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Helmut Schmidt, Published August 09 2013

TEDxFargo aims to turn educational ideas into action

FARGO – Manix Zepeda got an education reboot Friday.

The principal of West Fargo’s L.E. Berger Elementary School took in TEDxFargo, and says the event’s theme of “Rethink Learning” is right for the times.

It’s important “not to limit ourselves,” but embrace “what it can be,” Zepeda said.

Several hundred area teachers were among the more than 500 people at the city’s fourth TEDx event in 18 months.

The crowd at the Fargo Theatre was treated to nearly 20 live speakers and several video talks on topics ranging from creating “schools in the cloud” to de-stressing our lives.

Greg Tehven, curator of TEDxFargo, said he heard educators talk about taking more risks after the morning session.

“The hope is to move ideas to impact,” Tehven said. “That we would turn ideas into action.”

Adam Gehlhar, an assistant principal at West Fargo’s STEM Center and a TEDx speaker, said the “learning by doing” model integral to science, technology, engineering and math) education can help all students.

He called for creating spaces to learn and for collaboration between teachers.

“That’s really what we’re going to have to do, is come together, and unite around this theme of rethinking learning,” Gehlhar said.

Monsignor James Patrick Shea, president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, told TEDxers that “if we want to be really great, we have to get over ourselves.”

To Shea, you can’t have success without allowing learning to handle failure.

Our weaknesses “are the most important part of who we are,” said Shea, who took some knocks as the nation’s youngest university president. He was 33 when he was hired in December 2008.

“I make paper airplanes out of my hate mail and I’ve got enough of a fleet to invade Canada,” he joked.

Sugatra Mitra, a professor of educational technology at Newcastle University in England, in his TEDx video encouraged the creation of a “school in the cloud” that encourages children to use technology for self-learning.

Mitra said his “hole in the wall” computer experiments show that even the poorest of children, given access to a computer, can achieve great things with encouragement.

“Tomorrow, could it be we don’t go to school at all?” he asked.

Eric Mahmoud, president, CEO and founder of Seed Academy and Harvest Preparatory School in Minneapolis, said it’s vital that the nation solve the educational achievement gap between ethnic groups.

Mahmoud emphasized keeping high expectations for students, and encouraging them to focus on those goals to get past struggles.

He encouraged all educators to tell their charges, “Don’t quit. Keep Going. I believe in you!”

Jolene Beckman, who works with gifted and talented students in West Fargo public schools, said Mitra and Mahmoud’s words struck home.

“It makes you think about it. Encouragement for kids is really important in learning,” she said.

The U.S. education system needs reforming, but education remains the silver bullet for success, Jaime Casap, the global education evangelist for Google Inc., said.

Casap said the possibilities of technology make him optimistic. Students can tap the knowledge of 10,000 libraries in their smart phones. But teachers need support too.

“Technology is not the silver bullet. Education is the silver bullet,” he said. “Our future depends on it.”

Talks not directly tied to education were educational.

Heidi Manning, a Concordia College physics professor working with the Mars rover Curiosity project, talked about investigating the environmental history of Mars to determine if the Red Planet ever held life.

Meanwhile, Brenda Flaugher, a scientist in the Fermilab Center for Particle Astrophysics, talked about her work to build a 5-ton digital camera to study the “dark energy” that fuels our universe’s expansion.

And Dr. Lissa Rankin urged doctors to stop medicating patients for stress, and instead encourage them to de-stress.

If doctors only treat the symptoms, our lives remain unhealthy, she said.

“I have a dream of a healed health system,” she said. “We need to reclaim the soul medicine.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583