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Beline Obeid

TEDxDetroit inspires North and South

Mary Anne Brush Staff Writer
Grosse Pointe North and South teachers and students at TedXDetroit are, from left, Jacqueline Veneri, Courtney McGuire, Jyen-ai Jones, Kierra Madison, Alex Dean, Ishmael Mustafaa, Zaria Aikens, Jeffrey Valentic, Miranda Barry, Emily Brown Baker, Hannah Connors, Lisa Steiner, Emily Flaming, Geoffrey Young, Alyssa Campbell, Jeffrey Redd, Nicholas Provenzano, Jerome Manning, Connor Mallegg, Ingrid Carabulea, Danielle Peck, Andrew Taylor and Gary Abud. Not pictured are Mora Downs and Meghan Mitchell. Photo copyright Brendan Ross 2015.

October 22, 2015
Grosse Pointe North High School teacher Gary Abud has received numerous awards and accolades. In addition to being named 2014 Michigan Teacher of the Year, he was selected by the Academy of Education Sciences for a 2015 Bammy Award in the high school teacher category. One of the highest honors he has experienced in his teaching career was not an award, however; it was the opportunity to be a presenter at TEDxDetroit.

“It was an absolutely massive day of learning and a tremendous experience,” Abud said of the Oct. 8 event, held at the Fox Theatre. “It was a powerful, moving and inspiring day. And to be privileged enough to share my message and to represent teachers and teaching and to share a little about what I found to be useful in my teaching on that stage was absolutely an honor. It wasn’t an award or a paid thing but one of the most amazing opportunities that I have had.”

TED is not a “who” but a “what” and stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design. It began in 1984 as a conference and today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues — in more than 100 languages.

Independently run TEDx events support independent organizers who want to create a TED-like event in their community. From TEDxHabana to TEDxDetroit, it sparks conversation and connection in communities across the globe. TEDx events are planned and coordinated independently, under a free license granted by TED.

Grosse Pointe North teacher Gary Abud was a presenter at TedXDetroit. Photo copyright Brendan Ross 2015
Abud submitted a proposal during an open call for presenters this summer and was one of 30 presenters out of 250 applicants selected.

Grosse Pointe South and North high schools were among a select group of metro Detroit schools invited to send teacher and student delegates to the event. Five students and three teachers from each high school received complimentary tickets. South teachers in attendance were Courtney McGuire, Danielle Peck and Nicholas Provenzano. From North were Lisa Steiner, Andrew Taylor and Geoffrey Young.

In addition to talks, labs were held across the street at the Hockeytown Cafe. As Abud described it: “If the TedTalks were the ‘tell,’ then the labs were the ‘show.’” Attendees could alternate between a session of talks and a session of labs, complete with hands-on demonstrations, to gain the full “show and tell” experience.

“It’s a powerful event,” said Provenzano. “I’m familiar with TEDx and their programs, having hosted TEDx events at South. The students I brought were all students who have talked during our TEDx events. It was kind of a cool dynamic to have kids who have actually spoken at a TEDx event see another event and how it was run.”

One of the purposes of TED events is to balance left- and right-brain ideas, Abud said. Speakers ranged from artists — singers, songwriters, authors, comedians, poets, musicians and performance speed painters — to innovators in industry and science: engineers, entrepreneurs, inventors, surgeons and researchers. The only other educator on the panel besides Abud was Charles Gibson, Michigan Science Center’s outreach director and a South graduate. In stressing the importance of “lightbulb” moments for impressionable teaching in the classroom, Gibson mentioned Matthew McGuire, a physics teacher at South, as a source of inspiration.

“I really liked the talks because we got to hear more about the people’s personal stories,” said Alex Dean, a tenth grader at North. “It was so cool how different they were. There were super science-y talks. There were people talking about different charity projects. There was such a wide range of stuff and it was interesting to hear so many different ideas.”

An underlying theme she noted was pride in Detroit. “Between speakers they would have different artists from Detroit (and it) stimulated different parts of your brain so it wasn’t just talk after talk after talk. You got to listen and experience different things.”

Dean had the opportunity to watch Abud’s talk on how to channel the power of electronic dance music to create what Abud describes as “EPIC” — experiential, participatory, image-rich and connected — experiences for students in the classroom.

“I am in his class and he does play electronic dance music all the time,” Dean said. “He talked about stimulating learning and capturing kids’ attention.”

The inspiration for Abud’s talk was a lifelong love of music. While producing and mixing music, he realized some of the challenges he faced were the same he experienced planning lessons for his classes.

“I (wondered) what lessons could I take from the music production and DJ world in engaging kids and how could I take that back to my teaching?

“Detroit is known as the birthplace of techno and that started the movement of electronic dance music that has become this global phenomenon that bridges cultures,” Abud said. “They’re filling stadiums in a matter of minutes for these live shows and festivals. It made me think there must be something to learn if this has so much popularity among young people.”

The experience the live show gave listeners in the audience was something they connected to on more than a surface level, Abud said. “By engaging all your senses it helps to draw your awareness to the present moment — (which is) exactly the type of thing we want to do as educators to have (students) compelled and engaged in the classroom with their learning.”

The students and teachers hope to take what they learned back to their high schools. For Dean, it was the idea of working toward one goal and taking ideas that may be different but all contribute toward one central thing.

Provenzano was struck by “the arts of it all — the hard work and the passion and the beauty of the things people create. It’s such a great environment to be around and to take kids to show them the value of creativity and the arts and the things you can accomplish when you are passionate about something and have the support of the community.”

He hopes to use his role as one of the founding cohort of 28 teachers around the world called TED-Ed Innovative Educators to create a TED-Ed Club at South and other schools in the district. Designed to support young people with passions, the club would be run throughout the year with a teacher advisor.

“Students can have their own private TEDx events so they can get up and give talks about what’s important to them,” Provenzano said.

Steiner too hopes to bring back what she learned to continue hosting INSpire, North’s version of TedTalks. “I am an advocate of TedTalks, which I use in my classroom and for personal growth. I encourage my students to watch Ted Talks on their phones. You can literally put any topic in and a talk pops up. They get very excited about that.”

For Abud, the goal is to continue the shift from traditional teaching to a digital world of education. “That doesn’t just mean things are online but ... how should students be learning that matches up with the world in 2015.”

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