Betsy Peisach, Vice President of Education at Maryland Public Television, caught the media bug early. “The majority of my career has been in the media industry driven by a passionate belief in using the power of media for good,” shares Betsy. “This passion took root in 1970 with the debut of Sesame Street and my little sister. Her toddler years included a healthy dose of public television including Sesame Street, Mr Roger’s Neighborhood, and The Electric Company. We watched the shows together, I sang songs with her (those catchy tunes still ring in my head), and observed as she learned numbers and to count, sang all the letters of the alphabet, and eventually learned to read (by age four!).”
With such a strong influence at an early age, Betsy took what she saw and turned it into a career that spans the evolution of incredible products, tools, and resources in the public television space. “I witnessed first-hand how media can truly be a powerful tool in helping children learn and that became my compass.”
Several decades later, Betsy’s still using that compass to steer big projects making a big difference. From the early days of Lure of the Labyrinth, an online game geared towards improving math and literacy among middle-school students, to our latest project putting a musical spin on the Library of Congress’ primary sources, Betsy has helped forge a lasting partnership with FableVision Studios that continues to impact learners today.
In this month’s FableFriday, read on to see the strides Betsy has made to harness the power of public media, the innovative products we’re building together, and the ultimate media toolkit curated by Betsy!
Your commitment to education is nothing short of extraordinary! Tell us a little bit about your roles as MPT’s Managing Director of Education Marketing and Outreach, and your current position as Vice President of MPT’s Education division.
I joined MPT in 2000 on the heels of the education division winning a $10 million dollar grant from the U.S. Department of Education. At that time, technology was beginning to burgeon and our charge was to harness the new digital capabilities for learning. It was a wonderfully exciting time to be in the field, filled with opportunity to produce innovative learning media in engaging new ways to help teachers teach and students learn. We built a robust website called Thinkport that today continues to serve early childhood, K-12 teachers, students, and parents with interactive media and online professional development courses. Our goal is to support teaching and learning with effective technology integration, high-quality digital resources, and to share best practices.
As a statewide public media broadcaster, my role was to bring these rich resources into the classrooms and homes of the early childhood and K-12 education communities. It is always insightful and rewarding to participate at local and national education events to share what’s new, what’s possible, and to get a pulse on what’s happening in the field.
Through the years at MPT, I’ve had the privilege of working with an extraordinary team of talented professionals —educators, producers, content experts, writers. Together, we developed a large catalog of truly cutting-edge interactive media and strong supporting professional development for educators (we won a Webby, Emmy, and other industry awards). My roles morphed and grew in many gratifying ways. Whether marketing, producing, project managing, strategic planning or raising funds; what I fundamentally enjoy the most are: the energy of the collaborative creative process, fostering relationships into meaningful partnerships, working with educators, and knowing that you can make a difference.
Before joining MPT, you worked for the United Broadcasting Company, a national broadcaster of major market radio and cable stations. How does your expertise in radio, television, and film inform your approach to digital education?
Whether you are working in education, or entertainment, the key is to know your audience. Do your research and develop products and services that are relevant and valued.
MPT has a long history of collaboration with FableVision. Together, we’ve created an array of innovative, accessible websites. What has your experience been like working with the FableVision team?
In a nutshell, and to borrow a movie line, ”You had me at hello.” When I met Gary Goldberger, FableVision’s president and co-founder, it was like we were old friends from the onset. Our like-minded enthusiasm for creating high-quality educational media brought together our respective teams and complementary expertise. There is always a lot of respect and laughs in our often lengthy working sessions. Many of the projects we’ve worked on together have challenged us in a positive way, requiring fresh thinking and innovative tech development. We’ve been working with the FableVision team for over ten years, and I hope to continue our relationship far into the future. FableVision always hits a homerun.
Alongside MIT Education Arcade, MPT and the FableVision team crafted Lure of the Labyrinth, an online game geared towards improving math and literacy among middle-school students. What was the thought process behind the game, and what do you think makes it such a lasting, effective learning tool?
Lure of the Labyrinth was a labor of love. It was developed with a grant awarded to MPT in 2007 from the U.S. Department of Education to explore “serious games” and demonstrate how games can help kids learn. An amazing team came together including Scot Osterweil, who led the application of learning and game theory as creative director of the MIT Education Arcade. FableVision created an engaging storyline and a menagerie of mythical monsters in a crazy labyrinth environment for ultimate middle school appeal. Finally, MPT layered the classroom instruction and brought together teacher teams for testing and evaluation.
So why do I think it is such a lasting effective learning tool? Because of its strong pedagogy, appealing story, and most importantly, it’s fun! The game works very well in today’s climate, emphasizing problem solving and critical thinking. Kids work hard to play the puzzles and move through the game while building pre-Algebra math skills. It’s that feeling of accomplishment that makes it so rewarding. Fun fact: Lure of the Labyrinth has an international following with players in Australia and Canada, as well as the U.S.
Speaking of super cool collaborations, you recently teamed up with FableVision, Maryland Humanities, and CIRCLE at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life, and won the Teaching with Primary Sources (TPS) Regional Grant from the Library of Congress! What is TPS and the new project all about? What impact do you hope to achieve?
Civics: An American Musical is sure to be a fantastic project! Inspired by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s renowned musical Hamilton, our project will engage middle schoolers with primary sources from the Library of Congress as they imagine, formulate, and debut their own great American Musical. Components will include an online role-playing game blended with hands-on classroom projects and built-in professional development tools.
The goal of the Library of Congress Teaching with Primary Sources program is to enhance educators’ ability to embed digitized primary sources from the Library’s immense archive into inquiry-based instruction. We will provide teachers with professional learning to understand this process and to effectively use this new tool with their students. Our goal is to create a playful environment in which to build student literacy and critical thinking skills, while making history/civics relatable to the students.
With this great collaborative partnership, I’m certain that a valuable new learning resource will debut in 2020.
Betsy’s Media Favorites:
MPT/PBS show: I do love my PBS and MPT programs. I am looking forward to the next season of Poldark and Victoria, as well as Call the Midwife, Antiques Roadshow (plus MPT’s local version, Chesapeake Collectables) and any and all documentaries. Hamilton’s America is a must see.
Bingable television series: I am anxiously awaiting the next season of the The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and Ozark.
Oscar-worthy film: How does one choose? There’s a quirky film by Wes Anderson called Moonrise Kingdom that I’ve watched a dozen times. I always enjoy watching musicals with my children – The Sound of Music and the like.
Riveting podcast: NPR podcasts, especially The TED Radio Hour and This American Life.
Great reads: Goodnight Moon, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, are my most frequent reads (my daughter had a baby this past year!) Looking forward to adding Peter H. Reynolds’ The Dot to my list. When I’m not reading to my granddaughter, I enjoy historical fiction.
Hamilton song: The Room Where it Happened