Benjamin Owens

Benjamin Owens

Asheville, United States

Ben was a career engineer who became a STEM teacher at a PBL school in rural Appalachia. He now runs a US-based nonprofit that helps schools develop cultures to sustain learner-centered innovations.

Ben Owens worked as a mechanical engineer for 20 years before becoming a STEM teacher at a wall-to-wall PBL school in rural Appalachia. In his 11 year teaching career, he helped transform the school into one that has garnered international recognition for its unique approach to learner-centered innovation, especially for students historically furthest from opportunity. Ben was the 2017 Bridging the Gap Distinguished Teacher in STEM Education; the 2016 SMT Center Outstanding 9-16 Educator; a Hope Street Group National Teaching Fellow; and served on the Gates Foundation Teacher Advisory Council. He is on the National Faculty for PBLWorks, an Open Organization Ambassador, and a routine “Community TA” for the MIT Teaching Systems Lab. He co-authored the book, “Open Up, Education!” and in 2018, founded the non-profit, Open Way Learning, to help schools create the cultural conditions where learner-centered innovations can thrive. 

Why do you want to be a part of the HundrED Community?

I am convinced that the type of change that we need in the education ecosystem is not going to come from traditional institutions. Rather, it will come from the grassroots, crowdsourced ideas that educators share with one another, especially educators working closest with youth. HundrED is ideally suited to enable and drive this type of open sharing to create the change our students deserve.

How can education support students to flourish?

Through empathetic listening that leads to individualized and co-designed action so that students are able to work on things they care about and make differences in their own community and world - now, rather than assuming we are preparing them to make a difference later. In doing so, students see the true joy and wonder of learning and develop skills they can use for a lifetime.

What role does innovation play in education change?

Authentic innovation (vs the overused buzzword) is all about constantly looking for better ways to meet the individual and collective needs and goals of every student. It's not just innovation for innovation's sake or window-dressing on the status quo, but is rooted in novel ways that students can experience a love of learning as they make real contributions to their community - local and global.

Three HundrED innovations you love. (and Why?)

(1) Justice Scholars because students not only learn about the opportunity gap, but are given tools to change it. (2) mastery Transcript because it is a better, and much needed alternative to the outdated way we track and credential students via transcripts. (3) Learning Space Design Lab because it allows educators and students to be active members in the design of a school's space.