Marcos Navas is the technology facilitator in the Union City School District, and a TED Innovative Educator. A former high school history teacher, his interest in educational technology began when he introduced movie-making to his students, then searched for more “cool” stuff he could use in the classroom. He ultimately became a leader with the Future Ready Schools – New Jersey movement.

In a Q&A interview with School Leader, he talks about what TED-Ed is; how it’s growing in New Jersey; and the power of seeing students express their passions in a new high-tech platform.

Q: What is TED-Ed, and what is a TED-Ed club? How did the TED-Ed movement start nationally?

TED stands for technology, entertainment and design. It began in the 1980s; TED talks are vignettes, mostly in the form of talks, about change and ideas. Ten minutes is the standard length. TED-Ed is the educational side of TED.

When TED talks started becoming popular, educators across the country began using them in the classroom. I think the TED organization realized they had an entire educational platform. The founder of TED was a gentleman named Chris Anderson, who still leads the team. He is the face of TED; he wants to spread ideas quickly, and he figured the power of video is an amazing way to harness that. The oldest form of communication is face-to-face talking dialogue, and in a way, video captures that power.

TED-Ed provides resources that educators can bring to the classroom. TED is a platform where you can place videos. TED-Ed clubs can be put together in schools, where we give students the platform to observe the world around them, find issues and problems, and find a solution. It really is design thinking. It can be a class, it can be a club, usually led by a teacher, but there are schools where they’re led by kids themselves. There’s an application process to put a TED club in a district, it can all be found on the TED-Ed website. They provide curriculum and materials to run clubs.

Q: You are a TED-Ed educator, correct? What does that mean?

I’m a TED Innovative Educator. TED saw the power that teachers held. They created a program where they select 30 educators globally, and create a cohort where educators get a crash course on TED principles, TED pedagogy, and the latest and greatest in educational processes. They work on creating their passion project. Mine was a two-part project, the TED-Ed Club DIVE. It was about connecting with other educators, spreading out more, a marketing thing to create more Ted-Ed clubs. It’s about getting more people involved.

Q: Tell me something about yourself – your name and title, how long you have been in Union City. How did you get interested in technology, TED-Ed and Future Ready Schools?

I’m Marcos Navas, the technology facilitator in Union City. I’ve been in the district 16 years; I started as a high school history teacher in 2001. Not too long after my first year, I took a workshop on movie making in the classroom. As a history teacher I thought I’d start with a movie project once every marking period. I saw the power of video and motivation; kids wanted to do their own videos, learn how to make and edit them. It became a cool thing. I thought, “how do I bring more cool stuff into the classroom?”

That led me to the “maker movement,” 3-D printing, then the STEM world, TED, design thinking, and I became a Teacher’s Guild fellow. A few years ago, our district merged two high schools into one, and I was made a technology coach. I coached teachers on how to bring technology into classrooms. Now as tech facilitator I oversee technology for the district. I spend a lot of time doing professional development for teachers, or modeling in classes for kids.

Q: How many school districts in New Jersey have TED-Ed clubs?

TED really is a general idea, and because of student privacy you can’t tell the actual number. But I’d say we have about 30-40 clubs in NJ, which considering the number of districts, is relatively small. We’re trying to expose teachers to all the resources TED has, the idea of creating a club in your district, and getting teachers involved.

Q: What do students learn/how do they benefit from TED? What are some of the topics they are interested in presenting on?

What really got me into TED was seeing kids getting up and talk – the power of students expressing their passions and ideas. The growth mindset you see happening onstage is amazing. When we bring in TED, we hope they start thinking about what they’re passionate about, how do I give back to the world. They look at some of the issues in their own community. It develops students to be citizens of the world and gives them a voice. When I became a TED innovative educator, I went to a TED-Ed Weekend in New York City, where they invited TED-Ed clubs and speakers for a big platform. I got to see some of the world’s best youth speakers get up and talk about topics like, equality is not fair and equity should be talked about. It blows your mind that kids are thinking that deep. There was a kid who talked about his passions of wanting to be a movie maker and create special effects, how this was an outlet for him to deal with stress and anxiety. They’re chasing their own passion.

Q: How does TED-Ed fit in with Future Ready Schools – New Jersey?

I was fortunate to be chairman of the education portion of Future Ready Schools – N.J. One of the strands we wanted to put into the framework was student voice, the idea of that being a central part of how a district moves and operates. Being involved with Future Ready and TED, I saw a direct connection. TED-Ed gave me licensing to create a non-profit as a marketing tool to get more people involved. It fit naturally with the Future Ready initiative.

Q: You are starting a TED-Ed club in Union City’s Freshman Academy. Can you tell us what that will involve?

We’re looking to create a club in the freshman academy, selecting a group of students, going through the curriculum TED-Ed provides, and looking at our urban area, figuring out how we can improve it. We met with district leadership and leadership of the freshman building. Through TED-Ed we can listen to ideas, and put them into action. We will do professional development, and introduce the curriculum. We’re looking to possibly do our own TED talk in the latter part of this school year.

Q: Did you face any hurdles or challenges in getting the club ready to start?

Surprising as it may be, some people don’t know what TED is, or the basics of it. Some of it has been explaining what TED is, making people aware of the power, who gets to do it, what building gets to launch it. We wanted this to be an introductory activity for kids in the freshman building. There’s no cost to start TED in a district. The only cost is paying the educator who would run the club. If you apply for TED, there’s no charge. TED is a non-profit.

Q: You also organized the TED-Ed DIVE, held in New Jersey in December. How many people took part? Who were they, and what did the event include?

Being a Ted Innovative Educator, I had to come up with a passion project. I was so floored by everything TED offered. When I came back, my mission was to create this as much as we can, as fast as we can. The superintendent of West Windsor Plainsboro, who is also a TED Innovative Educator, and I connected. We came up with idea of creating a recruitment tool to spread TED as much as possible. Working with the TED-Ed team, we said let’s create a “TED-Ed Club DIVE,” where people come to an event and take a dive into TED-Ed world. They can get a taste here, and take it back to their district.

We held it at a West Windsor middle school. We had a snowstorm, and we still packed it out. We had about 300 people – students, educators, educators looking to create clubs. Some teachers brought existing clubs, and we had TED speakers as well. We had breakout sessions; we had official TED animators doing workshops on stop-motion animation. One breakout session was student lightning rounds, like an “improv,” to promote public speaking. We’re still gathering data on the event, but one thing we did was follow up with an email. The response has been very positive. We are in talks now to possibly run one in another state, Pennsylvania or New York. Future Ready Schools – N.J. also reached out, and wants us to repeat our presentation at their event. We are getting a lot of buzz.

Q: Is there any specific equipment needed to start a TED-Ed club, and can you estimate the costs involved?

The actual initial cost is free. There is no fee, no cost, no curriculum you need to buy. No equipment needed at all. It’s optional, if you want to record talks and let students see themselves in action, you need equipment to do that. With technology today, all the equipment we really need is on our phones.

Q: Any advice for school boards that wish to see a TED-Ed club or program in their district?

A few things. First of all, districts really, really need to shift from teacher-centered classrooms to student-centered, and TED clubs can do that. TED-Ed clubs can provide many layers of support for students and staff. They provide confidence, self-awareness, empathy. You definitely want to bring it to your district school board members. It’s culture change.

It’s very aligned with the Future Ready program, the idea of providing student voice. It’s a great way to get feedback about the community as well. Sometimes kids approach things from a very wide lens — how do we solve world hunger, they come up with ideas. One student talk was about a big pool of plastic floating in the middle of the ocean. There was a TED talk about how we should collect and melt it down, and create filament for 3d printers. They come up with solutions for problems that can be as small as the community, or as wide as the world.

Marcos Navas is technology facilitator in the Union City School District, and a TED Innovative Educator.