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Teach STEM through interactive storytelling

By Laura McClure on October 31, 2017 in TED-Ed Innovative Educators

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Tim Couillard was 22 years old when he taught his first physics and chemistry classes at James River High School in Virginia. Two decades later, this TED-Ed Innovative Educator is still there, happily teaching science and ethics to teenagers. “I believe my mission in life is to make education better than it is, and to help those around me do great things,” says Tim. Keep reading for some innovative teaching ideas and tips from this inspiring science teacher and TEDx organizer.


Tabletop role playing games, such as Dungeons and Dragons, can be a valuable source of inspiration for science teachers. To increase student engagement, try embedding STEM concepts in a character-driven, story-based quest.


“The goal of my project was to explore the impact that role playing games (RPGs) could have in the classroom,” says Tim. “I ran a couple iterations of story-based projects — The Great Escape and Beyond the Great Escape — getting student feedback about RPG-style lessons. I focused on elements of game design, collaborative storytelling, and improv skills. Through MIT’s Edx game design course, I learned nuances of how designers think about gaming. Lastly, I took improv classes at a local theater and developed skills that will have a direct impact on making school more fun for my students.”

Tim continues: “The hidden gem in all of this was the value of taking improv classes. I knew that performing improv was a way to become a better storyteller, but I completely underestimated how impactful it would be on my mindset as a teacher.”

Below, read Tim’s tips on how to replicate an innovative project in your school:

  • Start small. Don’t feel pressured to overhaul everything. Pick a lesson and start there.
  • Get comfortable with a “experiment/fail/learn/repeat” mindset. Embrace the iterative process. Finding the good stuff means knowing what doesn’t work.
  • Be an explorer. There is much delight in discovering the unknown.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask students for feedback. Find the fun.
  • Reflect. In writing. Get it down on paper.
  • Have fun and put yourself out there a little bit. It should feel a little bit scary.
  • Learn everything you can about improv. It’s changed my world. As a teacher and as a human.

This article is part of the TED-Ed Innovation Project series, which highlights 25+ TED-Ed Innovation Projects designed by educators, for educators, with the support and guidance of the TED-Ed Innovative Educator program. You are welcome to share, duplicate and modify projects under this Creative Commons license to meet the needs of students and teachers. Art credit: Shutterstock.

Tags: TED-Ed Innovation Projects