3 Motivating TED Talks to Start the School Semester

high school girl holding notebook in front of laptop

1. Learning from Failure 

Theres so much pressure on students to succeed, and no one wants to admit they’ve failed. It may seem counterintuitive to encourage students to embrace failure, but in not talking about failure, people miss the opportunity to learn and come up with creative and new solutions to old problems. Through experiencing failure and then talking about that failure, students have the chance to adapt and come up with better methods and ideasIn the TED Talk Learning to Fail, teens Tara Suri and Niha Jain explain that, having “failed spectacularly” at starting a nonprofit to help impoverished women in India, they learned how to turn failure on its headreevaluating their approach and looking for new solutions to age-old problems. In their humorous and self-deprecating talk, they remind students that not only will they survive failure, thecan actually learn from it. 

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2. Problem-Solving 

When she was seven years old, Angela Zhang’s father asked her, “Do you know why manhole covers are round?” In Breaking Down the Unknown, high school senior Angela Zhang explains how her father’s help in breaking that question down into smaller, solvable questions sparked her interest in science and math. Today she’s applying that same approach to tackle the “huge problem of cancer,” studying nanoparticles that help destroy cancer cells but leave healthy cells intact. 

For fellow students who feel overwhelmed by the problems they face, Zhang’s advice is simple and encouraging: just go back to the basics. Break down the most complex problems you don’t understand into the smallest possible parts you do understand and go from there. With that approach, “I could work on a corner of this million-piece cancer puzzle . . . I could take this huge problem of cancer, break it down into smaller pieces, smaller problems, and reduce that even more and focus on the problems that I thought I could tackle,” she said. Students everywhere can use this principle of breaking things down to achieve the incredible in their own studies.

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3. Overcoming Procrastination 

Vik Nithy used to put off studying until the night before every assignment or exam. At just 20 years old, this psychology student had already founded three companies, yet he describes himself as a chronic procrastinator. In Why We Procrastinate, Nithy offers both a scientific explanation of what’s going on in our minds when we procrastinate and practical steps for overcoming the tendency. 

In his TED TalkNithy discusses delaying tactics that every student will recognize. Then he advises them to:  

  • plan goals, splitting each assignment into small, discrete tasks 
  • plan time, estimating the amount needed to complete each task 
  • plan resources, gathering everything needed up front, to avoid the temptation to google away the hours in research 
  • plan the process, visualizing the assignment step –by step to make it easier 
  • plan for distractions, making a commitment to stay focused and not get distracted by things like social media or online games plan for failure, resolving not to give up on an entire assignment when faced with just one problem that can’t be solved 

Having trouble seeing? Try going directly to YouTube(opens in a new tab). 

To find more inspiration, challenge your student to build a Rube Goldberg machine or choose from many other enriching activities you’ll find in our Connections Academy Resource Hub.

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