The Big Idea in Education This past December an opportunity came across my desk – The Big Ideas Fest 2011. I’ll be honest at first glance I wasn’t sure what it was about, but the ideas piqued my curiosity. The email talked of coming together to solve issues facing students and educators today. I was intrigued. More importantly, I was curious; how could you have a conversation about fixing the state of today’s educational systems without including the natural world in the conversation? As I look towards the future it is my hope, and personal mission, that we are creating a generation of individuals that possess a basic understanding and knowledge of the importance of protecting and conserving the natural world around them. So based upon this assumption, I signed up. I was hesitant and unsure of what to expect, but excited about the prospect of being an advocate for the benefits and opportunities that outdoor education provides when looking at a larger question of the quality of education we are providing youth today.
We have all seen the statistics. Research from AB1330 found that students who attend overnight outdoor education experiences perform 27% higher on standardized test scores. Additionally, a San Francisco Chronicle article wrote, “At-risk youngsters with no past orientation to the outdoors who were placed in outdoor clinics later scored 27 percent higher in science, and also improved their ability to work out conflicts and problems.” The article stated; “children who are active and enlightened in the outdoors grow up healthier and wiser, especially in science, are self-aware and excited about nature. As adults, they are more likely to take care of parks, water and wildlife they have learned to love.” Effective environmental education experiences should be integral in today’s educational offerings to youth.
Today, after participating in my first Big Ideas Fest I understand and support the benefits of what The Big Ideas Fest sponsored by ISKME provides to education professionals. Over the course of three days individuals across a number of fields within education; informal, traditional classroom educators, funding agencies, academia and other youth enrichment nonprofits; all came together to put their time, energy, resource and creativity towards developing solutions that would improve the education system today, and would be more cost effective and streamlined at meeting the needs of classroom teachers. Working in small groups, these cohorts worked to design, prototype and scale a solution facing educators today. Throughout the conference I was surprised how many of the activities reminded me of outdoor school. Groups of adults were made to perform and participate in improve activities and work together as a team to create a product. Individuals were taken out of their comfort zone, and asked to take a chance and reach out and bring their creativity, inspiration and passion to help solve an issue facing education today. So over the three days my cohort came together, created art, brainstormed, developed a culture and a strong sense of pride in our ideas.
The natural world, along with education today is balancing in a delicate place. Just as naturalists spend countless hours creating small moments that inspire wonder and awe in the world around us; The Big Ideas Fest highlighted countless stories of success, of individuals that dedicate their lives to help make education accessible for all students. If education were an ecosystem we would be posting the sign “Restoration in Progress” and sending in the work parties. Education is in need of the same balance a healthy ecosystem exhibits. The Big Ideas Feast exposed the challenges within education.
So what did I learn after three days? There is an incredible wealth of information and resources out there for individuals wishing to advocate for their own education. If the traditional classroom model doesn’t work then go out and find what does – there are individual and businesses out there to help you. Most importantly, don’t give up. With any evolution it takes time and dedicated individuals pulling and pushing for change each step of the way. It is up to all of us to not sit idly by waiting for someone else to make change happen.
Looking towards the future it is important that our voices of the informal, of the natural world not go unheard. I now know, we have good people, in our corner helping us to make sure these opportunities continue to thrive for future generations. I hope more colleagues and friends will consider joining me again next year at The Big Ideas Fest 2012.