The Journey of TEDxDePereMiddleSchool…So Far!

[This is a guest post by Josh Gauthier, the organizer of a TEDx event to be hosted by De Pere Middle School in NE Wisconsin. Josh’s post gives you a backstory view of organizing that event, which happens on May 27, 2016. TEDx events are officially-sanctioned local versions of the more elaborate events organized and put on globally by the TED nonprofit organization. The website describes them as “an awesome dinner party, with great food, inspirational videos, brilliant speakers and mind-blowing conversation.” TED is the acronym for the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference; you may have watched their awesome and thought-provoking TED videos. One of my favorite TED videos relates to education — “Do schools kill creativity?” Another intriguing one is about a brain researcher’s experience of having a stroke and recovering from it — “My stroke of insight.” If you’re interested in organizing a TEDx talk at your school or in your city, talk with Josh and look at the TEDx webpage. — Bob Waldron]

At the end of last school year a colleague of mine, the great and wonderful Adrianne Burns, began doing Genius Hour with one of her math classes. She had mentioned how she thought it would significantly upgrade their effort on presenting if we were to do a TEDx conference for them to showcase their projects. Thus, the idea was planted. After some conversations with my unofficial TEDx mentor, Jimmy Juliano about his involvement in the very successful TEDxLFHS, the idea was born. We would be doing a TEDx at my middle school if I had my way!

TEDx De Pere  2016 B

I began the year with seven distinct goals in mind. One of these was creating a TEDx event. As the year progressed, however, it seemed to drift further and further away. Other initiatives (otherwise known as my day job) pushed the idea of a TEDx aside. It seemed too big to accomplish myself, yet I was wary of bringing in other teachers and putting more on their plate. As February drew to a close, TEDx was about to go out the window.

But at that point, I decided to call a meeting of the dedicated (or crazy) educators who wanted to follow this vision with me. We discussed everything – our shortened timeline, expectations for the event, and how we would procure student speakers. Out of that lunch meeting the TEDx process starting rolling, and hasn’t stopped yet.

unique contributionWe introduced the idea of TEDx to our students just before our Spring break at the end of March, and they had three weeks to put together a short application that included a general topic idea and a short video to display their speaking ability and why they wanted to give a TEDx Talk. Our theme is “My Unique Contribution to the World”. If anything, it is a celebration of individuality for the 20 students who have been selected. During this time, we also began reaching out to members of the local community to fill five potential slots we had in mind for them. As of writing, we are at four and still searching for one more inspiring member to share their idea worth spreading!

The interest from students surpassed our expectations! Even with the short time frame, we had 27 different submissions. Because some students proposed in pairs, that means nearly 40 students were involved in the process. As mentioned above. we were limited to accepting 20 students due to time and schedule constraints, and we had to make some tough cuts.

so much to doSo here we are. We have students. We have community members. We have one month. May 27th is fast approaching and we have a lot of work left to do. After all, we want this event to be an amazing experience. Very few middle schools have run a TEDx event, but the hope is it will not feel like a middle school event at all.

What’s next for our team? Most important, we have to coach and mentor the students to make their talks professional quality and TED worthy. The day of schedule has to be determined, and we need to figure out just how many volunteers we’ll need. In addition, we want to feed the people who attend, so that is a task and a half to accomplish. Speaking of attendees, we can only have 100. Promoting this event to get to that number will be important, but designing an event that keeps them there for an entire Friday will be another task entirely!

Our social media pages and website continue to need work. I am fairly comfortable with my tech skills, but trying to build those out hasn’t been easy and I am still not happy with their look.

We have a sign in the works. Our tech ed teacher built a small stage. To show how big this is getting, we even have our secretaries getting involved to make curtains to cover the 27 windows in our library media center so we can get as close to a theater setting as possible.

We have nearly 20 staff members involved in planning this event, with a potential addition of 5-10 student volunteers.

And best of all, any purchases right now are currently being funded by the Bank of Josh. My principal is working hard on funding and partnerships, but we’re limited on just how much we can do if we don’t find another source besides my wallet. However, I am committed to making this event as awesome as possible and I will continue to do what it takes to make it happen.

In the end, it really comes down to giving our students an opportunity to share their voices, their passions, and themselves with the world. We might only have 100 people in the room, but the event will be live streamed and recorded forever. This is something they can look back on and be proud of. They can use this as they apply for competitive organizations, colleges, and careers. This event is a way to showing students that we want to provide them opportunities that transcend academics but incorporate all of those skills they are learning in their classes.

TEDxDePereMiddleSchool is going to be amazing. With amazing student involvement and amazing staff involvement, it can’t help but be that. Hopefully you’ll get a chance to join in, whether physically or virtually. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll be crazy enough to try and make this happen where you are.

—  Josh Gauthier  —

TED ten kids

[As Josh said, the De Pere TEDx event will give 20 of their students “an opportunity to share their voices, their passions, and themselves with the world.” This will be a learning experience for them, and it may be the spark that lights their desire for doing other unique and worthwhile ventures that take a lot of work to do well. It may also inspire more students than just the 20 who were selected to present. Click here for a look at ten TED talks given in the past by young people. — Bob Waldron]

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