5 Ted Talks to Inspire a Community of Mathematicians

Google “math, Ted Talks” and you come up with all sorts of nerdy goodness. In fact, when math is entered into the search feature on the official Ted Talk website you get 989 (a lot yes, but we could still use some more) videos and in true Ted Talk style, they are all wildly informative. Here are a few that I found most interesting and engaging. The Ted Talks below had a couple of key things in common. Each was…

  • Thought ProvokingWhether a math genius or novice, each of these Ted Talks finds a way to make the content accessible and interesting, and they all make you think!
  • Inspiring – Each of the speakers is STOKED about mathematics and they exude positive energy that is contagious.
  • Engaging – This was the toughest category for a lot of these talks, but if I was still watching after 5 minutes, then I considered the speaker engaging and added them to the list below. This seemed directly related to how excited the speaker seemed to be about the topic.
  • Community BuildingAll of these speakers were interested in having conversation about and around mathematics.

We need to encourage students to think about math at a deeper level than just what they find in their textbooks, we need to inspire them to think beyond existing examples to create their own connections to the real world. The math classroom should be full of conversations, students engaging in provocative banter around ideas. As Tim Hudson, from DreamBox Learning, recently said in a conversation with Tom Vander Ark and I “The math classrooms that I want for my kids are places where they can engage in really great thinking and dialogue rather than as places where they go to acquire information.”
What better way to get kids talking about math than to show them what other people have to say about it. Below are 5 quotes from Ted Talks that I believe can inspire thoughtful communication in the math classroom:
1) Why I fell in Love with Monster Prime Numbers: “Anyone who has been bitten by the numbers bug, knows that it bites early and it bites deep…numbers are the musical notes with which the symphony of the universe is written…we live in an age where some of the great breakthroughs are not going to happen in the labs or halls of academia , but on laptops, desktops, in the palms of people’s hands who are simply helping out for the search.” – Adam Spencer
2) The Magic Of Fibonacci Numbers: “Too much of the mathematics that we learn in school is not effectively motivated…wouldn’t it be great if every once in a while, we did mathematics simply because it was fun, or beautiful, or because it excited the mind?” – Arthur Benjamin
3) The Beautiful Minds: “There is a way to present things so that people will come up and tell you, ’Oh, I feel so stupid and ignorant in front of you,’ and there’s another way to tell things and people will say, ’Oh, I feel so intelligent when I’m listening to you. And then you know you are doing the right stuff, because you are sharing the light.” – Cedric Vilani
4) Visualizing Ourselves…With Crowd-Source Data:  “Our lives are being driven by data and the presentation of that data is an opportunity for us to makes some amazing interfaces that tell great stories.” – Aaron Koblin
5) Making Sound Visible Through Cymatics: “I want to urge everybody here to apply your passions, your knowledge, your skills to areas like cymatics and I think collectively we can build a global community, we can inspire each other, and we can evolve this exploration of the substance of things not seen.” – Evan Grant
I close with a couple of the most recent Ted Talks that I have enjoyed. True examples of the spectacular things that kids are capable of when we don’t stand in the way. These videos share the stories of some amazing kids and the incredible feats they have been able to accomplish..

  • What happens when an ambitious young entrepreneur has a killer idea and the drive to put it in action? Ludwick Marishane tells his story of invention and the product that eliminates the need to take a bath in his Ted Talk A Bath Without Water.
  • What would taking the extracurricular and turning it into the curricular look like? Scott McLeod challenges us to “get out of their way and let them [students] be amazing” in his TEDxDesMoines Talk From Fear to Empowerment.

For additional math Ted Talks, check out Rethinking Math Teaching.
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