So What is the Big Idea? BigIdeasFest conference in Half Moon Bay

Filed Under (Education, Education Beyond Borders, educational technology) by Sharon Peters on 08-12-2009

I do a lot of conferences. Add to that the 6-7 weeks of time I have spent in July and August in Africa in ’08 and ’09 providing workshop facilitation with Teachers Without Borders Canada to teachers in Kenya and South Africa and you can believe that I have seen a serious amount of PD models of meetings.

Usually, I know a bevy of the teachers who will attend the conferences or workshops and have a fairly good idea of what the venue will be like. So when it was suggested to me that I attend the inaugural BigIdeasFest conference in Half Moon Bay, I had to take a serious look at the line-up of speakers and check out my “network” to see if anyone knew anything about it. And the responses were scant. However, the venue was very close to some family members and the description was sufficiently enticing that I decided to take a chance and signed up for the conference.

When I arrived at the conference, I only knew one person who was also attending. It was pointed out to me at the first dinner that it seemed to be a conference where the majority of the people knew only 1 or 2 other people and that made it an unusual sort of event.

On the one hand, so far the conference has pushed me out of my comfort zone – which was surprising to me, because I really hadn’t realized that I had had a comfort zone. After asking so many *other* educators to step outside their comfort zones while in Africa and at other workshops I have led, it is a good idea occasionally to place myself in that position of trying something new and taking a risk in a new social situation.

Of all the conferences I have attended in North America, I have to say that I find this conference to be the closest to the model we are using in Africa – participatory and constructivist. We have been divided into smaller groups of “action collabs” that have been given the task of creating a new model of education at either the classroom, school or systemic level. My action collab is msde up of a wide range of persons spanning from high school students to policy makers to NGO leaders to educators – young and old. We have already had many lively debates about how we are going to go about addressing the question of what we are designing.

About half of the conference time has been devoted to either keynotes or listening to rapidfire presentations by notable innovators in education such as Dennis Bartels of Exploratorium, Marco Torres, Dr. Erin O’Connell, Gever Tulley, Founder of the Tinkering School, and Tony Jackson, VP for Education of the Asia Society. Fifteen minutes per rapidfire presenter just didn’t seem like enough for these very worthy educators.

You can follow the twitter list I created for the conference for more “in the moment” reactions to the conference.

A GREAT book that I read in preparation for this conference was The Global Achievement Gap. Everywhere I turn I hear other educators echoing many of the thoughtful ideas expressed by Tony Wagner in his book. I should have read this book ages ago – it has been incredibly galvanizing to me.

I look forward to learning and stretching even more in the next few days!