in-person in their classes.  With TED-Ed?  Those valuable lessons can, and do, go anywhere and everywhere.  TED-Ed lessons are seen by the millions and help spread those great lessons.

Students were invited to get into the act a few years ago with the advent of TED-Ed Clubs.  Schools across the world have registered as TED-Ed Clubs and offer their students the 13 episode program, provided at no cost by TED-Ed.  Since then, thousands of students are working on developing their idea and presenting it in their school, but also sharing those videos with the world.

What TED-Ed lessons and student TED-Ed Club talks are about are ideas, presentation literacy, and critical thinking skills.  The curriculum of the TED-Ed Club is designed to help students find and develop an idea, learn presentation skills, and share their idea.  This process is exactly what is sought in the curriculum standards for nearly every state. To develop a TED talk for your club, you’ll have to learn the literacy pieces that you’re already being expected to learn.  The difference is in the format.  You get to learn how to present and research in the context of something interesting to you.  Choice is a powerful thing.

Since the work is being done to share with the world, it most typically reflects a student’s best work.

In short, TED-Ed has pieces that:  1)  cost nothing; 2) deliver a deep learning experience; 3)  are for students and teachers everywhere.

More students and teachers should be utilizing these incredible resources.   Check it out.   Learn more about TED-Ed Clubs at   You can watch the video below to see TED-Ed Clubs in action.




Athletics, the Arts, Clubs, Service Projects: They All Lead to Improved Student Performance

We do a lot of things in schools because we’ve always done them.  Some of the things we do almost universally actually have little or no grounding in research.  (Please see: start times, school calendar, homework and the way we grade for starters!)

Research does tell us, however, that student activities are a powerful strategy to improve student performance.  What the NASSP (National Association of Secondary School Principals) shares about student activities ( is this:

participation in student activities is associated with higher test scores, increased GPA, enhanced civic skills, better future job prospects, lower drop-out rates, and lower incidence of adverse behaviors.

That’s a long list of positive outcomes for one strategy!  It’s research, however, that we don’t always pay attention to.  For something so valuable, student activities are often the first to go when there’s a deficit, regardless if it’s a deficit of time or finances.

In lean financial times, often the first things to go are “frills” like art, music, and drama.  The same is true about time.  When we are in a crunch to “cover everything” we are quick to take away time for creativity, for activities, for physical education, the arts, clubs, and other activities.  The problem with that line of thinking?  It is fatally flawed.

Students have a choice every day at school that you can’t take away from them.  You can encourage them in their choice, but ultimately it’s up to them, no matter what you do as an adult.  Their choice, day in and day out, is how much effort will I expend today?   Their answer to that question is one that is delivered by action (or inaction) more than by words.


Students can decide to give their greatest effort:  to try their best.  They also can decide to only expend the amount of effort needed to keep out of trouble (try enough).  Finally, some students give hardly any effort at all.

These three categories can describe a student or a group of students efforts at their academic work and in school in general.  This is a beginning.  The next question is “what causes some students to give more effort than others?  ” Aubrey Daniels International  explored that question in the realm of business.  They created the Discretionary Effort Model (seen below).  It describes the difference in performance between individuals who only do enough to stay out of trouble (away from negative consequences) and those who do their best because they want to.


That huge gray area on the chart labeled “discretionary effort” is the area of which should be of great interest to educators.  How do we move students from giving a minimal effort to giving more effort?  If you could nail that one down, you’d be on the way to making a great difference in the performance of your students.

It’s not homework.  It’s not your calendar.  It’s not even making sure that you cover every single standard.  What we DO know is that student activities tend to have a positive impact on nearly every metric we are using to measure student progress and performance.  It’s because… they care about those activities.  Student activities can be the cause of the discretionary effort shown above.  Isn’t that plenty of reason to get started on a voluminous and exhaustive effort to serve all of your students via student activities?

More to come on this subject this week here on Principal Matters!



Feldman, A. F., &Matjasko, J. L. (2005). The role of school-based activities in adolescent development: A comprehensive review and future direction. Review of Educational Research, 75(2).

Klesse, E. J. (1994). The third curriculum II: Student activities. Reston, VA: National Association of Secondary School Principals.

Klesse, E. J. (2004). Student activities in today’s schools: Essential learning for all youth. Lanham, MD: Rowman &Littlefield.


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