Inspiration, Education, Innovation at TEDYouth in NYC

*Written by Nathana O’Brien & Ilana Greene

The theme, promise and challenge of TEDYouth is encapsulated in Chris Anderson’s, extraordinary exhortation to the crowd of young people and adults at the inaugural TEDYouth event in NYC, “The more that you understand, the more amazing the world becomes. It’s the unanswered questions that pull us forward. Please stay curious.”


Young people entering the sleek modern interiors of the Times centre in NYC are greeted with backpacks and nametags as they enter the auditorium for the inaugural TEDYouth conference. Saturday, November 19th is International Youth Day. TED, the organisation that brings together the world’s leading thinkers and doers to spread ideas worth spreading, put on the first official TEDYouth event in the Times centre in NYC.


The event’s theme, “Play, Learn, Build and Share” is inspiring for the student leaders who were selected to attend the NYC event in person. Some of those students jumped up and started dancing to the music that opened the conference. The iconic red ted sign graced the stage and Kelly Stoetzel, the head of content at Ted, and Rives, a poet with four talks on, were the hosts.


Encouraging creativity and innovation started before the kids even got to the event. Applications included song, dance, essays, and videos. TEDYouth organisers narrowed down student applications to the 300 great kids gathered in the room.  The event was broadcast live on the web and there are other TEDYouth events going on all over the world over the weekend.


The hosts started playing with the kids right away, encouraging audience participation having the kids come up to the stage and share what they think we can share with the world. Answers ranged from music to theatre to ambition. A girl named Amari shares her music, belting out the opening bars of her favourite song. Seeing her energy and charm and verve is to be inspired by the tremendous power of the incredible youth gathered together in the room. As impressive as the speakers are, it’s the kids who are attending the event that ultimately have the power to transform the world.


The high energy in the crowd is in spring as hundreds of kids gather together to listen to talks that push the boundaries of play and science and herald a new age of education innovation on Saturday afternoon.  Whatever your stance on the education debate, it is an amazing opportunity to brings kids to interact with leading pioneers in their fields sharing the amazing and exciting things that they do and study.


This is not your grandparent’s reading, writing, ‘rithmatic curriculum. One of the joys of attending university is the opportunity to learn directly from passionate researchers. TEDYouth is bringing the possibility of learning from passionate, brilliant, dynamic researchers to kids around the world. Speakers share their fascinating passions and wacky ideas with the crowd. Some speaker highlights include:


David Gallo explores the ocean and shared with the audience the astounding fact that we’ve only explored about 5% of the ocean. Gallo says, “The oceans are unexplored and they are so important for life on earth. It’s so important for us to explore the ocean and there is so much cool stuff in what we’ve already found. The ocean is full of surprises.” If you ever had a dream of exploring uncharted territory and discovering new forms of life you can don’t need to head into outer space, you can explore the oceans here on earth.


Leah Buechley, an MIT media lab researcher blends low and high tech. Leah is an electrical engineer who designs and builds electronics and has been thinking of ways to change the process of designing and building electronics. Instead of the old laborious process of chip design, Leah and her team have been creating ways in which engineers can sketch and play with making electronics using high tech variants on pen and paper. The results are colourful beautiful doodles that can function as actual circuits and even an electronic keyboard. The crowd burst into spontaneous applause, and the eyes of both kids and adults in attendance were wide-eyed with wonder.


“Anything we can do with a piece of paper and a pen we can now do with electronics” Leah told the crowd while sharing images of a magical pop up book on the overhead screen. “We are now exploring ways to help you play and build and sketch with electronics too.”


Chris Anderson, curator of TED, accompanies his talk with a continuous animation because at TED their always trying to think of new ways to give TED talks. Chris shares questions that no one knows the answer to. These are the questions that have obsessed philosophers for millennia and as Aristotle says, philosophy begins in wonder. Chris explores two of those unanswered questions: “how many universes are there?” and “why don’t we see evidence of alien life?” Chris emphasises that no one knows the answer to these questions and that can have the courage and strength of mind to ask those questions and push at the boundaries of knowledge. Who knows what light some of the kids watching this talk around the world may well shed on this question, by being inspired by this talk. “


Speakers blend together arts and science, passion and inspiration in innovative ways that push the boundaries of their disciplines and hold the key for bringing great new ideas to the world. Some of the kids watching, in the auditorium and around the world will be the great minds of tomorrow and the seeds of inspiration sowed today have the potential to inspire those kids to all kinds of ingenious reflections. I can’t wait to see what comes out of the collaboration of these ideas and the energy and enormous promise of our youth.


The event is a celebration of global unity. There are TEDxYouth Day celebrations going on around the world and the second half of the New York event showcased pictures from TEDxYouth Day events around the world including Amman, Jordan and Singapore. The talks are being simultaneously translated so that they can inspire students around the world, including those in Spanish speaking countries. TEDYouth


Students need the TED Talks at TEDYouth, and we need students who take these talks to heart, because as Robert Full, a speaker who designs artificial feet and works to discover how geckos stick,, says, “Science is not memorizing facts. Science is applied curiosity. Through science you can come to learn new things that no human has ever known before. And then imagine the possible uses for society. You can make a difference now because you don’t know what can’t be done.”


The kids themselves left the event happy, excited, and inspired. One girl said that she couldn’t wait to get to school on Monday and another was gushing over the all the exciting things she learned. One boy said that he’d been watching TED talks for months before even applying to TEDYouth. The power of TEDYouth is that it brings together the world’s great ideas and innovators with the next generation in a direct, immediate, and powerful way.

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