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Getting Smart Podcast

Jan 27, 2021

Today, Tom is virtually sitting down with Trace Pickering, the Executive Director of Iowa BIG one of Getting Smart’s favorite learning programs in the country!

Trace has a background in community building, has served as the Associate Superintendent of Cedar Rapids Community School District, and has also served as the Associate Director of Education Reimagined. Trace has a legacy of empowering people to pursue interesting and important projects while bringing together an entire community.

In this conversation, Tom and Trace discuss the power of community-connected projects, how to scale a program like Iowa BIG, and how to create a culture of project-based learning. Trace also shares about the genesis of Iowa BIG, some incredible student-led projects that have come out of Iowa BIG, and his thoughts on why community-centered learning is more important than ever.


Key Takeaways:

[:09] About today’s episode with Trace Pickering.

[:55] Tom Vander Ark welcomes Trace to the podcast!

[1:05] Did Trace grow up in Iowa?

[1:16] Trace and Tom go into the “Way-back Machine” to 12 years ago after the Cedar River covered Cedar Rapids in a flood. Trace shares his reflections from what he learned in the process of a local newspaper inviting him to host a series of community conversations about what was next for Cedar Rapids. He also shares how this series of community conversations led to the creation of Iowa BIG.

[6:54] Trace explains what Iowa BIG is, what its mission is, and how long it has been running.

[8:46] How does this work for students? How many high schools do they work with?

[9:23] Trace shares about how Iowa BIG is learner-centered and how the projects work around this.

[11:54] Do many or all of the student projects at Iowa BIG revolve around the concept of “community as classroom”?

[12:22] The idea that students should do work that matters to them and their community is really central to every project that’s co-constructed at Iowa BIG.

[12:42] Trace shares a recent example of an incredible student project that helped out the community in the midst of the pandemic.

[17:05] Trace shares how they incorporated communication expectations into that project and how the organizing students developed and demonstrated communication standards as part of the project.

[19:07] Trace shares how they incorporate science and math learning into these community projects and shares a specific example of an amazing student project.

[21:50] Trace gives advice to those who want to start up a similar program and become more learner-centered.

[23:48] Tom offers further suggestions on how you could begin to implement a similar program.

[24:11] What would an Iowa BIG ecosystem look like? What if all high schools were learner-centered?

[26:57] Does Trace feel that this sort of work is more important than ever in this current landscape?

[29:09] Where to learn more about Iowa BIG and the work that Trace Pickering is doing.

[30:01] Tom thanks Trace for joining the podcast!


Mentioned in This Episode:

Iowa BIG

@IowaBIG Twitter

The Iowa BIG Podcast on Spotify

@IowaBIG Facebook

@IowaBIG Instagram

Trace Pickerings LinkedIn

XQ | Iowa BIG

The Power of Place: Authentic Learning Through Place-Based Education, by Tom Vander Ark, Emily Liebtag, and Nate McClennen

Difference Making at the Heart of Learning: Students, Schools, and Communities Alive With Possibility, by Tom Vander Ark and Emily Liebtag


Getting Smart Podcast Ep. 265: “Jenny Pieratt on Powerful PBL


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