Ode to the 8-bit Classroom

The Origin Story

In the summer of 2014 I received my very own classroom and became a teacher. I was excited to meet my third-graders in September. I was excited to exercise everything I had learned in my credential program at UCI. But one of the first things I had to do was decide what I wanted my classroom to look like.

And if you know me, I’m not quick to make decisions.

At that point in my life I had already stepped into hundreds of classrooms as a substitute teacher. And I had a hand in putting together a classroom with my mentor teachers. College theme, Harry Potter theme, sports theme, etc.–with all these ideas, I felt choice paralysis. What kind of theme was right for me?

I couldn’t pick one, so I broke up the task into smaller parts. I could at least pick a background color and border. I had fallen in love with the fabric other teachers used instead of paper. So I made a trip to Jo-Ann’s Fabrics and picked up green, a color I did not see anymore since chalkboards were gone. I didn’t want the walls to be so bright that they attracted attention, so I picked a dimmer forest green. And on the borders, I picked black ribbon. Solid. Simple. Elegant.

The walls were covered and I could have been done there. After all, classroom decorations are not a requirement from a pragmatic perspective. But I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to show a little bit more.

I recalled a conversation I had with my kindergarten teacher Ms. Nguyen. I had visited her when after I had graduated to thank her and tell her the big news. She said something that sticks with me to this day. While reminiscing about how I was a student in her second year of teaching, she said what kept her going was she wanted to make school a place where her students wanted to be. I could attest to that. I had toys, tv, and my mom at home, but at school, I had things to color, props to make believe, and a playground to run across.

How do I make a classroom where students want to be? I stepped in my own shoes from long, long ago. If I could make a classroom in which I wanted to belong, what would I include?

And it came to me: I love video games! I grew up with video games. I still play video games to this day.

I mean, I wouldn’t bring video games into the classroom, but I could bring in inspiration from video games: the artwork, the mechanics, the feeling. And what do kids love? MINECRAFT. I used a third party website to design some titles for each of my bulletin boards in the style of Minecraft. I printed out designs of LEGO figurines because I love those games and bricks. I even planned out a first week art activity where students would create their own pixelated avatar.

This would be a classroom where I would want to be. It would be a way I could connect with students about who I am, what I grew up with, and how they relate to the same experiences in the modern age.

The summer break was coming to an end, yet somehow word had already spread that there was a Minecraft Classroom on campus. Though it was not surprising as I would be teaching many of my fellow teachers’ kids that year. No pressure. And in today’s world, teachers also wear the hat of a web designer; I had published some images and theming on our classroom website which was likely the other source of spread.

Yet I started to get worried–if everyone calls it the Minecraft Classroom, how will they feel when I break the news to them that we wouldn’t actually be playing Minecraft? Is Microsoft going to go after me if I assume the name? I needed to distance myself from the Minecraft brand and bring it back to a more general love for retro video games and playtime. But school was about to start.

My third graders and I just clicked on the first day of school. They were saddled with expectations of having a teacher who understood the experience of being a kid as much as he looked like a kid. It would be the first of many great days. At dismissal as students were walking out the door, one student remarked to me, “Mr. Dang, I really like the art on the walls. It reminds me of 8-bit video games.” The ‘8-bit’ part didn’t hit me at the time because I was so happy to hear that, but a seed was planted.

It wasn’t until I was finalizing my Back to School Night PowerPoint presentation and needing to name the title slide that it dawned on me. Minecraft Classroom… Pixel Classroom… Retro Classroom? 8-bit Classroom… just like my student had mentioned! That’s right. As someone who dislikes naming things and is generally slow at it, I managed to think up 8-bit Classroom because I needed to make a PowerPoint slide.

As with all names, they are not official until you get it as a domain. So on September 13, 2014, six years ago to this day, the 8-bit Classroom was founded.

The 8-bit Classroom

At a surface level, the 8-bit Classroom was a theme that helped me to learn about my students’ likes and for my students to get to know me. At a deeper level, it was a spirit of play that manifested itself in my lesson design. Students learn when they have a worthwhile project. And when they have worthwhile things to do, they look forward to the next day in school.

When we were learning about area and perimeter in math, we demonstrated our learning of the concepts in a post-it note, pixel art project. Students designed an art piece in small groups. Each group received a virtual budget with which to ‘purchase’ post-it notes of various colors. They used multiplication and repeated addition concepts to calculate the cost of post-it notes they would need. They measured the area and perimeter of different shapes in their art. Then their art became featured on our door and in the school office as a celebration of learning.

There was some math left for me to do too!

We didn’t need to play a video game to live out the 8-bit Classroom dreams. Instead we had a sacred hour of Invention Time when students thought up solutions to real life problems. How do you minimize the amount of water that is wasted when you’re waiting for it to be warm enough to shower? Using cardboard, drawing, or any preferred medium, students made diagrams and schemes on how to solve the problem. Then with our classroom robot, Bit, we recorded presentations of our creations.

It was as much fun for me to design projects as it was for the students to complete them. Validated, I carried on the torch to the next generation of third graders.

A Change

I could not have predicted the turn of events in 2016 that changed me. I am about to share a part of my journey that I’ve told very few people. It is one of the missing pieces that helps to answer the question, “How does a teacher suddenly decide to build apps?”

The names and pronouns of some involved in what I am about to share have been anonymized for their privacy.

Coming back from winter break, I was so eager to roll out several new math games I had created in my time off. Everyone was going to love it, I thought. But not everyone was in school.

When I went up to the office during lunch time, our school secretary had notified me why one of my students had been absent from school. Their father had died in a car accident over New Years.

I couldn’t process what I had just heard. Thoughts raced through my head and I needed to talk to someone about it. Stumbling into the lounge, I heated up my lunch. How do I bring this up with the other teachers? How do I tell the students? Do I tell the students?

The reality sank in more and more as I sat motionless without having taken any bite. Conversations continued among the other 3rd and 4th grade teachers. Then as though my thoughts overflowed to a level where I lost control, I blurted out, “I need your help.”

Only the gentle hum of the refrigerator could be heard in the silence of the room. “My student just lost his father,” I continued, my voice growing more uncertain with each word. “How do I tell my students? Should I tell them?” thoughts from my stream of consciousness spilled out verbatim.

I don’t remember the details at that point. Maybe it was because the other thoughts in my head crowded anything else from making sense. All I remember is that the lunch bell rang and I felt unprepared to return to the classroom. I carried a pit in my stomach as I grew closer and closer to my classroom at the edge of the school.

Even mere steps away from the door, I continued to flip-flop. “I can’t tell them.” “But I need to say something.” To this day I’m not sure how I finally made up my mind or if I made the right decision or not, but I called my students to the carpet.

“I need to talk to you about why [] is not in school.” I started.

And in the greatest blunder of all time, I started to sob before I finished my next thought, leaving students in a gasp.

“[] is okay,” I struggled to say at last. “But they have just lost their father.”

Everything that I had been holding in since hearing it from our secretary came out all at once. I felt I could not stop crying. My classroom aide, Mrs. Collins, and my students came around to comfort me for what felt like several minutes before I calmed down.

Then in the most innocent of questions, one of my third graders asked, “Mr. Dang, why are you crying if [] is okay. It was not your father.” It was this thought that put my pain into perspective and helped me make sense of how I felt.

I was crying because this was someone I had known. Someone I had met at parent conferences. One of the parents I invited as a guest speaker for an upcoming unit. I was crying for myself. This was someone who was my age. Someone who was geeky like me. If it could happen to them, it could happen to me I thought. I was crying because I didn’t know about this earlier and didn’t check in. I was crying because I didn’t know if I was doing the right thing or not in telling the students. I was crying because of how I would feel if I were to lose my own father. I was crying on behalf of my student who had just lost their father. I was crying because nobody needs a reason to cry.

I don’t remember much about how I got through the rest of that day and the rest of the week. Somehow, my students were calm throughout the whole talk.

What stuck with me are the words Mrs. Collins told me as we set out for the day:

You need to take care of yourself.
Don’t do any grading.
Don’t do any planning.
Just spend time on yourself.
Everything else can wait.”

Mrs. Collins knew I would try to carry on business as usual. But she also predicted I would fail if I tried with my state of mind. She gave me permission… to give myself permission to drop everything and focus on the things that matter. I shouldn’t have needed her permission, but I needed it.

I listened to her. And these words changed my life forever.

A Fateful Invitation

I was convinced that I would not do anything school-related over the weekend. The only problem was deciding what I should do. I did not feel like doing the things I enjoyed like watching a show or playing a video game.

Unsure of my options, I remembered an email that had been sitting in my inbox. On November 30, 2015, I had signed up for the Beta of something called PowerApps (no space at the time, hereafter including the space). I had been previously using an app called Project Siena to create solutions in my classroom for assessing math facts. Its lifetime was winding down and Power Apps would be its replacement. Jon Levesque had posted a link to sign up either in a tweet or on the TechNet forums. As someone who had enjoyed beta testing maps in Warcraft III and being a Windows Insider, I jumped on the opportunity.

An email invitation that accepted me into the Beta program had been sitting in my inbox since early January. But, being a teacher, I figured I would have gotten around to testing it during Spring Break or more likely Summer Break. Given the circumstances I was in, it seemed like an okay time to change those plans.

I accepted the invitation, downloaded, and opened up the editor. I had gotten deep into a project that it helped to clear my mind and breathe. There was order where I felt disorder. It was an escape, but it was also rehabilitating. The apps I created would later help me catch up on tasks I had put off during my retreat.

Over the course of the next week, my student returned to school and saw their friends. I appreciate how strong third-graders are in uplifting each other. Seeing their interactions helped me cope as well. My fellow teachers and school counselor supported me in my grief; I could not make it without their ear. Then after school and on the weekends, I made more progress on my Power Apps. All of these factors combined helped me heal.

My student moved to where the rest of their family lived. In a couple of weeks, a service was held and I was invited. I did not need to know how far it was, only that I wanted to be there for my own sense of closure. It turned out to be three hours away, which meant another three hours back. It was a quiet. Calm.

I remember a eulogy given by his brother. He recounted the memories they had growing up. It chewed me up inside all over again–this time I was thinking about how I would feel if I were to lose one of my own siblings. But it also reminded me to cherish the time we still have together on earth. That was the perspective and path I needed to come back to normal.

I can’t say that everything was the same normal as before. I was a markedly different person now.

Driving home, I had time to reflect on the relationships I had with my family, my friends, my colleagues, my students. Power Apps took a back seat again to the weekends, but I was ever grateful that it was there to complement all the other support I was receiving.

Give Yourself Permission

I had not shared this full story publicly before. I didn’t know how to talk about it. I seek no pity. I accept all criticism of how I handled myself. This is simply my truth.

I cannot turn back the clock and revise how events unfolded. But I do want to impart some cautionary messages.

Your health is more important than work.

We all say things like “your health is the most important thing.” How much we believe that to be true is tested by our actions. Are we willing to take a day off work for our health? For employers, do you provide adequate services and time off?

In my case, had Mrs. Collins not explicitly told me to not think about work, I likely would have tried to maintain normalcy. And I would have failed. While I wish we all could be our own arbiters of what’s needed for our health, sometimes we need that extra nudge from someone else as we move towards truly believing that our own health is more important than our work.

Our fellow teachers and our students are there to pick us up. We can rely on them for help in our times of need.

Everything else can wait.

When I was growing up, I didn’t have visibility into my grades until the end of the quarter or semester. I might have a vague sense of my grades given my performance on certain tests, though I would have liked to have a little bit more transparency. It wasn’t until I was in college did I have a portal where my professors submitted grades. Even then, grades consisted of only midterms, finals, and essays.

In the modern classroom, teachers submit grades to an online gradebook. Unlike college, the K-6 classroom includes grades for every subject: math, language arts, science, social studies, etc. It is updated regularly with summative and formative assessments for each subject. That’s a big task that induces anxiety if you’re a teacher trying to keep it current or a parent wondering if it is.

So imagine my horror when I committed myself to not grading until I was well. I braced myself for backlash, but it never came. Every family was supportive and understanding. How could anyone do that under these circumstances?

I came to a realization that posting or not posting online grades did not change the learning outcomes. What actually mattered was the formative feedback I gave immediately during instruction. This was indicative to my students and me on where their understanding was and what their next steps were. Posting online grades was more of an exercise in transparency that made more sense in more manageable intervals than daily or even weekly.

If this revelation about grading was true, what else was I doing that I needed to review?

Give yourself permission to drop everything.

The tragedies I encountered in 2016 did not end in January. A friend had lost his sister and another student I would eventually have had lost their parent as well. And in each case, I wept as I placed myself in their situation.

So I urge you…

If you not spent enough time with your family and friends, drop everything at work and take time to be with them. Be present.

Give yourself permission to take care of the ones you love.

Give yourself permission to halt all the routines and processes that take time away from your family. Re-evaluate how they are done so you can reclaim the time for what truly matters. And if life moved on with one less TPS report that was filled out, then maybe it wasn’t needed in the first place.

Work will always be there. The system will continue to run. But the time you have now is finite.

I share these ideals, but they are just that–ideals. I cannot say I have completely adopted them for myself, but they are what I strive to believe.

A New Outlook

I moved to a new school for the Fall of my third year teaching. As I said my farewells to my fellow teachers at my first school, with the new skills I had learned, I promised that I would continue to share with them solutions that would make our job easier and let us recoup time: time for our students, time for our families, time for ourselves.

I had always been a problem solver. I created solutions in Microsoft Excel, though not everyone was familiar or comfortable with spreadsheets. There were many cells that you could interact with that made it difficult to know what to do. And macros included scary security warnings upon opening. So no teachers were willing to use them with good reason.

At my new school, I decided to share some apps I had created on Power Apps. I previously kept my apps to myself at my first school as I was not ready to be tech-support for apps I was still developing. I had great luck to be on the same team as Kathy and Tasha. They helped get me up to speed on fourth grade and I helped create tools we used for gamification.

So in the summer ahead of the new school year, I had my first renaissance of app building. It was months of time off that I always used for video games and self-improvement. But this summer would be different.

Community of Practice

Pokemon Go had come out around early July. I grew up with Pokemon and loved its game design. I was one of those die-hard fans who had downloaded the app so early at launch that I was not able to play immediately as the servers were so full. The app broke all records.

Living in the same neighborhood that I taught, students and their families would see me on a jog at the local parks catching Pokemon. But the craze did not last long for me. It wasn’t that I lost interest in the game–in fact, I liked it so much that I wanted to make my own.

I was crazy. How does someone who has no game development experience decide to create an app similar to the number one app in the world? There were no guides. There were no tutorials. All I had was a blank canvas, a lot of time, and a passion to create.

By July 15, 2016, less than two weeks of playing Pokemon Go, I not only had a working example of a pseudo-augmented reality experience in Power Apps, but I had shared a tutorial on how to achieve the same with the rest of the Power Apps community.

Pokemon Go game mechanics replicated – Power Platform Community (microsoft.com)

It was the summer now, and I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted. So when I wasn’t developing my own Pokemon Go experience inside Power Apps, I was helping to answer questions on the community forums. On the previous community for Project Siena, I had been a “lurker”, mostly reading posts and observing from a distance. But in Power Apps, I became a regular.

It was on the forums that I had met PK Hong, Audrie Gordon, Pratap Ladhani, and Carlos Figueira. Pratap and Carlos were from the product team and regularly responded to my tough questions. Audrie was a forum member at the time and asked lots of good how-to questions that I was able to answer. PK shared lots of how-tos and lists of new features he liked.

PK and I had had some side conversations outside the forums. As he was also responsible for many answers, I consulted him on patterns for writing records. And he would create demo apps with the patterns I could try. I learned a lot by taking apart his app. But soon, PK started asking me questions. Most of the time, I actually didn’t know the answer. But I wanted to find one for him anyway. It was through our exchanges and my Pokemon Go-like app that I accelerated my learning in ways that I could never have predicted.

Somehow, this elementary-school teacher from Orange County had received the most kudos and answered the most questions on the forums. Understandably, unlike everyone else, I was technically unemployed over the summer while everyone else was still working a job. I never set out to achieve this; it just happened.

Although I completed my Pokemon Go-like app and it tailored it with math experiences, I never really implemented it into my instruction. I didn’t need to. It served its purpose as an exercise in improving my skills that I applied to other apps I created. Since then, I had recreated the same app at least 3 times with each version more efficient than the last using new patterns I developed. And again, every time, it was an app that wasn’t designed for anyone to play.

Over the course of 2016-2017, with the support of my fourth graders and my fellow fourth grade teachers, I created apps for identifying spelling patterns, visualizing digital manipulatives for math, tracking the Gold Rush, and more. And when I saw how my apps helped me differentiate my math instruction successfully, I knew I was on to something.

I was creating math visuals that provided feedback for difficult concepts like finding equivalent fractions and comparing fractions. But they went beyond that–they recorded formative assessment data for my students that I did not need to score myself. Using Microsoft Flow (now Power Automate) my apps could raise a flag by adding a to-do list item when it identified a student in need. And because all this data was in a table, I could surface that regular progress to my parents in another app without lifting a finger.

I was able to gather the right data. I was able to give feedback. I was able to save myself time grading. I owned the data–I did not need to go elsewhere to retrieve it or worry about privacy. I could clear the data when I wanted to and scope them to whatever time frame I wanted. The data analyzed itself and I needed only take action on it during instruction. All of these benefits were something that only someone who had the knowledge of pedagogy together with application development could devise.

If I only had more time, I could create even more experiences that did not already exist and needed to exist. But weekends and holidays were not enough for what I wanted to achieve. After talking about it with Kathy, Tasha, and my principal, I decided to take a leave of absence from the next year of instruction. My position was secured, and I would be able to return the following year. My goal was to return with all the apps I had ever wanted in hand.


In the 7th grade, I had taken an Intro to Tech class. I remember reading a passage with this strange French-looking word: entrepreneurship. Having gone through school to become a teacher, I expected to be in the field of education for the rest of my life. But here I was embarking on the journey of entrepreneurship.

Fueled by the well wishes of my students and teachers, I experienced my second renaissance in the summer of 2017. By this point, my skill was at a level where, over the course of one weekend in the last month of school, I had been able to create my own Twitter app for my classroom to communicate with a student who had moved away and to celebrate about the last week’s activities with each other. When I boiled it all down, Twitter was just a searchable table of text with a pretty interface. I felt I could create anything.

Yet the brightest of flames burned too quickly. While I created many solutions through the middle of July, a feeling of dread crept over me. I felt I had made a huge mistake in leaving the classroom. I loved teaching and missed it dearly. But moreover–I never told my parents, my brothers, or my sisters about this decision. It wasn’t that I thought they would disapprove; I knew they would support whatever I did. It’s that I told very few people because I was afraid they wouldn’t really understand what I was up to. I was afraid of telling anyone who didn’t share the same passion and context. I knew I was taking a huge risk–I didn’t want anyone to discourage me. And yet it was I who discouraged myself, trapped in my own thoughts.

Though from a more realistic point of view, September would be coming up quickly, and having told my parents I would be moving home to save money, they would be wondering why I was still on the couch and not going to work.

In my despair, I did not feel like making anymore apps. I did not even feel like going on the forums to geek out about Power Apps. I went dark. This was supposed to be my time to shine, but my grand plans to make all these apps for my teachers started to fall apart.

Perhaps it was my high expectations I was holding myself to, or the fear of telling my parents the truth that caused me anxiety.

What brought me back to reality was a curious direct message I received from Samit Saini. Over the summer, Samit reached out to me on Twitter with a question about Power Apps. I was not one to say no to someone who asked for help. So knowing nothing about Samit, who he was, where he was from, or where he worked, I responded. Through our exchange, we eventually set up some Skype calls where I helped with some patterns for declaring variables and more. Samit rekindled my love for helping others. He reminded me how much I liked making Power Apps. He made me feel purpose, a basic human instinct.

But he wasn’t the only one. I was uplifted by Daniel Christian, one of the first MVPs for Power Apps. He had shared a tic-tac-toe app on Twitter. I found it and remixed it with some multiplayer capability. We recorded a video together where we played the same app across a long distance and in real-time. We were like Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Watson transmitting the first phone call.

(27) Build your own X&0’s app using PowerApps – YouTube

On one of our calls, Daniel told me something I’ll never forget. He said I could be the next Laura Rogers, another MVP I geek out about in the Power Apps and SharePoint space. That’s the equivalent of saying someone could be the Mr. Excel of Power Apps.

Then there was Ashlee Culmsee and Paul Culmsee. When Audrie had posed an innocent question asking how someone could make a fidget spinner in which you could actually control its spin, and not just a GIF, all of us sat on our arm chairs and shared how we would do it. Ashlee did it. She created a fidget spinner in Power Apps and shared it with the world. I was in awe of the maths that was in the app and how the community geeked out together on such a fun problem. Later I had a call with Paul and he shared how the two of them were traveling and teaching Power Apps in hackathons. The father-daughter duo was an inspiration to me.

In the Orange County area, there were more encounters as well. I was spotted at an event in Irvine where Daniel Stewart saw me playing with Power Apps in the back of the conference room. He recognized me as mr-dang from the forums and thanked me for my answers. I did not realize I had that kind of an impact.

I reflected on my goals thus far. I had left the classroom to become an app developer for educational apps. But in my blindspot, I did not realize, that I, an actual classroom teacher, could be teaching Power Apps, not just making them.

By December of 2017, I was feeling a renewed spirit. If I was able to learn how to make apps myself, I could teach someone, and they teach someone in turn. We would start a revolution.

The 8-bit Classroom was no longer just Room 33 or Room 14. It became the name of a new corporation I formed.

While I wish I could talk more about what I achieved with my corporation, it did not last very long. In an ironic twist, I had achieved more in my time as a teacher than in the brief history of the 8-bit Classroom as a corp. It wasn’t that I didn’t make a splash, but rather history took a different kind of turn.

The 15-minute Skype call

In January 2018, I received a letter from my school district asking me what my plans were for the upcoming year. Did I want to return to the classroom or did I want to end my contract? This letter arrived much earlier than expected; I was thinking they would not reach out until March when teacher assignments are decided.

I was at a strange crossroads. On the one hand, I just invested a couple thousand of my hard-earned teacher dollars to start a corporation. On the other hand, I wanted to have students again and work with Kathy and Tasha, my two favorite people in the world.

I don’t remember how I made up my mind. I only remember that in mid-January I walked into the district office to hand in the form with my resignation. Then I walked out in a panic that I made the worst decision in my life. If this dream did not work out, I’d be out of a job for the next year and my teacher “savings,” however meager they were, would dry up.

In the same month, I had reached out to Darshan Desai about some swag for Orange County CUE Conference where I would be presenting on Power Apps for the classroom. Darshan referred me to Audrie, who was now working at Microsoft! Audrie sent over lots of t-shirts, bottles, and more. I was excited to hear that Audrie was on the team having come from the community. I quickly sent back a photo after unboxing the goodies. This would be the best conference ever!

On the eve of OCCUE, I was finishing up some details for my session in which I would be presenting on “There’s NOT an app for that!” The message I wanted to come across was that there were many websites and apps out there that do a lot of things. But there’s always that one more thing we need as teachers: tighter integration, more automation, or greater privacy controls. Software companies don’t put in all the ideas that are asked for and that’s when you need your own customized app. Only educators know what we need, and if educators learned how to build apps like I did, we could be a force to be reckoned with. I was all-in on teaching teachers to make apps with me.

That same night, I received a peculiar email. Saurabh Pant and Sameer Bhangar from the Power Apps Customer Success Team (now Power CAT) reached out to ask if I had received an email from James Phillips. I checked all over my inbox and said I couldn’t find one. So it was forwarded again. I had been invited to show my apps to James Phillips, who at the time was the Corporate Vice President of Business Applications at Microsoft. What moron would ignore an email like that! Apparently since starting my business, I had changed the MX records for my inbox from one service to another. In doing so, I missed out on a few emails. Had they not reached out to me again, I would have been none the wiser.

We scheduled to have a 15 minute Skype meeting in the middle of February. And if you were thinking the fiasco with my inbox would be the last of my issues, you would be mistaken. On the day of the call, I wanted to be in an isolated, quiet space, so I went to a faraway room in my parents’ house. But it was so far away that internet connectivity was poor. So I tethered my device for internet. Pro-tip: if ever on a call with a CVP, don’t leave things to chance like that.

The call started with a train wreck. Although the quality check started okay with sound and screen share, it quickly devolved into a mush of strange sounds when James stepped into the room and we went live. At one point the sound was so poor that James remarked about how I sounded 8-bit. We all laughed and it lightened the mood, but I was still on edge. To save some bandwidth, we switched screen-sharing so that Sameer was showing my slides on his end.

I started by showing apps for the classroom: gamification, spelling, fractions. I went as far as explaining why I ditched one of my math apps because it didn’t hold up to my principles of pedagogy. I described the impact of an app I had for formative assessment. These educational apps piqued James’s interest. He stopped me mid-way and said, “I’m meeting Bill Gates in a few weeks. Do you want to show him some of your apps?”

At this point in the call, after all the technical mishaps that had happened, for James to ask such a thing, I was dumbfounded on so many levels. Bill Gates. billg. Technologist. Philanthropist. Holy moly.

“YES. OF COURSE!” I shouted. I was not the only one surprised. Nobody else in the room on their side had seen that question coming either. Though nobody was surprised at my answer–who would say no to an offer like that. Again, holy moly! But that was not the end of the call.

I had to continue the call, knowing full well that in a couple week’s time, I would be meeting Bill Gates himself.

My presentation took a different turn at this point. Rather than educational content, I started to show ways that I was pushing the limits of what was known to be possible in Power Apps. I showed a parallax scroller that advanced the character for a math game. Then I showed parallax shifting as a screen was rotated using the device’s accelerometer. I showed animations using easing equations. And though 15 minutes had already passed by this point, nobody told me to stop or said it was enough.

As if everything that had transpired were not already fantastical, James asked, “Would you like to come work for Microsoft?”

A Windows Insider
Who owns a Surface RT
Who was tethered to the internet on a Windows Phone
Who spent his teacher dollars to buy his own Surface Book to create things

I am the geekiest of geeky Microsoft fanboys and to be invited to come work for the company I love was a dream I never expected. I was supposed to be a lifelong teacher, and I had always assumed you’re supposed to be computer science wizzes to work at a company like that. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing but James wasn’t joking.


This call happened on the Lunar New Year of 2018. It is a day to celebrate the fortunes that would come your way in the new year. And mine was off to a most incredible start. Unbelievable.

To be continued

Much has happened since the fateful 15 minute call. I will fill in those details at a later date.

Mr. Dang

Six years have passed since the ‘8-bit Classroom’ was first uttered. I have met many people just like me whose jobs are nothing like app developer, and yet they make apps and automation anyway.

As I had joined the very team that had empowered me, my mission aligned with Microsoft’s:

Empower every person

and every organization

on the planet

to achieve more.

Yet in that time, I have drifted further and further away from my roots as a teacher. While I still run workshops and trainings, it is not the same as having a regular classroom of students who you nurture day after day.

With the world now under attack by the coronavirus, instruction has moved to the virtual space. As much pedagogy as I have learned, and as much classroom experience as I have, I cannot say with confidence that I know what it is like to be a teacher in 2020.

I had originally set out to create all the classroom apps that did not exist yet, to make it a point to the developer community to listen more to educators, or to be educators themselves. Yet enough time and circumstances have passed that I can no longer identify as a classroom teacher myself. I cannot remark about what it’s like to plan and teach remotely every single day. Sure some pedagogy likely overlaps the remote and the physical, but I cannot confirm that without reading new research.

So today I am no longer identifying as the 8-bit Classroom.

But I will forever be Mr. Dang.

Farewell, 8-bit Classroom.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Sunil says:

    Wow ! Brian thank you so much for sharing your story – puts life into perspective !

    I had the pleasure of meeting you at Ignite over the years. And of course spend time with you at ignite celebrations at Universal Studios !


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