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Teaching the Skills to Grow and Learn

Kids Jump
Kim Alexander 
started out as a farmer and rancher in West Texas. A persistent drought in forced him to use his college degree to land a job at the local school, which initiated his career in education. He has worn many hats on his road to becoming the superintendent of Roscoe Collegiate Independent School District in Texas.

Roscoe is one of 44 Texas district that are members of the Texas Performance Assessment Consortium (TPAC), a group that is working on creating alternative accountability methods to the standardized testing that permeates education today.

I talked with Kim about his thoughts on standardized testing and what we can do to fix this broken and outdated system. He says the size of Texas and its 5.5 million students makes it difficult to measure student achievement without standardization, but the fact that the state is so diverse makes it hard to do anything meaningful with that standardization.

At Roscoe, they’ve been working on a multiple-measure local accountability system for over ten years while advocating an associate degree as their local measure of college readiness. As he puts it, “we figured if you're halfway finished, you might be college ready.”

The problems with standardized testing and with teachers teaching to the test are complex and will require thoughtful solutions for any significant positive change to occur. It’s good to hear smart leaders like Kim are working on a better educational future for our students.

Interview with Kim Alexander

Interview Transcript:

Dr. Rod Berger:  Kim, I’ve been looking forward to this conversation. I had the privilege of meeting you at the last TPAC meeting in Texas a couple of weeks ago. I was struck by a number of things, being a privileged fly on the wall to the discussions, about accountability systems and the way in which we think about documenting the learning that's going on and tracking that progress so that we can all be better support the students and their families.

How did we get to the point where we've had to say, “We need to draw a line in the sand; our accountability systems are outdated or they're not reflective of the students and the educators that we have in our schools and our systems not only in Texas but around the U.S.”

Dr. Kim Alexander:  It took us a while to get there. It started several years ago ─ back in the eighties with Ronald Reagan ─ and it really put a lot of emphasis on accountability and transparency in the schools.

One thing about Texas is that it's such a large state with 5.2 million students ─ the fastest-growing state ─ that it is difficult to measure folks without standardizing the thing. But the problem is that Texas is very diverse within its borders, so it's hard to do anything meaningful that is standardized.

Multiple Choice 2

But one thing about a standardized assessment is that everyone can give it and get some result to report politically ─ the progress of your students compared to the rest of the state. Unfortunately, as you listen of John Tanner, improving education is not quite what a standardized test is designed to do. It's designed to see which 49% are on the left out of the bell curve and which 49% are on the right side.

We're abusing that instrument, the standardized test, in the name of accountability. Teachers are driven by the pressure to produce, to teach to a standardized multiple-choice test that doesn’t test really deep and meaningful learning.

And so, back in 2006 TASA formed the School Transformation Network to start looking at what would be a meaningful structure for meaningful outcomes of students; and that evolved in 2011 with the establishment of the High-Performance Schools Consortium trying to get relief from the current accountability system to develop a new one. Of course, that bill passed unanimously through the Texas House and the Senate only to be vetoed by the governor of Texas. But we’ll keep on pursuing that. Meanwhile, here at Roscoe Collegiate Independent School District, we've been working on a multiple measure local accountability system for over ten years now. For our local measures of college readiness or associate degrees, we figured if you're halfway finished, you might be college ready.

We're also developing meaningful STEM endorsements and certifications in bio-medical science and engineering for workforce readiness to address critical workforce shortage areas here in Texas; and then we have a third measure, our student research as a result of the school-wide 4-H program. The fact that we're agricultural magnet schools, we framed that research around agriculture that's relevant to this area and the AgriLife Extension program with Texas A&M has been an integral part of helping us design and evaluate the program. We’re aiming for that place where the students realize that the work they're doing is not just an assignment for a grade but it is a contribution to a larger body of work that's consistent with the Land Grant mission that is to feed and clothe ten million people by the end of the century. That brings the relevance.

RB:  It does. And it brings it to the community level which, I think, is really important.

I sit here from afar and think to myself, if we did a better job or if we were more intentional about educating parents and community members on the role in which accountability could play in effect of educating, it might help us to support all of the efforts that you talked about from 2006 on where you're marching up the chain only to be basically unravelled by one pen at the level of the governor.

Do you think that we've done a good job in educating the general public within our districts and communities on the role of testing and accountability?

KA:  Obviously, we have not done a good job of communicating this to the public. As Jon Horn with the Schlakey group would say, “Our legislators are not leaders; they're followers.” And whoever hollers the loudest, you know that the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

No, we haven't done a good job of educating our constituents of the misuse of standardized testing and on what we need to be doing instead.

For example, here in Texas, I think the figure is about 800,000 of the 26 million eligible voters decide who is the governor and other elected officials.

Test Road Sign

So we need to do a better job communicating. We've got to get legislative support for community-based multiple major accountability, or we're going to be stuck in this abusive standardized testing system which does not lead to great student applicants beyond education.

In fact, that's the workforce’s biggest gripe about us educators. We're sending them folks who know how to color in the correct bubble on the multiple-choice test but can't do diddly and don't know squat. They don't know the application. And so, we've got to move education from a theoretical platform to a hands-on learning-by-doing environment.

RB:  I have young children and when they come home, they ask if I saw pictures of what they did ─ their artwork ─ that keeps them engaged and excited. That's one way that I'm able to stay connected and personally feel more connected to their learning and it gives me something to broker a conversation with the teacher if need be. It helps our relationship with the teacher as well.

Do you think an intentional approach at the classroom level ─ the learn by doing, hands-on and in documenting that experience between teacher and learner ─ could support students and their families so that busy moms, dads, grandparents, and caregivers have more accurate information about what it's like when their children are away from them from eight to three?

KA:  Exactly! I totally agree. Our local community has been working here with this model for ten years, so they're probably more informed about community-based multiple major accountability than most communities just because we've been at it longer. But, in reality, a lot of schools ─ probably the majority ─ are still basically just teaching to standardized tests. Their community wouldn't know a lot about community-based accountability because of that.

RB:  Talk to me a little bit about TPAC and what it's like for you on a professional level to be amongst over 40 superintendents from around Texas who are sharing the sentiment that you have been discussing today.

KA: I'm really excited about TPAC because we know that, ultimately, it's going to come down to the discussion with the legislature:  If not, standardized testing, then what?

And so we're developing the “what” in lieu of it. And then how do we measure it? How do we report it through digital student portfolios that folks not just from Roscoe but from Austin, from TEA, from the legislature can go in there and look at student work and draw conclusions about meaningful student work?

Multiple Choice 1

All of our students ─ three through twelve ─ carry a research project and they develop the poster. When we get through with them, they're put in the digital portfolios. And we're starting even to collect better data on college and career readiness as we are using Lifetrack to track student outcomes beyond Roscoe, beyond higher education within the workforce because, I think, if we could show that the proof is in the pudding then it would be easier to support from a legislative standpoint.

RB:  I think part of the problem with standardized testing is that we lost sight of the awareness that there is a human being behind that number that we are evaluating in a conference room. Thankfully, I'm starting to hear more leaders like you talk about the role of social and emotional learning and the overall development of a young person from kindergarten all the way through until they’re handed off to college or a career at that point in time.

How do we ensure that a student’s emotional and social development has a seat at the proverbial table when we're talking about these new systems so that we don't lose sight of it?

KA: As you look at examples in the workforce, if one is in the workforce and has either social and/or emotional issues typically they're not very successful. It's our mission to make sure that we're turning out a student who just doesn't have good test scores or good grades and good attendance but has those soft skills that revolve around social and emotional stability and the ability to work effectively with people.

The 21st-century workplace is very collaborative in nature, very much creative problem-solving. It's every bit as important to have the social skills as the knowledge. How do you take what you know and effectively implement it?

And that takes collaboration, communication, and all those things. So we really are charged with developing the entire student and not just a robot that can plug in the correct bubble on the multiple-choice test.

RB:  Kim, let's close with this. If you were standing in front of a board meeting or a community event and someone asks, “If not standardized testing, then what?”

From your perspective as Dr. Kim Alexander, a community leader in education, tell us the path we're going down if we don’t change, if we do not solve this equation.

KA:  It's going to be pretty bleak. You're not going to have high-score student applicants if that's what you're relying on educationally. And, in Texas, it's really an emergency. As I've mentioned, we're the fastest-growing state in the nation. We're projecting to move from 26 to 55 million people by 2055. And at the rate we're going, 90% of the growth in Texas is economically disadvantaged. With that 55 million, 33 million will be Hispanic and 40 million economically disadvantaged. So now we've got a lot of the same dilemmas with those percentages as our neighbor to the south of the Rio Grande River has here.

Test Water

Poverty is the big issue in Mexico. Fifteen million people can't effectively feed and clothe themselves. So we can't just rely on feeding people fish. We've got to teach them how to fish, and higher education is the only way to break that generational poverty cycle. So we've got to do a better job of getting that vulnerable population engaged that currently is not heavily engaged.

I just got back from a meeting yesterday in Stephenville trying to bring four-year degree opportunities to Roscoe. They were with our higher ed partners at Texas Tech and Texas A&M and Austin etcetera trying to reduce the high cost of higher education.

Both situations are expensive but it's that cost of living that is really making it unaffordable for a lot of folks who are disadvantaged.

RB:  You used a strong term in saying that your forecast would be bleak. And it seems to me that we either want to position education in very lofty terms or we slide all the way over to the other side and it's strictly about reform.

To your point about Texas jumping up to 55 million population in the coming years, it has real implications on how those who live in Texas go about their day, the way they experience their neighbors, the opportunities, etc. Why can't we have realistic conversations about this where we talk about the implications on our communities? Do you think that we're afraid to have these real conversations?

KA:  The thing that makes this so complex and so difficult is that change is difficult and it's just a lot easier to operate in the here and now. This is the way we've always been in trying to justify feeling good about what we're doing.

But as we truly drill down and look in depth at what we're doing in Texas, we can't be very proud in terms of the opportunities that we're creating for students beyond K-12. That's part of the problem here; so many people are still looking at the old way of having the K-12 system over here and the higher-ed system over there and then the workforce system separately as having served us well for a hundred years with no big correlation and connection between them all, and that's what is still going to create opportunities for students in the future because it did in the past.

RB: A lot of times, people don't fully understand and appreciate the role of a superintendent but it is a very active one. It's gone far beyond purely management. You have to be a thought leader. I really appreciate your transparency; it's something that I think is sorely needed in this space. I know the audience appreciates it and that the community of Roscoe is lucky to have you.

Thanks so much, Kim.

KA:  You're certainly welcome.

Further Reading:

WFAA - VERIFY: Are we too focused on standardized testing?

The News & Observer - NC education plan remains focused on standardized tests

Missoulian - Tester seeks to reduce the federal standardized tests in schools

About Dr. Kim Alexander

Kim Alexander Headshot copyDr. Kim Alexander of Roscoe is superintendent of Roscoe Collegiate Independent School District. Prior to that, he served in a variety of roles within the school district as high school principal, grant writer and English language arts and kinesiology teacher.

Previously, he served as a teacher in Sweetwater Independent School District and Highland Independent School District. In addition to his career in education, Alexander is a self-employed production agriculturalist that manages crops and livestock production. He is a member of Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Association of Professional Educators, American Association of School Administrators, American Cotton Growers Association, Red Angus Association of America and Realtors’ Land Institute.

Alexander earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Angelo State University, master’s degree in educational administration from Abilene Christian University and doctorate degree in agricultural education through a joint program with Texas Tech University and Texas A&M University.

About Dr. Rod Berger:

Dr. Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes.

Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.

Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter.


From Foster Care to Leadership: A Superintendent's Journey

Embrace The Universe
Dr. David Vroonland has quite a story to tell. He is the superintendent of Mesquite Independent School District on the east side of Dallas, but he hasn't always been this fortunate. He was born into extreme poverty and bounced from family to family for the first decade of his life. The only real constant during his tumultuous upbringing was going to public school, and it provided the glue that kept his life together.

There are many children today going down similar paths to David’s on their journey to growing up, and even years later there remains the reality that for most of them, the only constant will be public school.

David’s tale is a powerful one, but what is most remarkable is how his situation pushed him into a career in education. What started out as a teaching stint eventually steered into administration, something he never dreamed of as a kid.

As a superintendent, he brings his passion for kids to his entire district - especially kids from troubled backgrounds. David believes that caring and engaging with children is far more important than any state mandated standardized test. As he puts it, “You can impact lives ─ even substantially disrupted lives ─ by caring deeply about them and having joy in what you do in that classroom.”

Interview with David Vroonland

Interview Transcript:

Rod Berger:  David, I sat in the room at TPAC in Texas earlier this summer and you really jumped out, not only because of your level of participation, but the passion with which you communicated the needs around community-based accountability systems and the impact on students, parents, and school leaders.

I want to start with the passion side of this. Let's talk about your story and what led you to be the leader of a district. I won't give the punch line but I heard some of your backstory in the meeting that you invited me to following that TPAC meeting.

Tell me a little bit about your background and how you think that played a role in where you are today in Mesquite.

David Vroonland: As I've shared with a lot of folks, my background is not a typical one. Sadly and unfortunately, we see a lot of people, children especially, who share some commonality with my experience. I'll start with what that experience looked like.

I was born into extreme poverty ─ a single parent, single mom. The father was kind of in and out but I don't believe they were married. I don't know the specifics of that because, by age two, I'd left that family. By age three, I'd left another family. Also by age three, I was in a new foster family and, at age ten, I was adopted by an entirely different family. So within the first ten years of my life, I literally had four ─ maybe more ─ different families.

That's a lot of disruption in a young man’s life and a lot of instability that has to be filled somehow. Even in that unique experience, I was so blessed because three things filled my life that made such a huge impact on my ability to be who I am today.

One is that you have someone who loves you. I had the good fortune, even in that setting, of having parents, each and every time, who loved me. But more than that, with that much instability, you need people in your community to express love for people like that. And they do that in a variety of ways.

Tying Shoe

I had the good fortune of having teachers, ministers, and community members who loved me. I still reflect on a Christmas Day of people bringing Christmas toys into my home when I was about six or seven years old. I was astonished that these men did this, and they didn't even know me.

That was such a huge impact in my life because it was an expression of love for a young person. And it's been in my mind ever since. I don't believe it will ever go away. It's one of those things that has dictated the direction of my life.

The other thing is that you have to have a belief in something that is larger than yourself. Certainly, that can be faith-based, and I believe it is. For me, it definitely is.

It also has to be based in principles. These principles are things that provide parameters for young people to live within. One of the things that I struggled with regarding schools lately is that because of accountability, we've moved away from one of the key elements of schooling.

Thomas Jefferson said it this way, “The purpose of a general education is to enable every man to determine for himself that which will secure or endanger their freedom.”

Those principles of life are key and we need to understand those things. I had the good fortune of having both faith experiences that allow that to occur. I learned some really important principles to life. But also in education. In the education setting, I learned how to work with people, how to respect others, and how to respect people’s way of thinking. Those are things that I think had disappeared due, in large parts, to accountability ─ which I'll talk about in a little bit.

Teacher 1

Lastly, most importantly, you have to have a public education system. I had a pretty difficult start in life and it led me down the pathway of education. I had no desire to be an administrator. I wasn’t the least bit interested in that but I was passionate about the education of young people. I'm absolutely passionate.

And I've had some wonderful experiences.Thanks to my wife who was a psychologist in the Air Force I was able to go to different places and experience different young people in different settings from Texas to D.C. to even Japan. Those experiences really enlightened my thinking a lot. I've learned through those experiences. But, most importantly, my passion just kept growing, especially around the needs of young people who weren’t advantaged by their birth in life. I really serve all kids but I must admit that’s a passion.

My pathway ended up in the U.S. suburbs a lot. But I felt like I would love an opportunity to be in a district with more of an urban setting just to really bear some of my thoughts in those environments. We do have a different treatment of kids in suburbia versus kids in urban settings. I think it's based on our preconceived notions of what urban kids can do over what suburban kids can do. I just don't buy into those notions. I wanted an opportunity to come in and have high impact in a larger urban district.

RB: Based on your background and the way in which you entered this world, I'm wondering about the impact of that sense of community that you almost had to embrace ─ noting the story of Christmas when you were six or seven. I wish that we could identify the power of community engagement when we think about the ways in which we can personalize learning experiences for young people who are in urban, rural, suburban settings in a manner that gives them purpose and meaning when they walk through the doors of their given school. That they are engaged because they feel loved. And that we are thinking about learning in that regard. It's not like a coach talking X's and O's or scores but it's about the participation.

In sports, they talk about the glue guy on the roster, that individual who may not be the most talented but there's something about their personality and the way in which they engage that heightens the experience for everybody.

I think we could probably look at that in the way in which we personalize learning and think about the ways in which you, as a young person, would want to be engaged to further support your own social-emotional learning through what most would call a “potentially turbulent” start to your own life.

DV: It's interesting that you noted that. I appreciate that. I hadn’t thought about it quite that way. But community in everything we do is vital. In our district, we have an initiative called “Read Play Talk.” It's to really get into homes and to engage parents in the learning of their children ages zero (birth) to three. Then, we have our own pre-K initiative to get all kids on grade-level reading by third grade. We also have the advanced academic program.

But it all starts with community engagement. It's not the school. The school has its role but it is really the community engaging in its own people.


What's been really exciting about this is you're seeing it being embraced in Mesquite ISD. Read Play Talk is being embraced by the social services network. You're seeing it being embraced by businesses. You're seeing it being embraced by hospitals, by the city. Everybody is embracing it and doing their part around Read Play Talk.

What I love about it is it's not a strategy driven by the school district. Rather, the school district is setting the vision for the community and the community is designing its own strategies to have their role in ensuring that kids can read on grade level before they enter our schools.

So that whole idea of the community engaging and loving their children ─  I guess it is connected to my past. A good observation on your part. I hadn’t thought about it that way. But our past does dictate a lot of our thinking. I think it is such a vital piece.

One of my concerns about accountability is that it takes that away. The way the accountability systems are structured, it becomes about the state. And I don't have a disrespect for the state. I don't want anyone to misinterpret what I'm saying, but we need to embrace it locally. We need to hold ourselves accountable to our children and to our communities, and the state’s role in that should be relatively limited.

So that's why I'm not a big proponent of the current system, amongst other reasons.

RB:  Let's close with this, Dave. If you were to write the moral of your education story, what would it be and what can we take from it? Not just as gentlemen like you and me who work in education but just as community members. What is the power of education on a young person’s trajectory in life?

DV:  This is not to create sympathy for myself, but I want to paint a picture. You're nine or almost ten years old and you're leaving a family you've been with for seven years. You have two paper grocery bags filled with all your possessions and you're in a back seat of a car and you're leaving that home and you're being driven to a new home a hundred miles away with a new family, new expectations, new name, new friends, and a new school.

Keep Going Board

One of the key sustaining pieces to this child’s life in that situation is the public school. I still remember Dr. Gerlitz. And this was years later. I think I was in eighth-grade science class. I still remember Dr. Gerlitz and many of my elementary teachers as well but Dr. Gerlitz strikes a point that is essential to this.

He just cared about every single child individually. I don't know how he was able to do that because I'm sure he had 180 kids, but he was able to show that and he had so much joy in what he did.

An expression that I love is the ability to share joy in that classroom. That's one of the things I want to see brought back ─ this sense of joy and happiness in learning ─ because it helps kids connect in a way that testing them simply doesn't. There are all sorts of evidence around this.

For me, I think that's the moral of the story. You can impact lives ─ even substantially disrupted lives ─ by caring deeply about them and having joy in what you do in that classroom.


Further Reading:

Education Week - What Is the Future of Individualized Education Programs?

The New York Times - 1 in 7 New York City Elementary Students Will Be Homeless, Report Says

CBS Denver - Foster Care Teens Celebrate Graduation


About Dr. David Vroonland:

Vroonland - picDr. David Vroonland officially assumed his position as superintendent of Mesquite ISD on July 1, 2015. An educator for more than 30 years, Vroonland began his education career in 1986 as a teacher and coach in Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD. In 1991, he accepted a similar position at DuVal High school in Lanham, Md., followed by two and a half years as a coach and teacher in Akishima, Japan. In 1995, Vroonland returned to Texas to teach and coach at McNeil Junior High School in Wichita Falls ISD.

His administrative experience began in 1999 in Wichita Falls when he became an assistant principal at Zundy Junior High; he later became principal at Barwise Junior High. Vroonland moved to Allen High School in Allen ISD as house principal in 2003. He opened Ereckson Middle School in Allen as principal in 2004 before assuming the role of assistant superintendent of administrative services in Allen ISD in 2006. Most recently, Vroonland served as superintendent of Frenship ISD, which is located on the southwestern side of Lubbock County.

Follow David Vroonland on Twitter.

About Dr. Rod Berger:

Dr.Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes.

Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.

Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter.


Preparing Today's Student for Tomorrow's Job

Theresa Morris is a mathematics performance assessment developer at 
Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE) in Palo Alto, and to say that she is a leading voice in the world of assessment and accountability would be an understatement. She has many years of experience as a classroom teacher as well as an extensive background in school administration.

I met Theresa recently at a Texas Performance Assessment Consortium (TPAC) meeting, and she agreed to do an interview. Listen below as she discusses how our present educational system in America was built during a time when there was a focus on producing skilled factory workers. The world has changed since that era, and she maintains that we need to shift our ways of teaching and learning to reflect the jobs and opportunities of our modern society.

She also maintains that multiple choice standardized tests are no longer the answer. Her work with TPAC reflects a shared interest among member districts in Texas who recognize that change is necessary and are looking for a more rounded, holistic way to achieve accountability and equity in education. In a world where students have a device in their pocket that can access an endless amount of information, Theresa is working to create a learning environment that measures students by how they problem solve, communicate, reason and find solutions to the challenges they face.

Interview with Theresa Morris

Interview Transcript:

Rod Berger:  Theresa, it's really nice to be spending some time with you today. I had the privilege of briefly meeting you at the most recent TPAC (Texas Performance Assessment Consortium) meeting in Texas.

What's really interesting is that you were working there (at TPAC) and I know that you're also part of the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity. With that as the backdrop, tell us a little bit about your participation in TPAC and the valuable conversations and contributions you see coming from a working group of this nature.

Theresa Morris: TPAC started with the idea that they want to revolutionize accountability systems within education. The A through F grading model that's commonly used across the country doesn't give a complete picture. It's often slanted or skewed, if you will, towards school districts with high affluence.

If you already have students coming into your districts who are high performing, obviously, you're going to meet the state’s standards. But it doesn't show the full picture of growth achievement along the way and moving students beyond where they are.

There's a shift in Texas of creating a community-based accountability system coupled with the idea that you cannot measure everything you possibly would want to measure through a multiple choice exam.

Kids IllustrationWe already know that. We've been using them across the country because they’re efficient. And, for most people, they attribute to them some level of reliability. Either the students chose C or didn't choose C or knew to guess C or what have you.

But it doesn't get down to that true level of a student’s ability to see and recognize a unique situation- to problem solve, analyze, and then respond to that situation- whereas a performance assessment gets to that level. It (TPAC) gives that balance between performance assessment and looking at the actual pieces of real-life applications and “Can a student problem solve, communicate, reason and promote a solution?”

RB:  Theresa, is this a product of our inability ─ I say that collectively as the entire ecosystem of education in the U.S. ─ to appropriately and in an ongoing fashion to communicate the learning that's authentic to the student learner experience back to parents and those in the community on a regular basis? Is this where we've come because we've not done that with intention, that we've said to ourselves, “Since we don't have that communication we need to find a level of accountability that is tied to something?” And that something has been, to this point, standardized tests?

TM: That is an excellent question. And my response to that would be we, as a nation, have an inability to understand how education needs to evolve and needs to continue to evolve with our society.

From that point of view, it used to be a multiple choice test-measured knowledge. That was its purpose because we didn't have Google; we didn't have easy access to information. That was all we were testing for.

We no longer need to test that information. We need to know “Can students decipher a great deal of information and learn how to deal with it?”


So it's an inability to understand the shifts in education, the understanding of what it means for a student to process information and respond, and ─ as you said ─ that connection in being able to relate back to teachers, students, parents, and community members what are students learning and how they are progressing.

Because of that inability, we pigeonhole schools, teachers, and students into believing that they're achieving or not achieving based on some made up a number and some fixed asset that really is irrelevant and disconnected to what happens in real life.

RB:  And don't you think that we should do a better job of aligning the ownership of learning?

I have two young kids and they're going to grow up like many other kids in the country thinking about being an entrepreneur or working with many different groups and companies. And so, in that, there's an ownership, an agency if you will.

And shouldn’t we, then, apply that in a way in which we ─ I hate to use the term ─ “evaluate” or “observe” learning that we give the student an opportunity to contribute their own voice, their own assets, their own collateral that says, “This is what I learned and how it applies to me as a student moving forward” and connect those dots for them but put them in the driver’s seat?

TM: Put them in the driver’s seat when it's appropriate. You have two young children. They're going to be motivated on their own or they're going to be lackadaisical on their own; and, at different times in our lives, that happens.

In education, I do think that you need the ownership with the students equally with the teachers and parents. It's a trifecta that's necessary because at eight years old, I'm not going to eat my vegetables unless you motivate me to do so.

Education is the same way. Additionally, we have this phenomenon in education that states “I'm going to tell you what you're going to learn today. You're going to learn it and then you're going to decide if you actually learned that item.”

Here's the flaw in that. What if a student actually had this major discovery on a different learning outcome than what was intended?

But that student is deemed as failing in learning the specific outcome that was stated. So, now, the student has a failure experience when, in reality, there was a successful moment.


We fail to capture it completely and ─ worse ─ we do damage by highlighting the fact that the student didn't learn what we intended them to learn.

Learning is not linear. And, in many cases, I know it's a national debate but it's a communication, and students’ brains are hardwired differently. We have to capitalize on the moments when we have them and acknowledge that, in the course of 12 to 13 years, “This is where we want you to be when you graduate.”

We all might move at different speeds and at different times throughout that continuum and that should be allowed ─ back to your piece of ownership with the students, teachers, and parents.

RB:  Where does equity fit into this conversation?

TM: It always needs to be in the center and in the forefront always. Particularly for students who enter with what we call the “greatest distance from success.” Perhaps, their preschool years or their birth-to-five-years period really set them behind through their counterparts who have had different experiences and exposures, or any of the different reasons why students have this greater distance from success.

Being able to acknowledge that students are moving at a pace that's appropriate for them and towards a goal that they choose is necessary; and how we engage students ─ as you've said ─ in motivating themselves, identifying their learning trajectories, and continuing to push forward all the time is absolutely necessary; and it's something, at the moment, that our educational system doesn't embrace to the level which it needs to.

RB:  If you're reading the tea leaves and you see stories ─ not just in Texas but around the country ─ with districts and schools basically taking a stab at a new version of a report card or getting rid of report cards or looking at ways to eliminate class rank, what role do those elements play in the larger discussion that we're having around equity and finding new ways to assess student learning?

TM:  I think each of these individual groups that are working ─ I'm currently working in Texas, Ohio, Southern California, and Virginia ─ has, in the forefront, this idea of how to incorporate performance assessments within an accountability system. The reason they're doing that is to give students a greater opportunity to demonstrate their learning and their growth within the school year. Independently, each of them is a proof point of different approaches that can lead to successful changes in education and, most importantly, to teaching and learning.


So we need to see and really closely follow the different groups and organizations that are trying to make reforms. Let's share lessons learned and successes and try to find what we used to call the “path of least pitfalls,” if you will, for other schools, states, and districts to follow the same lead.

RB: I appreciate that. Theresa, let's close with this. What question are we not asking as we're sitting down as a part of multiple states’ efforts in this area? What question are we not asking that we need to be asking because we understand that there's not only an uphill battle but a political battle that is live and at stake for everybody?

TM:  What we're not asking is “Where are the jobs of the future? What are we trying to prepare students to do in our future?”

Our educational system was created to prepare students for factory work. Let's acknowledge that. They did a nice job of that.

But, now, let's hone in on where our students are going in the future and how we're going to support skills, knowledge, and abilities to meet those needs for all students.

Let's also embrace this piece. We went to this college and career readiness phase and everyone is for that, in theory. But, in reality, I want productive citizens who are also plumbers, electricians ─ skilled trades. Let's honor and respect their contributions to society and not look at them as failures or Option B because they didn't go to a four-year college.

RB:  It's a clear and present danger and/or opportunity depending upon the way we look at it. I hope this is the first of many conversations. Your passion for your work comes through in your voice and I really appreciate the time.

TM: You're very welcome. Thank you for the time.


Further Reading:

The Baltimore Sun - Less than half of Maryland students pass English, math assessments

Hartford Courant - Middletown Schools Open With Emphasis On Equity

Sooke News Mirror - Tech used to track West Shore students’ progress


About Theresa Morris:

Theresa Morris HeadshotTheresa Morris is a Mathematics Performance Assessment Developer at the Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE). She has over 20 years of experience including classroom teaching, district administrator, and consultant for CTB, Smarter Balanced and Discovery Education as an item writer and author of performance tasks. Her classroom experience includes all grade and ability levels from kindergarten through graduate level courses.

The focus of her recent work with SCALE has been supporting district-based performance task development, supporting the creation and implementation of curriculum-embedded performance tasks aligned to CCSS, and developing resources and professional learning experiences for educators to support the instructional shifts necessary for students’ deeper learning and college and career readiness.

Theresa is a lead facilitator in supporting state and local educational networks in building balanced assessment systems that include the use of performance assessments. The foundation of this work is building educator assessment literacy around the development and use of high-quality performance assessments.

About Dr. Rod Berger:

Dr. Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes.

Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.

Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter.


How Will You Make the World a Better Place Through Technology?

Kid At Blackboard
Stephen Baxter is an Australian import and serves as the Senior Product Manager for Microsoft’s Windows 10 S. I had the opportunity to talk with him at the 2017
Imagine Cup World Finals, a competition bringing teams from all over the world to compete at the Microsoft headquarters in Seattle, Washington. Stephen enthusiastically talks about Windows 10 S being streamlined for security and performance, and how Windows 10 S seems to be a natural fit for the education market.

Stephen sees a benefit to involving young children in technology at the earliest opportunity and knows that user feedback of all ages and levels of experience is essential. He sees a system in Windows 10 S that’s perfect for education but also easier for teachers and schools to manage. With its wide access and broad knowledge, it helps foster an environment that gives students the freedom to create and be themselves both in the classroom and at home. Whether it’s working individually or in groups, students can experiment, learn and grow much like the teams at the Imagine Cup competition.

Stephen wants both student teams and industry developers to make a positive impact and think about where they can take application development into the future. He challenges students to not only create the next popular hot game or app but examine how they can better the future in varying ways through technology.

Interview with Stephen Baxter

Interview Transcript:

Rod Berger:  Stephen, it's nice to be spending some time with you today. Tell me about Windows 10 S. What should we in the market know from your perspective, and what's the most exciting component of the way in which we can all be interfacing with it?

Stephen Baxter:  The tagline “Windows 10 S” helps speak for it. It's streamlined for security and performance. It's for those customers who are concerned about security and performance. All of your applications are verified by Microsoft which helps keep the product at its peak performance from Day 1 to Day 100.

It's also available on a wide range of devices including the Surface Laptop. It's a full version of Windows; you get all the great features like Windows Hello, Windows Ink, Cortana, etc. But the key thing is being able to maintain that performance and also hold up security.

RB:  Take us behind the scenes a little bit when we're talking about security. I think there's a lot when the public thinks about security in the technological world that we live in; yet, I'm sure that there are realities when we're developing technology that is protected.

What is it like going behind the scenes of the amount of work that has to go in to make sure the performance isn’t compromised by the security measures that we're putting in?

SB:  There's a lot that goes into building a product like Windows 10 S. But I think the key fundamental is that all of the applications are verified by Microsoft before they go into the Windows store, and then customers download all of their applications from that store. They know that they're safe and secure. They're not going to install any unwanted code on their device. More importantly, they're not going to install anything like malware if the application comes from the Windows store.

RB:  How much in the development side of things do you get from the market in hearing about what they want in functionality in what might be the next 10 S?

SB:  We take a lot of data from Windows Insiders and really take their feedback on board when developing Windows 10 as a whole. We use a lot of that feedback to drive where the product goes with new features.

RB:  Let's take the conversation to education when we think of a big picture about what technology can provide us. We're in a world now where we have digital natives and these children are growing up experiencing the latest in technology, and that this is all they know. What do you think the impact is in the development world of technology to take in that information, the user experience, the UI, and the UX into what we will all be experiencing in the next five to ten years?

SB:  I think the most important piece is being able to get these younger children involved in technology as early as possible. And, I guess, that's also key for Windows 10. It's able to create an environment that's perfect for education, one that's easier for teachers and schools to manage but also one that gives students the freedom to be able to create and to be themselves.

RB:  Earlier today, Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, was challenging developers to bend the curve. What does that mean to you? I thought it was a very compelling statement on the power that we all have in front of us to be able to innovate and create not only as individuals but as teams across the world.

SB:  I think it's really about getting developers to not just build the next hot game or the next hot application but to really think about where we can take application development in the future so we can better the world in some different way as well as being able to create the next hot game that everyone wants to play.

RB:  Let's talk about your background. Tell me about education back in Australia and what life would have been like growing up in a Windows 10 S environment.

SB:  I think things would have been a lot easier to work with Windows 10. When I first started with computers, it was a two-toned color screen with four cabled imports, and it barely had a mouse.

If we had Windows 10 back in those days, I think we'd be a lot further than what we are now.


Further Reading:

Forbes - Microsoft’s Smartphone Ambitions Have Not Died

The Daily Independent - Prince awarded for service in education technology

CNBC - Bill Gates: Better technology must be developed to educate people


About Stephen Baxter

Stephen Baxter HeadshotStephen Baxter is a senior product manager on the Windows Consumer Marketing team, supporting Windows 10 S and Windows on Snapdragon. He has worked for Microsoft/Nokia for the last 7 years; prior to moving to the US, Stephen lived in Sydney, Australia as a Lumia Product Manager. Before joining Microsoft, he worked for Vodafone Hutchison Australia in the Device Marketing team for over 7 years, focusing on Device Customization and Go To Market.

For more on Windows 10 S follow on Twitter






About Dr. Rod Berger

Dr. Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes.

Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.

Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter.


Creating a Coding Tool that Everyone Can Use

Christian Diemers attends the
Technical University of Munich, and it's there that he developed a vision of the future from his work. This vision has taken him to the 2017 World Finals of the Imagine Cup in Seattle, the world’s premier innovation and technology competition. Christian sees real value in the different working styles he encounters while sharing ideas with friends around the world, as opposed to having everyone using the same methods and techniques.

His Imagine Cup project, Koicode, is a web-based platform that provides visual scripting and code visualization for beginners. It features a complete visualization process for computer programs and the possibility to create methods with a visual scripting tool. As Christian says in our interview below, coding is the future. He says that everyone needs to learn coding and computer science. His innovative idea Koicode helps people learn programming in an intuitive way, giving them the skills to create their own innovations.


Interview with Christian Diemers

Further Reading:

The New York Times - Teaching Kids Coding, by the Book

T|H|E Journal - Report: Makerspaces, Coding, Robotics Pick Up Momentum in Schools

The Orange County Register - Status Update: Coding school for kids opens in Irvine


About Christian Diemers:

Christian HeadshotChristian Diemers is currently studying Informatics: Games Engineering at the Technical University of Munich. In addition to his studies, he enjoys organizing events.








About Dr. Rod Berger:

Dr. Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes.

Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.

Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter.

Trying to Make Academia More Interesting One Boring Lecture at a Time

Data Flowing

Ilya Slolvev and his friends, like typical college students, spend time in lectures – many fascinating, and some utterly boring. It was the boring lectures that were the inspiration for Boremeter, an app that monitors an audience’s involvement. Boremeter is based on neural networks and computer vision algorithms, and allows users to analyze interest (or lack thereof) from the audience at lectures and presentations.

As Ilya says in our talk below, “Sometimes very clever people talk about very interesting things in very boring ways.” Boremeter can help change that. It’s an idea that is gaining steam. Ilya and Boremeter made the world finals of the 2017 Imagine Cup, an innovation and technology conference that showcases some of the world’s top university students. Boremeter is making the world more interesting – one boring presenter at a time.

Interview with IIya Solovev

Further Reading:

Quartz - The college lecture is dying. Good riddance.

Fast Company - Tech In The Classroom? We’re Asking The Wrong Question

Purdue Research Foundation News - Smart phone app seeks to bridge gap between lecturers and students


About Ilya Soloviev:

IIya Solovev HeadshotIlya Soloviev is a student of Applied Mathematics and Information Science at the Higher School of Economics in Russia.








About Dr. Rod Berger:

Dr. Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes.

Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.

Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter.


A Warning Device When It Isn't Going to Be a Stroke of Luck

What were you doing when you were 17-years-old and in high school? Were you changing the world? Mohammad Rimawi isn’t your typical 17-year-old. He and his team members recently competed in the 2017 
Imagine Cup World Finals. His project, DocStroke, is a portable device that helps diagnose diabetes and other stroke risk factors through retinal imagery using a non-dilated eye.

15 million people suffer stroke worldwide each year. DocStroke provides an inexpensive way to determine the risks of stroke using ocular image processing and machine learning.

The portable Panoptic ophthalmoscope can take images of the eye fundus with a five times larger view, even if the pupil is not dilated. DocStroke calculates risks of a stroke with calculations based on the eye fundus image taken from the patient through the ophthalmoscope and information provided in a patient questionnaire.

DocStroke has shown surprising accuracy. And at 17, Mohammad has shown surprising focus. DocStroke is saving lives, and doctors are already taking notice and requesting the technology. Mohammed and his team are working hard to make sure that DocStroke will be available to help alleviate many of the sufferers of the 15 million strokes worldwide. Listen below as I talk to Mohammed and we discuss his team's invention and what it feels like to be making a big difference in so many lives at such a young age.


Interview with Mohammad Rimawi


Further Reading:

Mass Device - Study: New infrared imaging technique could help detect heart attack, stroke risk

UNSW Sydney - Methamphetamine use linked to heightened stroke risk in young

Harvard Gazette - Inflammation reduction cuts risk of heart attack, stroke


About Mohammad Rimawi:

Mohammad Rimawi Headshot (1)Mohammad Rimawi is a 17-year-old student from Amman-Jordan, where he attends Jubilee High School. Mohammad is the graphic designer and business manager of DocStroke, and competed in the 2017 Imagine Cup World Finals.







About Dr. Rod Berger:

Dr. Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes.

Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.

Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter.

Bio Engineering Meets Computer Science to Shape the Future

VR Cave

Thomas Galeon is an engineering student from the French university of
Ecole Polytechnique, located in the Palaiseau suburb just south of Paris. Thomas, along with partners Alexandre Brenellière and Maxime Bourliatoux, entered the Imagine Cup. The Microsoft Imagine Cup is an innovation and technology competition held at the Microsoft headquarters in Redmond Washington every year. The winners of local and regional championships across the world come to the Pacific Northwest to compete for a prize package that will enable them to make their dream a reality.

His project, Overskill, targets seven core abilities and is designed to train the mind and the body simultaneously using mixed reality.

Thomas comes from a bio engineering background, and says Overskill gives users insight into how the brain works under stress. His partners have a computer science background. Their ability to analyze data filled in the missing pieces, allowing his team to create the Overskill app. The app uses a new Microsoft product called HoloLens, a self-contained, holographic computer; it enables the user to engage with digital content and interact with holograms in the space around them with no other props.

In my talk below with him, Thomas said he believes this new technology will shape the future and hopes his journey in the Imagine Cup will allow him to meet other creative students eager to help build the world of tomorrow.

Interview with Thomas Galeon


Further Reading:

Mashable - A new hologram that is brighter and cheaper

Omaha World-Herald - Robotics, holograms, augmented reality, oh my!

International Business Times - Merge VR Launches Merge Cube


About Thomas Galeon

Thomas Galeon HeadshotThomas Galeon is a second-year engineering student at Ecole Polytechnique near Paris and will be specializing in bio-mechanical engineering in September. Born into a French family in London (UK), Thomas did a French Scientific Baccalaureate in the British capital. Thriving on challenges and eager to solve real world problems, he moved to France to study engineering.

Ecole Polytechnique has a rich military tradition as it was used by Napoleon to find the best armament engineers. As part of his first-year military training, he chose to work at the Paris Fire Brigade and led an ambulance team of three fire-fighters on more than 300 rescue operations. Witnessing first-hand the health issues the most vulnerable were facing daily convinced Thomas to study bio-mechanical engineering, determined to apply his critical thinking to ensure diseases and accidents are detected as soon as possible using monitoring devices available to all.

Thomas is enthusiastic about entrepreneurship. He is part of the Start-Up Cabinet at his university which organizes many events, including one of the largest European Start-Up Weekends. Combining his desire to innovate and help others, he hopes to start his own biotech start-up. The Imagine Cup was the first step of that journey.

About Dr. Rod Berger

Dr. Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes.

Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.

Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter.

Affordable Technology in the Classroom - Canadian Style

Education Scrabble
Ben Kelly is a technology teacher at Caledonia Regional High School in New Brunswick, Canada. He is also a very popular education personality on social media (especially Twitter) who advocates for ed tech tools in the classroom. One reason for his popularity is his clear enthusiasm for technology as a teaching tool for future careers. He sees his primary job as getting his kids ready for the rest of their lives.

Ben uses and credits Twitter as the social media platform that most significantly impacts his connection to professionals and was the avenue for his discovery of new technology tools for teaching. One example he cites is Soundtrap, a music and audio recording cloud service that brings the functionality of GarageBand to all devices used in the classroom. He used Twitter to discover the Microsoft HoloLens and become one of the first teachers in North America to use one in the classroom. Minecraft is another technology tool that Ben heralds as an across the board useful tool in helping inclusivity needs.

The kids seem equally as excited as Ben in using technologies in school. As he puts it, “I love what I do every day. Who wouldn’t? I get to come in here, and I have HoloLens on my left, Soundtrap on my right, Minecraft in front of me, and drones behind me.”

It’s clear that Ben Kelly loves his work and the students at Caledonia Regional High School are the happy beneficiaries.

Interview with Ben Kelly

Interview Transcript

Rod Berger:    Ben, it's fun to finally meet you face to face. I've heard so much about you. I see you on social media. You are an active professional in education. Is that fair to say?

Ben Kelly:  That is fair to say, yes. I love it. (Laughter)

RB:  Let's start with that. Tell me a little bit about social media and your affinity for it and how you've used it not only to share what you like to do best, or your best practices, but a way to connect with the greater community of educators outside of Canada and here in the U.S. specifically.

BK:  I'm not the type of person who feels that my Facebook should be shared professionally. That's usually a very small collective group of friends and family. I was looking for something that could share my students’ work and my work a little more broadly than the district office which is a few kilometers away.

I stumbled across Twitter, and I get really discouraged when I hear how Twitter is going through financial troubles. I really can't wrap my head around that because, for educators, Twitter is the answer. My career has just boomed and blossomed through the roof since I found Twitter, and I think I put my finger on it recently.

I think it's because you're always supposed to find someone smarter than you, and you're always supposed to find someone who’s got a little more knowledge than you. Locally, that can run out pretty quickly, or it becomes that everyone is on par.

Twitter has given me a global perspective so that when I sit down at the table with parents, students, and other teachers, I'm not drawing on what's happening at the district office down the street. I'm drawing on the entire world at my fingertips; and I can say, “Listen, guys, we're behind the eight ball on this” or “We are leading in this.”

It's really good to get that global perspective.

Minecraft In School

RB:  Do you also feel you get a head start on researching technologies that do not cross your desk at some moment, and if you see it on Twitter from someone at a different level or a different experience or a different environment, that it gives you a head start on their review or their recommendation?

BK:  Nearly a hundred percent of the initiatives that happen in my class and my programs came from Twitter. I think we had one of North America’s first Hololenses ─ Microsoft HoloLens ─ in the classroom and we're developing for that. I would have never known about HoloLens or the Surface Studio if it wasn’t for Twitter giving me the heads-up and these *wow* videos that appear.

Of course, as a teacher, you set your mind to bring it in.

Soundtrap is another one. How would I know about a Swedish music company revolutionizing GarageBand, essentially, and bringing it online to the cloud?

There's no way that would have reached me if it were not on Twitter. And Twitter seems to be the platform that reaches out to most educators. I love the fact that I can flip it and share it with even more ─ hopefully, picking up someone else along the way.

RB:  I know from reading your op-eds and pieces on the web that the power of audio and technology in education is something that you're really passionate about, and we were saying off-air that we're finding a number of different academic departments are also seeing the light. They are saying, "Wow, if we can integrate technology with audio in ways that students learn for different disciplines, we may really have something."

Tell me what we have not been paying attention to and how you see technology impacting audio and learning.

BK:  No offense to the other software but for years GarageBand was the staple in audio education. However, that comes with pricey hardware; and for the longest time, a lot of schools couldn't afford Apple hardware to get their hands on GarageBand.

All of a sudden, this software out of Sweden comes out and it's Soundtrap; and it really is the answer that a lot of people were looking for. It's like the “hallelujah moment” where it's GarageBand with the same systems and the same way of recording but now it's in the cloud and available to Chrome devices and Microsoft devices. Both companies ─ Google and Microsoft ─ have struggled for decades to find a creative solution for audio engineering.

There's been third-party software, but it's never been mass-adopted or anything like that.

Soundtrap offers that solution for everybody ─ Apple included. You can put it on an Apple device, on a Google Chrome, and on a Microsoft system. It is a solution for one hundred percent of the classrooms in North America.

Soundtrap 1

RB:  Ben, let's talk about the technologies that are exciting you that you're finding not a lot of people are hearing about that they should. What is exciting to you and what are some areas that you're still looking for answers for innovators to say, “Wait a minute, we need to answer these questions and come up with this innovation”?

BK:  Minecraft in the classroom is huge. I can't understand why it's not being adopted on a huge scale. I realize that there's a Windows 10 component to it and some Office 365 accounts now linked to it and there are some hiccups, but I really do believe after watching the power of Minecraft happen in my room that it is the answer. If you believe in universal design for learning and how students have several ways of representing and presenting their work, Minecraft just solves all of these things. It's inclusion in the classroom.

There are no behavior problems when using Minecraft to demonstrate something.

Minecraft is a big one. I really believe that it should be first and foremost in a lot of people’s minds.

I wish there were a little more advancements on game development in education. The game development market is absolutely huge.

I was telling the kids today that I'm sharing a lot of the game development processes, but there's not much of an audience yet. It's almost like it's not even on the educational radar at this moment.

RB:  What are they missing? I often hear the opposite that there are so many technologies that are gamifying themselves. So from your perspective, what are they missing?

BK:  If you’re gamifying the subject matter… You're right; I see that more broadly. There is some gamifying going on. But in the aspect of actually developing games, students have the hardware and the software available to them ─ free. There are companies like Unity that will give you a free copy of their $1500-dollar license on SketchUp, anytime you want to develop assets for a game. Again, their software is available for free if you ask the right people for it.

I really think that people are unaware that these massive-costing software are available for educational services for free.

Minecraft Villiage

RB:  How do you evaluate technology, Ben? I'm always interested in the ways in which we do that. Is it something that we need to continue to build a skill around?

You hear people talk and it's like they hadn’t updated their own software in the way in which they're looking at technology because it continues to change. Every day is something different.

If we look back to even a year ago, there were things that were going on that today we would probably shake our heads at. But that's okay because we need to not fear the failure part of it.

How can we get better at discerning the quality that is out there?

BK:  I've rated technology for over a decade now. I've rated it in one way for a long time, and that is: “Will it lead to careers for my students?” Because, otherwise, it's just fun and games.

We can support hobbies all we want, but unless we're talking about productive lives through lucrative and important careers, it's just fun and that's where you get the label on some of the technology initiatives in school; it's just being fun.

If you can make it relate to a career, then you're talking about a serious technology that we should consider.

Most recently, it's been the 7Cs, the 21st-Century skills of collaboration, creativity, citizenship, character, computational thinking. The Cs ─ if the technology can support those for me ─ they are priceless.

I rate the Cs higher than the actual curriculum documents that we get from the province, and I'm not sure if I'll be fired for saying that. I really believe that the 7Cs are what's going to translate into jobs for us, Canadians ─ and in North America. It will put us ahead of the competition versus the curriculum outcomes that they're still insisting some kids learn.

RB:  Given those 7Cs, in Canada, do you see where the corporations are looking at those 7Cs? Are you connecting the dots in Canada like we are starting to here in U.S. where we try to communicate what we're teaching kids in schools to skills that apply to the workforce, etc.? Are they doing that in Canada?

BK:  They are. There are certain organizations. I'm part of a group called New Pedagogies for Deep Learning. It's under Dr. Michael Fullan out of the West Coast of Canada. He's got some research which is basically the 6Cs. I added the computational thinking because it sounded more pirate-ish ─ sailing the 7Cs and for other reasons, I'm sure.

But then you have companies like Microsoft who are leading the way. They're acknowledging STEM. They're acknowledging the 21st-century skills as being just as important, if not, more important than the actual curriculum.

I don't want to put words in their mouth but that's the feeling I'm getting. I think it's coming along. I think companies from the smallest ones to the largest ones ─ like Soundtrap, for instance, out of Sweden ─ are really embracing this skills that will lead our students to a successful career and life in the future.

Drone 2

RB:  We'll close with this. Ben, you have a lot of energy and I would imagine that it is infectious with your students and your colleagues. Tell me a little bit about that.

I think we don't do a good job of profiling those who bring great enthusiasm to education. And we need to because young people in your classes are going to be the next Ben Kellys, hopefully.

The only way it will happen is if kids see it as something exciting and something that is changing all the time for the positive and brings learning.

Tell me a little bit about that level of enthusiasm. Is this something that you're conscious of or is it just your pure love of your job?

BK:  Number one, I do love what I do. I love what I do every day. Who wouldn't? I get to come in here and I have HoloLens on my left, Soundtrap on my right, Minecraft in front of me, and Thrones behind me.

Who wouldn't love to come into that atmosphere every day and get to work with students?

The students run to my room, in general, just because it's a technology class. It's generally a class that students can love from Grades 6 through 12.

I’d like to think that it's because of my stories and the humor I provide in awkward situations and stuff like that. I'd like to think that there are other reasons that they're running to the room.

I run a lunchtime Minecraft crew that fills the room; so that's another safe place for them at lunch to go, work and create.

We have grade sixers using Unity 3D to make Xpod games at lunch. It is the enthusiasm. They would have never picked up that Unity 3D if it weren’t for me showing it off.

Peer-wise, they see the smile on my face when I come in the building and I think they equate it to hard work.

We have the Tiny House Program down the hall, one of the first in Canada, where we actually have students building tiny homes for clients.

I believe the enthusiasm is contagious. It doesn't work with all. I'd like to think it works with all but it certainly doesn't work with all teachers and kids. But it's paying off. It helps.

RB:  I think it's wonderful and it is a testament...I wish, as a parent (I've got two little ones) that they will be able to experience the Ben Kellys of the world because it's so important. It is fun. It can be fun.

You've found a fantastic career path and we wish you continued success. Thanks so much, Ben.

BK: Thank you.


Further Reading:

Next Reality - Microsoft Wants to Make HoloLens the Future of Education

Edscoop - Cloud-based music tool engages students on a new level

T|H|E Journal - MusicFirst LMS for Educators Adds Collaborative Tools to Suite


About Ben Kelly:

Ben KellyBen Kelly is a teacher at Caledonia Regional High School at Anglophone East School District in New Brunswick, Canada. Ben is a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, Apple Distinguished Educator, Global Minecraft Mentor, New Brunswick STEM Teacher of the Year 2017 and Soundtrap Ambassador.

He started Canada’s first K-12 Dronography Program, and his students work daily with the Microsoft HoloLens, Xcode, and Swift and other empowering technologies.

Follow Ben Kelly on Twitter.

About Dr. Rod Berger

Dr. Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes.

Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Dr. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.

Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter

More and More, the Presentation Is the Key to Success

Top-flight international universities like the American University of Beirut are producing young entrepreneurs with world class ideas. You don’t often think of Lebanon as a hotbed for EdTech start-ups, but it's quickly becoming one. 

I met Anis Assi at the 2017 World Finals of the Imagine Cup, a competition that gathers some of the best young minds on the planet. Anis’s project, BL!NK, uses technology to help students and professionals evaluate their own presentations. In an entrepreneurial world, the key to success is often in the presentation.

In the near future, when it comes to success, if you don’t BL!NK, you may miss it.


Interview with Anis Assi


Further Reading:

CNBC - Top 3 public speaking tips by the world champ of public speaking

TeenVogue - 9 Public Speaking Tips to Get Over Stage Fright

Tech Republic - Develop your public speaking skills and advance your career


About Anis Assi

Anis Assi HeadshotAnis Assi is a Computer Engineering major at the American University of Beirut. With team Bl!NK, he has competed in the Imagine Cup for three years, winning the nationals in 2015 and making it to the finals this summer. Currently he is interning at AT&T in Florida and will be graduating from the American University of Beirut in 2018.





About Dr. Rod Berger

Dr. Berger is a global education media personality and strategic influencer featured in The Huffington Post, Scholastic, AmericanEdTV, edCircuit, EdTechReview India and Forbes.

Audiences have enjoyed education interviews with the likes of Sir Ken Robinson, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten, Sal Khan along with leading edtech investors, award-winning educators, and state and federal education leaders. Berger’s latest project boasts a collaboration with AmericanEdTV and CBS’s Jack Ford.

Follow Dr. Rod Berger on Twitter.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Down the Hall are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.