The Best Guest Speakers Open Doors of Possibilities
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Having asked this question to hundreds of high school freshmen over the years, I can almost always predict the answers: a doctor, a lawyer, a rich businessperson (the “rich” part is always included), a movie star, a rock/hip-hop/country musician, or a pro athlete. From this limited list, I conclude that my students’ exposure to the vast array of career options is fairly limited.
From time to time, I’ve tapped into the idea of bringing a guest speaker into class to broaden my students’ horizons, but I’ve discovered that it’s tough to ask a civilian to step into my classroom and give the same talk six hours in a row to a roomful of squirmy teenagers (so, now you think teachers are overpaid?).
Fortunately, my students have had their eyes opened to previously undiscovered career possibilities through the magic of TED Talks. These interesting, informative presentations readily available online bring guest speakers into my room instantly, and I don’t have to coordinate with their work schedule, buy them lunch, write a thank you note, or have 911 on my speed dial for fear they will collapse from exhaustion.........
In the ELA: Writing and Speaking Curriculum at AVID Summer Institutes, we use this TED Talk as a source for writing a research paper. Students can learn from watching this how to incorporate non-print sources into their writing. Beyond the English classroom, this video certainly has applications in chemistry or other science classes. Speech classes could view Pike’s speech to talk about effective use of visual aids, speaking with confidence, and clarity.
Pike’s lecture, however, serves a secondary purpose of opening students’ eyes to new career possibilities. No longer does the science-loving freshman have to believe that the only interesting scientific career option is in medicine. Showing a female scientist (and one who defies any preconceived stereotypes of scientists) can also provide inspiration to students who are underrepresented in STEM fields of study.
Probably the most successful TED Talk guest speaker experience in my classroom in recent years occurred in conjunction with a visit I scheduled for my Humanities and AVID students at the Dallas Opera. Having scored some free tickets to the final dress rehearsal of the Dallas Opera’s Southwest regional premiere production of Death and the Powers, a new opera by Tod Machover with a libretto by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, I wanted to provide some background for my students so they would know something about the production they were soon to attend.
TED Talks came to my rescue. I showed my students Machover’s TED talk “Inventing Instruments That Unlock New Music.” In the talk, Machover, who, in addition to composing operas, is Professor of Music and Media at MIT’s Media Lab, discusses his research, much of which focuses on his work creating new instruments that allow people with mental and physical disabilities to compose and play music. He also—perhaps more interesting to my students—helped develop the game Guitar Hero. At the end of the video, composer Dan Ellsey, who has cerebral palsy, performs one of his own compositions made possible by Machover’s assistive devices. All in all, it’s an impressive 20 minutes.
Machover also talks about Death and the Powers, an opera that incorporates unique technologies—a giant musical chandelier, an automated music-producing bookcase, a costume that becomes an instrument itself, and an army of robots operated by remote control—to produce something never before seen or heard on the operatic stage.
Primed with information about Machover and his research, my students piled on the buses and headed to the opera house. In the lobby was a chair that allowed those who sit in it to play music by waving their hands at various levels in the air. While my students were exploring this marvel before the performance, Machover himself appeared and watched in delight. Students noticed him with the excitement usually reserved for the sighting of a pop superstar. The opera itself didn’t disappoint as students were treated to a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse into the music of the future in a setting many had never before experienced.
In talking with several students after the opera, I was pleased to hear murmurs of excitement about newfound discoveries. One young musician who also loves science told me he is determined to attend MIT and work with Machover in the Media Lab.
From this experience, I learned about the power of TED Talks to open doors for students to help them see new possibilities. Not only do they learn a great deal about things they’ve never before considered, but they also have broadened their view of options for their own futures.
TED Talks provide some of the best guest speakers I’ve had in my classroom. I’ll be inviting them back.
Thanks for all you do to open your students' eyes to future possibilities.
ELA Instructional Specialist