Posted by: Tom Ross | June 3, 2011


A couple months ago,  I attended the TEDx event in Thousand Oaks, CA, as part of our ongoing search for all things useful and interesting in CTE—and because WestEd was one of the sponsors. You may have read Carol’s posts from the TEDxAFC event in May, and chances are, you’re already familiar with TED conferences. But just in case you’re not,  they’re conferences that feature speakers presenting ideas in a short timeframe, maybe 20 minutes, on “Ideas Worth Sharing.” TED stands for Technology, Entertainment, and Design and the “x” in TEDx designates a TED event that is locally organized and designed to give communities or even individuals the opportunity to create a TED experience.

Sounds interesting, right? But what does this have to do with CTE? What does it have to offer for students or CTE teachers?

Turns out it is a goldmine. Students hear first hand from experts in their fields new ideas from a wildly varied array of careers. And CTE teachers have the opportunity to take this exposure and encourage and guide students to explore the possibilities.

TEDx Conejo took place in the Scherr Forum Theatre.

I was happy to see the audience was comprised of as many students as adults. By the end of the day I realized the value of this: we had all been introduced to so many fascinating and different fields of expertise that I can imagine it must have inspired every student who attended to consider, perhaps for the first time, new career possibilities. I was second guessing my own. (Mom, ironically, wanted me to be a journalist.)

The theme for this TEDx was simply “Energy!” and it included not only what fuels our world but what stimulates (nourishes, provokes, incites, inflames) our lives–or as the event is described online, “the energies that fuel business, education, health, and life.” The variety of approaches to a topic at a TED event can inspire you to crack a thesaurus.

Speakers came from a wide variety of fields to present their new ideas, successes, or even obsessions to us as engagingly as they can—that’s not easy on a bare stage and in a short talk. The subjects ranged from the complex biology of cancer (Dr. Glenn Begley) to original and epic (in my opinion) poetry (Steve Connell), from marine photography that capture the true nature of great white sharks (Amos Nachoum) to world religions and tolerance (Dr Reza Aslan). Who knew municipal water treatment plants could be so inspiring (Mark Watkins and Chuck Rogers)?

Steve Connell: Poet, Actor, Storyteller

Amos Nachoum: Explorer, Photographer, Environmentalist

Students brought a great deal of “energy” to the event as well. To encourage local student involvement, representatives of the Conejo Valley Unified School District were chosen to present short talks at the event; for example, Kevin Chian, Ashley Chang, Anish Puri, and Savannah Fisch, students from WestLake, Newbury Park, and Oak Park High Schools presented briefly on, respectively: Books are Killing us; Smarts for the Arts; Student Journalism; and the Magic of Voice (an aria from Puccini).

Student and inventor, Michael Chang.

Student: Jordan Palmer

Jordan Palmer, Agoura High School, spoke of the empowerment of technology. (The video includes students Jamie Smith, Thousand Oaks High School, Jonathan Yan, WestLake High School, and Brian Ho, WestLake High School.)

Student volunteer at TEDxConejo

And we could see students working behind the scenes and in the lobby to make this event happen. This TEDx was produced in association with the Conejo Valley Unified School District.

I was so inspired by the speakers at this TEDx that my colleagues had to tie one hand behind my back to keep me from describing them all to you here (“Just six or ten,” I pleaded). Instead, experience them for yourselves through the online videos. You can also read more about the presenters in the Ventura County Star.

If I were a CTE teacher – or even a core content area teacher who wanted to show my students the real-world applications of what I was teaching – I could see building a whole semester around a TEDx event: first preparing students to participate by honing their brief presentations of an idea, and then, following the event, conducting a series of career explorations activities based on the fields the students were most interested in. Or, selecting TED talks that incorporate key components of content material, to help demonstrate applied knowledge – answering the age-old question, “Why do I have to learn this?” TED videos are readily available online. And they are well-suited to a young mind: short, intense, and relevant.

This year’s event was sold out, according to Don Levy, one of the organizers and a Co-Chair of this event. I recommend getting your tickets early for TEDxConejo 2012.

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