Craving Questions at Big Ideas Fest

As Big Ideas Fest 2012 comes to a close under a soft canopy of clouds in Half Moon Bay, a frenetic buzz resounded inside the walls of the main ballroom with its 200 participants. Even after three days of intense listening to Rapid Fire speakers and collaboration on designing solutions to education challenges, participants are excited. The source of their energy, it turns out, is that leaving with questions is a better gift than having the answers.
Indeed, answers are the focus of many education conferences. Participants often come prepared to find answers.  Entire panels of experts answer questions about Common Core, new teaching strategies, or professional development opportunities. Conversely, speakers at Big Ideas Fest 2012 found that answers led to new questions, which in turn led to unexpected directions. They learned about themselves. They learned how to change their communities and the world.
Here’s a sampling of questions this year’s Rapid Fire speakers asked themselves, with their unexpected results:
  • What happens when you teach black girls to code? After being trained and working as an engineer, Black Girls Code founder Kimberly Bryant decided that more black girls needed access to the experiences of coding. The question, “What happens when you teach black girls to code?” was revolutionary in itself because no one was asking it. Beyond that question, Bryant believes “The revolution will be digitized.” In the past year since its launch, Black Girls Code has trained one thousand girls in seven major cities across the U. S. to code, inspiring 70 percent of them to say they want to pursue careers in computer science and technology.
  • If the student is struggling, why not change the school? Director of the Eli Whitney Museum and Workshop William Brown is clear that his museum is non-traditional. Rather than collecting artifacts, the museum captures young minds. By using workshops and apprenticeships to offer experiential learning opportunities – participants build and rebuild wooden model cars, for example  – the Eli Whitney Museum introduces students to new ways of thinking and communicating.  Brown’s questioning has inspired many young minds to discover how they learn best by pursuing their passions.​​
  • Why don’t comic books follow Islamic storylines? In reviewing the landscape of superheroes and comics, children’s book author, psychologist, and social worker Naif Al-Mutawa couldn’t help but notice the absence of a positive representation of his faith. Rather than focus on writing characters into existing storylines, Al-Mutawa created his own world and populated it with superheroes based on Islamic culture and religion. In questioning the traditional cultural limitations of subject matter in comics, Al-Mutawa has generated a cohort of heroes that work together across all beliefs, communicating to youth the need to connect and collaborate despite our differences.
For all of our Rapid Fire speakers, questioning is the new creating. It’s the thinking, it’s the design, and it’s the prototyping. By being so inquisitive and iconoclastic, this year’s speakers have encouraged participants to keep asking themselves, “What’s next?” So now the big question is, “What are you questioning that’s going to make your environment and even the rest of the world better for learning?”