Education TEDx

10 talks from inspiring teachers

Stephen Ritz with two students and their edible walls

Professor John Keating of “The Dead Poets Society.” Calculus teacher Jaime Escalante of “Stand and Deliver.” Marine-turned-teacher Louanne Johnson of “Dangerous Minds.” Hollywood might want to take note of a new award-winning teacher on the block, Stephen Ritz, who gave this fast-paced, highly inspiring talk at TEDxManhattan.

Stephen Ritz: A teacher growing green in the South Bronx Stephen Ritz: A teacher growing green in the South Bronx A parent and teacher in the South Bronx, Ritz has noticed his students getting larger and more sickly over the years, not to mention the fact that they’re parsing fewer options for earning a living. So Ritz began working with his students to grow “indoor edible walls,” beautiful living murals, full of greenery. Not only does food from the walls get served in the school cafeteria as well as in local shelters — creating the walls has become a full-scale business for Ritz’s students. The project has snowballed into designing an office wall in Boston, building green roofs in South Hampton, making gardens for 100 other New York City schools and even installing a large wall in Rockefeller Center.

“Kids from the poorest Congressional district in America can build a 30 x 15 foot wall — design it, plant it, and install it in the middle of New York City,” says Ritz. “This is the new green graffiti.”

Since starting the edible wall project, Ritz has seen his kids’ attendance jump from 43 to 90 percent. Through the project, one of his students became the first in his family to open a bank account. His students have developed relationships with local contractors through the project, and have gone on to lucrative jobs in their area.

“I’m putting the bake sale to shame,” says Ritz, explaining that more projects are in the works for his students, including growing pumpkin patches in New York City subways and planting mini farms along major city roads.

In honor of Ritz’s work watch nine more talks from truly inspiring teachers below.

Arthur Benjamin: Teach statistics before calculus! Arthur Benjamin: Teach statistics before calculus! Arthur Benjamin: Teach statistics before calculus
Arthur Benjamin makes numbers dance. A math professor at Harvey Mudd College, he’s also a “Mathemagician,” taking the stage in his tuxedo to perform high-speed mental calculations and other astounding math stunts.  In this talk, he offers a bold proposal on how to make math education relevant in the digital age — ditch calculus and teach statistics and probability.
John Hunter: Teaching with the World Peace Game John Hunter: Teaching with the World Peace Game John Hunter: Teaching the World Peace Game
In 1978, at the Richmond Community High School, Hunter led the first session of the World Peace Game, a hands-on political simulation where he puts all the problems of the world on a 4’x5′ plywood board and has his 4th-graders solve them. The game is now played around the world.
Emily Pilloton: Teaching design for change Emily Pilloton: Teaching design for change Emily Pilloton: Teaching design for change
Designer Emily Pilloton moved to rural and impoverished Bertie County, North Carolina, to see what could happen with design-led community transformation. While there, she’s teaching a design class called Studio H that engages high schoolers’ minds and bodies while getting rid of trailer classrooms and bringing new opportunities to the poorest county in the state.
Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover Dan Meyer: Math class needs a makeover
Why is the focus in math class always on solving problems? High school math teacher Dan Meyer thinks the focus should be on formulating solutions rather than paint-by-number homework. “I’m selling a product to a market that doesn’t want it but is forced by law to buy it,” he says in this talk, in which he offers some new approaches.
Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud Sugata Mitra: Build a School in the Cloud
Education scientist Sugata Mitra conducted a series of real-life experiments from New Delhi to South Africa to Italy, where he gave kids self-supervised access to the web and watched as they taught themselves how to use it. As he accepts the 2013 TED Prize, he calls for us to take this idea to the next level with a School in the Cloud, where students explore with just a little guidance.
Tyler DeWitt: Hey science teachers -- make it fun Tyler DeWitt: Hey science teachers -- make it fun Tyler DeWitt: Hey science teachers — make it fun
There is no excuse for a snoozy science class, says teacher Tyler Dewitt. In this talk from TEDxBeaconStreet, he shares a moment that changed his comfort with relying on textbooks to initiate a sense of wonder in his students. In this talk, he gives science teachers a rousing reminder to ditch the jargon and over-precision, and instead teach science lessons that wow.
Liz Coleman: A call to reinvent liberal arts education Liz Coleman: A call to reinvent liberal arts education Liz Coleman: a call to reinvent liberal arts education
Bennington president Liz Coleman delivers a call-to-arms for radical reform in higher education. Bucking the trend to push students toward increasingly narrow areas of study, she proposes a truly cross-disciplinary education — one that combines all areas of study to address the great problems of our day.
Conrad Wolfram: Teaching kids real math with computers Conrad Wolfram: Teaching kids real math with computers Conrad Wolfram: Teaching kids real math with computers
From rockets to stock markets, many of humanity’s most thrilling creations are powered by math. So why aren’t kids interested? Conrad Wolfram says that the math we teach — calculation by hand — isn’t just tedious, it’s irrelevant. He presents his radical idea: teaching kids math through computer programming.
Clifford Stoll: The call to learn Clifford Stoll: The call to learn Clifford Stoll: The call to learn
An astronomer, researcher and internationally recognized computer security expert — who happens to be a vocal critic of technology — Stoll makes a sharp, witty case for keeping computers out of the classroom. Currently teaching college-level physics to eighth graders at a local school, in this talk, he shares intriguing ideas on why we want to learn.

For many more talks by fascinating teachers, check out TED’s channel: Listening to Teachers.