Day 1 – Sunday, December 2
After a somewhat stormy drive, I arrived at my hotel, checked in, then drove about six minutes to the breathtaking environs of the Ritz Carlton. Half Moon Bay, all dressed up for the holidays – the hotel, not me. I wore jeans and a t-shirt.
The warm-up activity was not for the slow-to-warm, and hinted at the overall intensity of the Big Ideas Fest experience to follow. Participants shared stories of the ways in which schools and teachers had failed them, and it was enlightening, and in some cases heartbreaking. The most memorable story in my mind – Betsy Ross is Black!
The dinner keynote from Karen Cator, Director of the Office of Educational Technology, U.S. Department of Education was top-notch, and contained some provocative ideas:
Good keynote speakers are those with whom you’d like to sit down to continue the discussion, and I wish I’d had the opportunity to sit down with Karen Cator and discuss how conservative (read “paranoid”) interpretations of FERPA (as it relates to student work) are making it difficult for folks in my system to innovate using technology. Some additional clarity from DOE would go a long way toward soothing some higher ed district counsels.
Day 2 – Monday, December 3
The ornaments from the warm-up activity (above) became part of a beautiful display!
Following a morning walk on the beach…
…was a rousing set of Rapid Fire speakers, including the truly inspiring Stephen Ritz, founder of Green Bronx Machine. I’m very interested in all things garden (see http://www.foodforestgarden.org/about/), and so I was really impressed with Stephen’s commitment to providing amazing urban agriculture experiences for students and fresh food for his community, and for his crackling, electric energy. Wound up like a ball of wire, he was, and it’s easy to see why his projects have been so successful.
After the energy-enhancing morning speakers, we got down to business, and began the Action Collabs. I was in Cohort 7, addressing the challenge of “How might we create educational offerings for adults who want to improve their employment opportunities?” Our skilled facilitator Natalie Thoreson led us through an explanation of the design thinking process, a process with which I was somewhat familiar, having participated in ISKME’s Teachers as Makers Academy in Summer 2012, facilitated by Megan Simmons (some photos of that event, which you should definitely attend if you have the chance, here).
While somewhat familiar with design thinking, I was not prepared for the variety of improvisational exercises woven into the day (and subsequent days), which involved physical performance, word play, imaginary games of catch with invisible, multicolored balls, and other things I can’t remember. Here I’ll be honest: these improvs were by far the most personally challenging part of the process.
I understand the function of improvisation in this context, and I understand its role in getting people to think in different ways, to bond, and to expand their thinking. I’ve been a musician my whole life, and I love performing music. I’ve been a teacher most of my adult life, and I love teaching and working with students in a classroom, so I’m no stranger to performing. That being said, short, unprepared performances always make me squirm, and maybe that’s the point. In any case, I knew what was expected of me, and did my best. Our group was full of interesting and experienced individuals, and we tackled the challenge and the improvs with creativity and a collaborative spirit.
Lunchtime Rapid Fire speakers included Shuman Ghosemajumder, Co-Founder & Chairman of TeachAIDS, with a presentation titled Designing for Global Impact: The Art and Science of HIV Education. I was intrigued by the concept, and tweeted about it, in the process drawing @savasavasava into the conversation from New York. The magic of networks…
Dinner keynoters were Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz of EepyBird. I’ve seen their Coke and Mentos thing for years at the Maker Faire, so it was nice to hear a bit more about their creative process, and the ways that they iterate to solve a challenge. To bed with you!
Day 3 – Tuesday, December 4
The day began with toys on the table (provided by William Brown of the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop), and this really fired the imagination. Folks at my table (including Emily of Open.Michigan fame, who I had the good fortune of hanging out with prior to BIF2012 at Open Ed 2012 in Vancouver, BC – here’s a picture of her and others at a traditional Canadian sushi kegger, in which the photo’s focus is indicative of the overall vibe of the room at the time) had a hard time concentrating on the morning speakers, as we built and rebuilt and combined and remixed our wooden rubber band-powered car kits. Perfect way to start the day. Note to organizers – LEGOs on the breakfast table EVERY DAY! 🙂
Back to the Action Collabs, and here it got really interesting, as we finally (this being the Prototype phase of the process) had the opportunity to get our hands dirty, assembling a visual representation of our project. I felt most connected to the process during this phase, as I had the opportunity to work with my hands, which is an important component of my own learning. We finalized our project prototype and pitch and picked our presenters, and I spent some time on a rough draft of a logo for our project, Myne.
After lunch, we posed for an aerial photo (see http://www.dolookdown.org/2012/12/09/aerial-art/) and it was a welcome break, and an opportunity to see some great technology in action.
Day 4 – Wednesday, December 5
Presentation day, and I broadcast the proceedings on DS106 Radio, a free and open internet radio station associated with the DS106 community, so that folks from the network could listen in.
As it turned out, our project, Myne, was selected to “live on.” Truthfully, until the third day of BIF2012, I was a little unclear about the whole semi-competitive nature of the Action Collabs, but I suppose it’s always nice to be part of the project chosen for additional consideration.
The final keynote was a riveting one by author and UC Berkeley Professor George Lakoff, a true professional and gifted orator. The title of the presentation was Creative Intelligence: What the Brain Tells Us About The Importance of Teaching the Arts and Humanities, and Lakoff’s mastery of these ideas was a wonder to behold.
And then it was over…
Some final thoughts… Though the project sketch that came from our Action Collab was “chosen,” for me the experience was about the process, not the product. The process, incidentally, is a good one, a creative way to interrogate ideas and arrive at meaningful solutions. Moreover, the conference was an intense opportunity to apply a structured approach to addressing particular challenges in education, broken up by a barrage of interesting and thought-provoking speakers, improvisations, including invented details from imaginary vacations, walks on the beach, earnest talks with professionals from all corners of education, and with fancy jams and jellies for breakfast besides. I guess you had to be there, and you should probably find a way to be there next year.
Storify of Tweets from BIF2012
Thanks ISKME, all the presenters, organizers and facilitators (especially Megan and Natalie), to the gifted individuals in Cohort 7, and to all the participants for the stimulating conversation.