Big Ideas Fest, 2013: designing the future of education


Last year right after BIF 2012, I received a strange phone call from my sister, Hatch Elementary kindergarten teacher, Abby Foster – at least she said it was Abby, but something about her was different.

“You have to come with me next year,” she pleaded.

“What exactly is the Big Ideas Fest?” I wondered.

“It’s hard to explain, you just have to go.”

She forwarded links to websites of innovative projects and showed me the video of her “Action Collab” presentation for “Mission: Possible”.  I still didn’t quite get it. Then she asked if I would be willing to participate in Mission: Possible with my fifth grade class. I agreed and finally got a small glimpse of what The Big Ideas Fest was all about.

My class was partnered with a group of students from Uganda.  We researched the culture of our local community in Petaluma, California, and then chose items that we could ship in a tube to Uganda to teach them about our area on the globe.  The project was inspiring, but I still didn’t have a clear understanding about BIF.

When it was time to register for Big Ideas Fest 2013 I was nervous, but  Abby really didn’t take no for an answer.  She had heard me become increasingly frustrated with the rigidity of test-centered, scripted curriculum, and disengaged students. I felt helpless and didn’t see how I could change the system.  I started receiving text messages, emails, and Facebook notes from Abby, “Have you registered yet?” she’d ask again?

One day, I had this sense that I HAD to go – or maybe it was Abby’s unrelenting pressure. As soon as I was confirmed as a participant, I knew I was headed down a path that would change my teaching career forever.  The ISKME team was so welcoming right from the beginning, and I could tell that I would be challenged to think outside of the box.  There was no returning to following the status quo.

I read I Am Malala in anticipation of hearing keynote speaker, Shiza Shahid, Malala’s mentor and co-founder of the Malala Fund.  I was moved to tears because of the courage of these young women, both risking so much to fight for education for girls.  Those were just the first of many tears throughout the three days of the conference.

Each day I sat down to a meal in the dining room at the Ritz, I found myself immersed in a conversation with another inspirational innovator in education.  I ate lunch with Garielle Lyon, the founder of Project Exploration.  We shared stories and she referred me to valuable resources.  It wasn’t until the end of lunch that I learned that she was going to be a rapid fire presenter the following day.

The second day we met our “Action Collab” groups.  We were told that we would begin with some improv.  “What has Abby gotten me into?” I thought. I found myself becoming a toaster, and then the cord to the toaster, all in the name of collaboration.  A group of us worked late into the night to complete our presentation, laughing so hard we cried – more tears. I met people from Australia, Qatar, Chile, as well as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles – all with inspiring stories to tell about innovation in education.  With hard work and determination, one person can make a difference in education. ISKME and the Big Ideas Fest encourage people to move into action.

The last day we presented, said good-byes and went home.  And then there I was in my car alone reflecting back on the experience.  I knew that I was going back to my classroom but nothing would be the same.  That first day back in my classroom, I received emails from my Action Collab team.  We discussed our pilot project for “Common Currency” and how we would move forward.  We were all missing each other and planning for a reunion.    “I think they need to make a decompression chamber where you have to do dishes and argue with someone. It should be kind of boring. Then you could leave,” one email said.

I talked to our third sister, an assistant principal, the following day about the experience.  “What exactly is the Big Ideas Fest?” she asked.

I just smiled and said, “You’ll have to go next year to find out.”


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