"Constructing Modern Knowledge" (#CMK14) provides teachers with a learning space and enough time to the fail -- and succeed -- at doing what we are always exhorting our students to do: learn something! make something!
I got involved by virtue of having put Stager and Martinez's book -- "Invent to Learn: making, tinkering, and engineering in the classroom" -- on display in my library to coincide with the Learning 2.0 conference last October (see my previous blog post on it). Brian Smith (from Hong Kong International School) immediately began to talk to me about the book -- and the related conference. Considering I spend my summers in Maine (a stone's throw away), it wasn't hard to decide to sign up. At 21st Century Learning in HK in December, I also had the opportunity to meet Gary, who exudes enthusiasm for messy learning and hard fun.
4 days, 180 participants. You can see the Vimeo videos here and the Flickr group photos here. All in a Radisson Hotel in ManchVegas. (Yes, I guess that's what they call Manchester, NH -- as it's the region's hotspot.)
Who were we? The informal hands-up survey at the beginning indicated mainly teachers from private schools, from all over the US, plus a few internationals. I quickly found Tina Photakis, from Australia, to hang out with. The crowd was seeded with plenty of highlighted helpers, like Brian Smith (and his daughter), young Super-awesome Sylvia Todd (and her father), Peggy Sheehy (one of the few librarians), Dan and Molly Watt, Cynthia Solomon, etc.
One proposed project was "wearable speakers" -- and having attended two conferences this summer, I wish there were a smart-phone app for that right now. How can it be that we don't have a way to make ourselves heard in big groups, e.g., questions from the floor, where no one can hear the question.
Arduino. So I knew I wanted to play with sound input creating some sort of visual output. (Imagine: students in a supposedly silent study room with windows, where I am outside and can't tell how much noise they are actually making; when decibels go above a certain level, colored lights began to flash -- indicating to both them and me that the room is no longer silent.)
Gordon, Wendy, and I decided to see how we could get sound through an Arduino to display different colors, based on volume and frequency. Gordon and Wendy wired the 3D matrix of lights, while I fooled around with programming an Arduino Esplora (a device which can take a variety of input). We didn't get a fully-functioning integrated model, due to time and other limitations, but we sure learned a lot. For me it was such a throw-back to my programming days. Oh, the frustrations of imperfect code!
A major highlight of the conference was a field trip to the fabled MIT Media Lab, thanks to Gary and Sylvia's connections. A talk by Mitch Resnick, founder of the Lifelong Kindergarten group. (Here's a recent video of him doing a talk that is similar to the one we heard - on Projects, Peers, Passion, and Play.) A chat with 87-year-old Marvin Minsky, one of the three pioneers immortalized in the lobby of the impressive building, the other two being Seymour Papert (represented at CMK14 by his daughter, Artemis, and granddaughter), and Muriel Cooper, who died 20 years ago.
Marvin regaled us with memories of his time at Bell Labs with Claude Shannon. Re his artificial arm. Though he lamented that no one wants to work -- nowadays -- on something so pedestrian as a former invention. So no improvements are forthcoming. He talked about being enthralled by nanotechnology. The wave of the future. He talked of computer games, and his belief that 4 year olds might play games, but 5 year olds should be moving on to making games. His advice when getting stuck in life? Ask the experts. Which for him were Claude Shannon and Robert Oppenheimer.
We took advantage of the chance to wander down through the building. So many windows into projects and the learning going on. It was a wonderful evening in Cambridge/Boston.
Click here to see all my photos of the conference -- including plenty taken inside the Media Lab.
Back in Manchester, there was plenty of time for work, for reflection, and for inspiration from speakers interspersed in the schedule.
Edith Ackermann, an MIT stalwart and "play" expert, gave a fascinating presentation. She talked of so many things -- she deserves a separate blog post.
Pete Nelson is famous for building treehouses. I didn't know about him before, but now I appreciate he has his own reality TV show, Treehouse Masters and a treehouse center where you can go and stay.
He told the story of how his childhood passion for treehouses eventually led to a very public and remunerative vocation. (Creating a coffee table book on treehouses of the world was an important first step!) I'm sure most of us sitting there were thinking of old trees we wanted to create houses in. He made it sound all so feasible.
Overall take-away thoughts:
- Re the sharing of resources: the organizers had an incredible array of materials available to us, but the trick was, whatever we took, we needed for the four days. There wasn't much that you just needed short-term access to. So the sharing was limited. I wondered how libraries with a makerspace would cope with this. Would someone be able to check out or reserve, say, an Arduino Esplora, for three days? What is realistic for what time period of exclusive use? It makes me think that individual hardware, such as Raspberry Pi's and Arduinos, is better suited to a teacher-class situation, where a learner can work with one set of materials over time.
- How best to handle differentiation? In this situation, some of us at a table had NO experience, and some had CONSIDERABLE. I was conscious of trying to balance the time I spent floundering on my own and the time I spent getting help from others. One thing for sure: we were in charge of our own learning. It was fascinating to wander around, seeing the vast range of projects and skills on display.
Also see this Reggio Emilia bookshop for more.
p.s. Just discovered Gary and Sylvia maintain their own recommended booklist on Amazon -- see here.
p.p.s. Here's another related booklist -- one from the International Design Technology teachers' conference, held at our school in May. These were all the books I had on display during the conference.