Verses Education
Published in

Verses Education

Power Up! Badge Summit Preview with Cate Tolnai

If you didn’t know that we’re out to change the world, now you will.

Cate brings the fun + the meaningfulness

Cate Tolnai is the Kevin Bacon of Feel Good Education; if there’s something in EDU that feels good for the world, Cate is someone who is always a part of it or only a few degrees of separation removed from it. She is a Teacher, a Leader, and a Dreamer.

Her previous work in designing and implementing digital badge credentials in Santa Clara County is inspirational and she brings that same passion and spark to her current role at CUE, where she is the Director of Member Engagement.

One of the first chatters to hop on #BadgeChat and an essential mover and shaker behind the scenes at Badge Summit, Cate generously shared time with me to talk about the evolution of badges, her new book published by ISTE and, of course, Badge Summit!

Congratulations on your new book with Lindsey Blass, Power Up Your Classroom: Reimagine Learning Through Gameplay! For folks unfamiliar with the topic, what can they look forward to in the book?

Thank you so much for asking! We are thrilled that this book, this mindset, is actually in print — or it will be on June 15. (It’s available for pre-order via Amazon, ISTE, and Barnes and Noble.) “Power Up Your Classroom” starts a conversation around the instructional value of play. So often, we hear that teachers struggle to engage their learners, that there isn’t time or motivation to create dynamic lessons, and that tech issues (or lack of devices) gets in the way of innovation.

Together, we started to wonder … what if? What if we designed learning experiences that leveraged the power of gameplay to create more motivated learners? What if we modeled this type of learning with educators so they could experience the impact firsthand and spread the excitement and innovation in their classrooms? What if learning was fun for both students and teachers?

That’s where “Power Up Your Classroom” comes in. From frameworks to practical tips to case studies of instructional game masters in action, this book builds the case for game-based learning and arms you with tools you need to assess games that already exist and design your own. And as a bonus, the book is a game! As you read, you complete challenges, progress through a game board, and clarify your new skills in real time.

I was lucky enough to see the two of you present a poster session on this topic, so it’s cool to see it emerge a few years later as a book. Did it help to share your ideas so publicly with sessions and workshops before sitting down to write and publish?

Completely! In fact, it was our public work in this area that brought us the opportunity to write this book. As part of a strategic initiative, the ISTE publishing team set out to attract fresh voices for a fresh audience of educators. After they initiated preliminary conversations with us, we decided to take the leap with them and attempt to capture our passion around gamification, personalized learning, game-based lesson design, and celebration — in a book. Fingers crossed we hit the mark!

You were one of the first people to jump on the #BadgeChat hashtag (way back when it was the less inclusive #badgechatk12!) so you’ve had several years now to watch the world of digital badge credentials. What have you observed in it’s changes and/or growth?

Oh my goodness… I have such a soft spot for #BadgeChat in my professional heart. I first discovered the MOOCs, digital badges, and micro-credentials back in 2013. I immediately saw the long-term impact on professional learning and I dove right in to revise our district staff development plan. When I discovered that there were other educators doing this very work right there on Twitter, I wasted no time reaching out via the weekly #badgetchatk12 Twitter chat. And let’s be honest, Noah, you have a remarkable way of bringing people together both virtually and in-person to share, connect, and grow together. While I am not as involved in the community now as I was before, my professional trajectory was (and still is) greatly impacted by the community.

I so appreciate your leadership and involvement with Badge Summit! You put so much into this, there must be something that you get out of it as well. What do you look forward to with this conference?

My heart sings for educators and leaders looking to better the professional growth of other educators. The moment I stepped out of the middle school History classroom and into the role as a district EdTech TOSA back in 2013, I knew that I had found my calling — to support educators and help them take their own personal next step. I firmly believe that our students will never truly get the type of learning and instructional opportunities that they deserve if we don’t first give it to the teachers. The Badge Summit is an annual event that brings together so many stakeholders who are invested in sharing perspectives, learning from each others’ moments of success and failure, and pushing themselves to new levels of innovation.

I had the amazing opportunity to be one of the panelists on the keynote Failure Panel at the 2018 Badge Summit in Chicago. Not only had I never heard of a “failure panel” before, but I was going to sit in front of hundreds of professionals and own my pain points in the most public way. And you know what? It was one of the best experiences I have had at any conference to date. By modeling vulnerability and learning-through-failure, we gave permission to other innovators to do the same. I can’t wait to go to the 2019 Badge Summit and find out where people are at with their projects and initiatives a year later. What lessons have they learned? What suggestions do they have for newcomers and those of us shifting across the professional jungle gym into new interest areas and career paths? Oh my gosh… I’m so excited to surround myself for this one day with people who are pushing the boundaries of education in such specific and dynamic ways.

Registration for the 2019 Badge Summit is live at, where you can also get more information about the conference and see content from previous years. If you’ve got awesome work to share, please do click on the Present tab and lets us know about it so we can give you space to amplify how you too are changing the world!

Other Badge Summit related posts you might like :



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store