Saturday, December 7, 2013

Big Ideas Fest 2013 - Collaboration Transforms Education

This past week took us to IKSME’s Big Ideas Fest, a gathering of education professionals joining together to transform education.  Tucked in between a host of dynamic speakers and a phenomenal setting (Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay) were the Action Collabs, small group opportunities to identify, prototype and present scalable solutions to current challenges.
This year, BIF hosted 170 attendees, placed into nine Action Collabs, who focused on the Common Core, Big Data, and Learning is Everywhere.  Each Collab follows ISKME’s design framework that push educators to think provocatively before fine-tuning their challenge into a more feasible, scalable solution.
Participants first understand the Tenets of Collaboration – a common language that promotes group success.  These tenets include:
  • Let go of your agenda – be open to others' experience and ideas
  • Listen in order to receive – pay attention and acknowledge what you hear
  • Build on what you receive – find something in what others have said and build on it
  • Make your partner look brilliant – give positive feedback
  • You can’t be wrong – suspending judgment allows for innovated, provocative thinking.
The Action Collabs followed a multi-step process to identify concerns in education by first unpacking the issue.  This involved breaking into smaller teams, conducting interviews, and identifying common components that result from discussions.  My Collab determined that our objective was to identify opportunities to tap student creativity as a means to achieving higher levels of learning and meeting common core standards.  The process then narrowed our focus to “Students as Teachers”, and then identified more specific activities that would be actionable – in our case, getting students out beyond the school walls and into the community.
We then prototyped four different ways of getting students out into the community, and selected one to move forward.  That one was further fine-tuned to a school that, through a “passport” system, allowed students to work with community partners whose work embodied the standards in action.  Once students accomplished specific tasks with the community partner, their passport would be stamped, identifying mastery and allowing them to share their learning with other students.
This process took two and a half days to work through.  It was exhausting at times.  People’s knowledge and experience were quite diverse.  Yet, following the Tenets of Collaboration, twenty-three participants came up with a really cool solution that at some point had buy-in from each of the members.

Would this process work in your school?  I see value at a number of levels.  Key in the practice – think big before dialing it back to feasible; listen and build on what you hear; and allow the prototype process to work.   Allowing failure to be part of the process invites improvement – don’t think your solution has to be right the first time.  

Keep an eye out for next year’s Big Ideas Fest.  The gathering brought participants from all areas of education from every continent (except Europe, oddly).  A very articulate group of high school students from South San Francisco High School kept the adults focused on what is really important – addressing student needs. 

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