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Ellie Wiesler is the founder and leader of a TED-Ed Student Talks club at Guilford Free Library. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Ellie Wiesler leads a TED-Ed Student Talks club which meets at Guilford Public Library. (Photo courtesy Ellie Wielser )
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What does “Machiavellian” really mean? How tall can a tree grow? How does the Rorschach inkblot test work? Can you solve the unstoppable blob riddle?
For Eleanor “Ellie” Wiesler, 16, the world is full of interesting topics to explore. That’s why she’s helping Guilford students like her develop topics of their own—and teaching them how to deliver engaging, concise, and compelling answers. Ellie is founder and leader of the TED-Ed Student Talks club at Guilford Free Library (GFL).
On Saturday, April 27, Ellie will lead 11 club members from among grades 6 to 12 into the TED-Ed spotlight, with a TED Talk Day in the GFL community room. Club members will each share a 10-minute topical talk in front of an audience. Talks will be taped, uploaded as video clips, and sent to join a vast, online library of TED-Ed Student Talks.
“Students all around the world can see it, and they can comment and watch other students’ ideas,” says Ellie. “So it’s a big idea, this international program, with international communication between students, from continent to continent sharing their ideas.”
The program is an outgrowth of the famed TED Talks, founded in 1984 by media organization TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design). TED Talk conferences give experts 18 minutes to present their innovative ideas in an engaging way. Since 2008, video simulcasts of conferences have grown into a treasure trove of Internet-accessible talks. As a spin-off program for students and teachers, the TED-Ed youth initiative was developed.
As a club leader, Ellie also participates in a group forum that recently had her talking with students in Peru and Canada.
This spring, Guilford club members hope to experience another global connection using GFL tech, says Ellie.
“We’re hoping to do a connect call...and through the TED organization, we can talk directly to students around the world, so not only do we get to see each other’s talks, but we get to have that experience of talking with them,” she says.
Now in her junior year at Guilford High School (GHS), Ellie has been watching TED Talks for years—she’s seen hundreds, maybe thousands of them, she estimates.
“As an avid TED Talk watcher, I was constantly inspired. I just felt, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do this,’” says Ellie.
About two years ago, she saw a note about the TED-Ed club program on the TED organization’s website. Ellie instantly felt she’d be the right person to bring a club to Guilford.
“When I found out about this program being available I was just like, ‘We’re going to do this,’” says Ellie. “And I just set off to make it happen...I had always thought that oration, and great orators, they’re not easy to come by these days. But this platform in this organization has really showed the world that public speaking can inspire people like nothing else.”
Last year, Ellie contacted GFL Library Director Rob McCoole with the idea of establishing a club. McCoole and Sara Martone, teen services-supervisory librarian, immediately showed their support, she says. The club started up in November 2017 and held its first TED-Ed Talk last April.
“Rob McCoole and Sara Martone have just been tremendous in helping me to get the club established, and having these meetings, and making sure we have the space and materials we need,” says Ellie.
“A lot of the students who signed up last year returned, and I really see them growing and expanding on the skills they gained from last year,” says Ellie. “And we gain new students all the time.”
Ellie loves leading the club and watching members develop as public speakers.
“For me, it’s been great getting this experience to teach students every week, crafting a curriculum, and just watching the students grow from the lessons I created,” she says.
A saxophone player in GHS Jazz Ensembles, Ellie was inspired to use improvisation as a theme to help stretch TED-Ed club members’ abilities this year.
“I figured a big part of helping students grow as public speakers is making them comfortable, and to make them comfortable, they have to get up and speak from their hearts in a spontaneous way. So we’ve been doing improvisation exercises.”
Kids have been coming into meetings and “pitching a product on the spot, doing a newscast from something earlier today that happened in the news, or they’re given a random topic from a random topic generator,” Ellie continues. “And they have to get up in front of the group and tell us something, whether it’s in a way that’s funny, informative, or persuasive. It’s been great for the students.”
Ellie plans to continue leading the TED-Ed Student Talks club at GFL next year, with a session to run from February 2020 to April 2020.
“It’s been amazing working with students in middle school and high school, because this is one of the unique opportunities for students to meet in an academic setting with people who are older and younger than them. I’ve found that it’s been inspiring for the older students to learn from the younger students and vice versa,” says Ellie.
She’s also confident, after she graduates with the GHS Class of 2020, another club member will carry on as its next leader.
She says she thinks there are “a lot of students who, through the program, have been able to gain leadership opportunities and get a feel for what it is to lead a group. So I feel comfortable leaving some of the students behind with this, and I think they will carry it on,” she says.
If you think Ellie might be interested in pursuing a career in public speaking, think again. She’s also an All State classical saxophonist (currently working on her audition for nationals), as well as a GHS cross country athlete and a student representative of the Guilford Fund for Education board. But the career which interests Ellie is best reflected in some other GHS groups in which she’s involved, including Girls Who Code and Women in Science.
“I love science. I actually want to go into medicine and research,” she says.
In fact, Ellie founded a GHS club for students who share her passion for science.
“With my sister, I started the Science Olympiad Team at Guilford High School this year. We worked on getting it going last year, and officially started this fall,” she says.
Ellie’s president of the team and her twin sister, Clara, is vice president. On Saturday, March 30, the 20-member GHS team will compete and participate in the Connecticut Science Olympiad High School Division State Tournament at UConn.
By helping found the GHS Science Olympiad Team and GFL TED-Ed Student Talks club, Ellie says she’s found a way to support learning opportunities for kids in Guilford.
“Over the years, I’ve found that a big part of what I love to do is bringing programs to youth,” she says. “It’s really important to me to make sure our community and our youth are getting the best experience they can. And if there is an area that is needed, then I want to help make that happen.”
For more information on GFL’s TED-Ed Student Talks Club, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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