LIVE @ ISTE 2024: Exclusive Coverage

Best of ISTE: How to Build Student Engagement

Lego Education hosted a breakfast panel on ISTE Day #1 devoted to one of the most perplexing post-pandemic problems for schools—how to keep kids’ attention. According to a recent survey by Lego, only 35% of US teachers and 31% of administrators describe their schools’ students as “engaged” and only 1 in 3 (37%) US parents say their child tells them about their day without prompting from the parent.

From left: Vicki Davis, Dr. Alex Marrero, Dr. Karen Cheser, Alberto M. Carvalho, Carlanda Miller, and Dr. Jenny Nash.

The conversation covered many topics including the importance of personalized learning, community involvement, and innovative teaching methods. In this highlight, Alberto M. Carvalho, Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District clarifies the district’s recent move to ban the use of cellphones and social media platforms during the school day with an intent to keep students on task in classrooms as well as reduce mental health harms:

For more takeaways from the conversation and bios of the participants, click through:

Carvallo also emphasized the need to assess student learning readiness and address socio-economic challenges by making direct community connections. Karen Cheser, Superintendent of Durango School District (CO) described creating inclusive environments and providing access to educational resources in a rural setting. Dr. Alex Marrero, Superintendent of Denver Public Schools discussed the community hubs initiative in Denver, aimed at leveling the playing field for students facing poverty. Carlanda Miller, also known as The Magical Teacher, shared her approach to motivating students and creating a joyful learning environment. Dr. Jenny Nash, Head of Education Impact, U.S. for LEGO Education, lent an industry perspective.

Key Takeaways

  1. Assessing Student Readiness: Before teaching complex subjects like algebra, it’s crucial to identify and address any learning gaps to ensure students are prepared.
  2. Human Connections: Establishing meaningful relationships with students and their families is essential, especially for those in poverty or dealing with difficult circumstances.
  3. Community Engagement: Direct community involvement, such as door-to-door visits, can significantly improve student attendance and engagement.
  4. Inclusivity and Belonging: Creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for all students, particularly in diverse and rural areas, is vital for student success.
  5. Access to Resources: Providing students with access to educational tools and extracurricular activities helps bridge the gap caused by socio-economic disparities.
  6. Community Hubs: Denver’s hubs serve as resource centers that provide food, educational materials, and support services to students and their families, aiming to create a more equitable educational environment.
  7. Innovative Teaching: Engaging students through creative and interactive methods can foster a love for learning and improve academic outcomes.
  8. Leadership and Passion: Effective educational leadership involves being hands-on, passionate, and supportive, helping both teachers and students to thrive.
  9. Equity in Education: Persistent efforts are needed to ensure that all students, regardless of their background, have equal opportunities to succeed in school.
  10. Intrinsic Motivation: Encouraging students to be motivated by a genuine desire to learn and achieve, rather than external rewards, is key to their long-term success.


Vicki Davis is a 23-year classroom teacher, Instructional Tech Coach, and IT Director. Vicki blogs at the Cool Cat Teacher Blog and hosts the 10 Minute Teacher Podcast. She teaches AP Computer Science Principles and Computer Science and Digital Film courses. As IT Director for 22 years, Vicki has overseen a complete BYOD implementation and a school-wide distance learning program with a 99% attendance rate and zero lost instructional days. Vicki has received numerous awards, including being named a “Top Global Edruptor” by ICS research for 2021 and 2022, being named a top edtech influencer on Twitter, and winning the BAMMY Award for Top Education Podcast Host. In 2022, Vicki was named STAR teacher for her school, region, and district. Vicki has spoken in hundreds of locations worldwide, including Harvard’s Berkman Center, Princeton, Microsoft, and Google, as well as conferences both in the US and internationally. Vicki’s focus is inspiring classroom teachers and administrators who are passionate about student engagement and excellence with world-class ways to use technology, nurture students’ well-being, and the joy of being a teacher. Vicki continues to write for Edutopia and has authored two educational books, Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds, and Reinventing Writing. 

Dr. Alex Marrero has served as the Superintendent of Denver Public Schools since Spring 2021. He oversees Colorado’s largest school district, which includes nearly 85,000 students and 14,000 staff across over 200 schools, and has a budget of $1.45 billion. As the son of a Cuban refugee and a Dominican immigrant, Dr. Marrero understands firsthand and advocates for the diverse needs of his students.

Under his leadership, the district has achieved its highest-ever graduation rates and seen the implementation of its first-ever equity-based strategic plan. His efforts have significantly raised salaries and established living wages for all employees, while enhancing school safety and cybersecurity. His strategies have successfully moved 12 schools off the State Accountability Clock. He established the Latine Education Advisory Council (LEAC) to enhance educational outcomes for Latino/Hispanic students, launched the International Educators Institute to aid new international teachers in adapting to the educational system and community, and opened six community hubs. These hubs connect students, families, and community members with free services to increase their economic self-sufficiency and academic success.

Before his tenure at Denver Public Schools, Dr. Marrero served as Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction in New Rochelle, where he became the first Latinx head of the city’s school system. His experience in education extends further to significant positions within the East Ramapo Central School District and the NYC Public Schools.

Dr. Marrero’s leadership has been widely recognized with several awards, including Superintendent of the Year by the District Administration Leadership Institute and the Colorado Association of Latino/a Administrators and Superintendents, both for 2024. He was named a “Superintendent to Watch” in 2022 by the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) and one of “5 Superintendents to Watch in 2023” by K-12 Dive. His earlier accolades include the Leadership and Excellence in Education Award from the Association of Dominican-American Supervisors and Administrators and the National Administrator of the Year by the Association for Latino Administrators and Superintendents.

Beyond his role in Denver, Dr. Marrero is deeply involved in educational leadership on a national scale. He serves as President-Elect of the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, an Executive Board Member for the Council of Great City Schools, and a member of the Homeland Security Academic Partnership Council. Governor Polis also selected him to serve on the Business Experiential Learning (BEL) Commission.

Dr. Marrero holds advanced degrees and certifications, including a Doctorate in Educational Leadership from Russell Sage College and certificates from Harvard and Columbia Universities. His leadership philosophy is centered on empowering every student, regardless of their background, to overcome obstacles and become innovative leaders in their fields, reflecting his personal journey and commitment to educational excellence.

Alberto M. Carvalho has served as Superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest school district, since February 2022. He was selected by the Los Angeles Unified Board of Education in a unanimous vote following a comprehensive community engagement process and a nationwide search. Since starting at Los Angeles Unified, Superintendent Carvalho has led the development and implementation of the District’s unanimously approved 2022-2026 Ready for the World Strategic Plan. Numerous initiatives and ideas have enhanced the plan, including the launch of the STEAM Lab Makerspaces, Education Transformation Office, Cultural Arts Passport, and Family Academy.

Through Superintendent Carvalho’s leadership, Los Angeles Unified has also established seven new education compacts between the District and local municipalities, made significant progress in greening schools, and secured upgraded credit ratings, generating millions in savings. During his 14-year tenure as Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools (M-DCPS), Superintendent Carvalho garnered local, state, national, and international recognition. His honors include being named Florida’s 2014 Superintendent of the Year, the 2014 National Superintendent of the Year, the 2016 winner of the Harold W. McGraw Prize in Education, the 2018 National Urban Superintendent of the Year, and the 2019 National Association for Bilingual Education (NABE) Superintendent of the Year. Under his leadership, M-DCPS became one of the nation’s highest-performing urban school systems, receiving systemwide accreditation from AdvancEd in 2014 and 2019. M-DCPS was named as the 2014 College Board Advanced Placement Equity and Excellence District of the Year and the 2012 winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education.

Superintendent Carvalho is now seeking to elevate Los Angeles Unified to the premier spot in American urban education. Superintendent Carvalho was appointed by the U.S. Secretary of Education to serve on the National Assessment Governing Board. He has served as a committee member for the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine and is currently serving as an Advisory Committee Member to the Harvard Program on Education Policy and Governance. Superintendent Carvalho is also a dedicated member of the Homeland Security Academic Partnership Council, the National Board of Directors for Common Threads the Posse Foundation, the Aspen Institute’s Planet Media Task Force, and Superintendent Carvalho has been awarded many honorary degrees. He has been honored by the President of Portugal with the “Ordem de Mérito Civil” and by Mexico with the “Ohtli Award.” He was also knighted by King Felipe VI of Spain with the Official Cross of the Orden de Isabel la Católica. 

Karen Cheser, Ed.D., is the proud Superintendent of Durango School District and was previously Superintendent of the Fort Thomas Schools in Kentucky. Prior to working in education in several positions (teacher, coach, literacy and math specialist, principal, state Distinguished Educator and district administrator) Karen worked for Procter & Gamble Inc. in sales management. Karen is a member of the 2022-23 Colorado Governor’s Fellowship, chairs the SW Colorado Education Collaborative and serves on the Durango Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors as well as the LaPlata County Economic Development Alliance. She has been instrumental in bringing innovation, student agency, and a focus on future workforce to schools and communities through such projects as Durango’s Impact Career and Innovation Center, the Ignite Institute, LEGO League Robotics and the KY Governor’s School for Entrepreneurs. Karen served as national Vice-Chair of EdLeader21 and represents Colorado on the CoSN National Superintendents’ Panel and SEEC (Superintendents’ Environmental Education Collaborative). With experience in both education and industry, she is committed to creating partnerships that fuel the economic pipeline and create meaningful career paths for all students. Karen is mom to two college-aged sons, wife to an entrepreneur/ woodworker, loves to travel, and coaches robotics in her spare time. 

Carlanda Miller, also known as The Magical Teacher, is a distinguished educator with 12 years of experience across various grade levels and leadership roles. She leads nationwide Professional Development and delivers inspiring keynotes to students and educators. Carlanda’s innovative teaching methods have earned her recognition, including being named FUSD’s Elementary Teacher of the Year for the 2017-18 school year, California’s 2018 Celebrity Educator of the Year, finalist for FUSD’s Excellence in Education for 2021-22, and honored as one of Walt Disney World’s 50 Most Innovative Educators. Carlanda is also a children’s book author, bringing engaging and educational stories to young readers. As a LEGO Education Ambassador, she champions learning through play, inspiring creativity and critical thinking in students. 

Dr. Jenny Nash serves as Head of Education Impact, U.S. for LEGO® Education, where she provides leadership in delivering meaningful learning experiences for students. As an advocate for playful hands-on learning, she is focused on instilling confidence in learning in students and teachers to build academic and 21st-century skills that will create active, collaborative, lifelong learners. She has worked in various levels of education, including as a middle and high school science teacher, professional development provider, and educational specialist. Dr. Jenny has presented at SXSW EDU, ISTE, CSTA, and NSTA among others; been quoted in publications such as Fast Company, TODAY, and District Administration; and was recognized as an Influential Woman in STEM and Tech.

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