Homewood Middle School TED-Ed Club members creating their own 'TED talks,' learning 'presentation literacy' | AL.com

HOMEWOOD, Alabama -- If public speaking and presentation skills are critical in getting your ideas across to others, then the members of a new club at Homewood Middle School -- the TED-Ed Club -- should be gaining an edge.

The members of the club -- with the help of sponsor and Gifted Education teacher Dylan Ferniany -- are spending the semester researching and writing talks or presentations based on their own unique ideas.

"The club is focused on having kids give talks themselves and communicate an idea that they are passionate about," Ferniany said prior to a meeting of the group after school on Monday. "I don't think that kids today always get to study or learn about stuff that really interests them."

The talks the students will present to each other by the end of the term will be inspired in part by the famous "TED talks," the presentations by artists, activists, educators and entrepreneurs that are presented live and online by the national non-profit organization TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design).

The TED-Ed Clubs were launched in January by TED-Ed, the New York-based educational initiative of the TED conferences. The goal, according to a TED-Ed news release, is to promote "presentation literacy" among students around the world.

Mattingly's talk at the TEDx Conference dealt with the use of humor, magic tricks and even props to make science education more fun and engaging for kids.

But Monday, Mattingly urged the students to "be extremely simple" and to use visual aids sparingly so that they do not detract from their message.

"There's no reason... that every point you try to cover has a visual," she said.

"The important thing is the words coming out of your mouth," she said.

It is also important for the kids to practice as much as possible to get comfortable with their presentations, according to Mattingly.

"You'll do a ton of work on your speech, so why not make it the best you can?" she said.

If the students feel nervous about giving their talks, they should know that anyone who ever gets up to speak to a group, even at TED, is nervous.

"You can take that energy and convert it into the best talk ever," she said.

Hunter Callaway, an eighth-grader, was already a TED fan before getting involved. "I like TED because I like to watch the talks, and I thought it would be cool to make my own talk, and it's a really cool club, so I joined up," he said.

Callaway's presentation will deal with the idea that people may be deterred from committing crimes more by the social stigma that comes from being a criminal than the actual punishments they receive.

Eliza Thornton, a seventh-grader, is planning a talk entitled, "How human can a robot be?"

"I've always been afraid of public speaking," she said. "I thought I could get my ideas out and get over my fear of public speaking, and I thought it could bring out my creativity."

Katherine Malone, a seventh-grader, is preparing a talk entitled, "Is grafting animal DNA to humans possible?" She said she wants to explore the possibility that humans could improve their physical performance.

In addition to improving her public speaking skills, Malone said that the research for her talk is enjoyable. "I'm learning about new things," she said. "I've never delved into this. It's kind of cool to be learning all these new facts."

Noah Gentry, a seventh-grader, is doing a study of the concept of nostalgia -- how it can be defined and how it can be used to, for example, uncover memories and even fight depression.

And Gentry said he enjoys the public speaking aspect of the project. "I don't have a fear of public speaking," he said. "It's a talent I have, so I would like to get better at it."

The TED-Ed Club at the middle school began around the end of January or first of February, according to Ferniany.

Ferniany also served as the volunteer K12 education relations coordinator for the recent TEDx Birmingham conference. The conference, which charged a registration fee, provided scholarships to about 20 area teachers.

And TEDx Birmingham would like to keep the teachers involved even when there is no conference.

"We have some ideas to keep them engaged, rather than having them come for one day and that be it," Matthew Hamilton, one of the co-organizers of the TEDx Birmingham conference, said Monday before Mattingly's presentation.

According to Ferniany, starting the TED-Ed Club at her school seemed like a practical way to start an initiative that other teachers around town could easily adopt.

"I envision way more clubs next year and more kids going through the process," she said.

And other TEDx particpants, like Mattingly, will have the chance to speak to TED-Ed Clubs.

Hamilton said that one of the most popular talks at the TEDX Birmingham conference was given by Victoria Hollis, program manager for the Birmingham Education Foundation.

He said her basic message was that "we as a community need to take ownership and get involved in our city schools, even if you don't have kids in school or in the Birmingham city schools... because the health of our city is tied to the health of our schools."

"We had such momentum coming off the conference, and this seemed like a good way to carry it into the education sphere," Hamilton said.

Hamilton emphasized the importance of helping students like the ones at Homewood Middle School develop presentation literacy.

"There are a lot of people who are smart and do good things, but if they cannot communicate that in an effective way, it doesn't matter," he said.

"If they learn that skill in middle school, it's something they can carry and give them success in high school, college and beyond," he said.

The TED-Ed Club meeting featured the use of Skype and laptops or video projection to allow several TED-Ed Clubs -- in Illinois and Maryland, and in Canada, India, Romania and Malaysia -- to hear Mattingly's presentation.

TED-Ed staff in New York helped to facilitate the Skype session, according to Ferniany.

Learn more about TED-Ed Clubs at ed.ted.com/clubs.

For more news from Homewood, go to www.al.com/homewood.