Monday, July 18, 2011

Constructing Modern Knowledge 2011 #cmk11


After a wild, fun filled, explorative month, I've finally sat down with a bit of time to write.

I came by the conference Constructing Modern Knowledge #cmk11 in a way I didn't quite expect... a nudge out the door, a lucky twist of fate...

I attended Educon at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia in January, 2011 and bought a raffle ticket... not really knowing what the ticket was for, I figured I'd donate a few dollars to the school. Low and behold, a lucky draw out of a bucket of tickets by Chris Lehmann, I won conference registration to the Constructing Modern Knowledge, headed up by Gary Stager, in Manchester NH in July 2011.

When I won... knowing what I had on my plate this Summer, helping take a baseball team West, running a baseball camp, tournaments, and teaching abroad... I figured I'd be able to fit it in or pass on one hell of a gift to someone.

Looking deeper into what I'd won, I couldn't be more thrilled. Here's a list of the cast heading up the event. I've drawn countless threads of inspiration from the folks on that list over the years and won't bore you with the reason why I value their work so much... only to say that I think it's an extraordinary lineup,   with heaps of possibilities. Better still it fit, elegantly so, between events I already laid this Summer.

First star to the right... and straight on 'til morning...

Just 24 hours after an 18-day road trip from Vermont West on out to South Dakota and back again with a baseball team... I hit the road for the conference, barely having time to wash my clothes from the trip. I landed in Manchester, NH (otherwise known in legend lore as 'ManchVegas') the night before for the opening night pre-conference activity, strangely enough... a AA baseball game between Manchester and Portland. It felt very odd sitting there... watching the game after the long baseball road trip... but a couple of beers and a good chat with John Stetson, one of the CMK mentors, helped me unwind. Talking with John throughout the game, I kept catching entertaining glances of Gary Stager down the row... commenting on eating cheese filled breadsticks "with no listed ingredients", drawing on a soda larger than his head, and repeated comments on a large slush drink he bought that he said... had no distinct flavor whatsoever, and thoroughly enjoying himself in the process. "What can I say," Gary said, "I eat like a four-year old!" I had dinner later in the week with Gary, Sylvia Martinez, Rick, and Michele and we discussed this eating philosophy more at length... one I appreciate thoroughly!

The game wound up with a walk-off home run for NH and a good fireworks show after the game, the second one this Summer at a baseball field, then I hit the hotel and the sack, completely exhausted.

The next day (Monday)... the alarm woke me... which rarely happens... and bleary eyed, and still feeling drained, I headed down to the opening day of CMK11.

The main theme of the conference, explained by Gary in his opening monologue, is to "take off your teacher hat and put on your learner hat." Pick a project, build something, have some fun, and dive into the unknown. Play. Create something. Mix it up with the mentors and guest speakers. Have fun.

No problem! I'm in.

Most thrilling to me, typical with the work of Gary Stager, the conference lined up to be a different sort of experience, something beyond the usual, well, sit and listen sort of song and dance. The trick you see to CMK... is that you don't just sit and listen to these people, rather, you talk with them, and you work with them. That... is worth the experience alone... and for me, that's just what I needed.

The short version of why it was so valuable for me personally... I structured the conference... for me. The conference features hands-on work: folks doing projects, mixing with mentors, and a wide range of discussions. I didn't just sit and listen... I chatted and worked with these folks... with these folks.

I mentor project based tinkering work all the time in the Lab at BBA... I felt, spending time seeing a wide variety of adults cast off the ledge, so to speak, seeing folks dive into the learner role... out of the usual teacher routine, and how they play, problem solve... and how these experienced mentors interact with them along the way would be the ticket for me.

Here's some of the project threads folks conjured up for the week: A bubble machine, an electronic drum set out of soda cans (with actual drum sampling), solar powered car, wind turbine battery charger, bicycle charger for a phone, a great phonograph project... recording sound - victrola style on plastic cups, computer programed tile art, interactive clothing... and that's just a few. No manuals, no step-by-step directions, only shared experience, a load of creative resources and toys, and some hands-on tinkering. Dive in and out of projects or see something through to completion.

Myself... I didn't want to dive into any one particular project. I wanted to speak to everyone, attendees, mentors, and guest speakers as much as possible. I wanted to see what makes them tick, see how they continually inspire themselves, how they approach and help learners, hear about their careers, make new friends... and just see where it all took me. I felt this approach was best for me to rejuvenate myself. The best way to do that... and have a project with some viewable result, and work with some people along the way on creating something... I thought conjuring up a video style documentary of the event would fit the bill. After some project scheming, mingling and brainstorming... Lindsay, Bill, Jorge and I set out to do just that... and I'll give you insights on that later.

I met some great folks, have some great stories and personal reflections to write on yet... and will shortly. Now though, I only have time for this quick intro. It's time to get ready for baseball practice!

... and since it's 435pm... some lunch would do me some good too before I go!


  1. Sounds like a great conference/activity.

    I enjoyed our full-day session with Stager at ISTE 2011, definitely the high point of the conference for me. Stager was not that enamored with ISTE 2011. He referred to the vendor showcase as a "Boat Show" and a disgrace. He made the point that software should allow students to create, not make things so easy that they avoided solving real problems - he suggested that much of the software being displayed during the "Boat Show" fell into this category. He also threw down the challenge to ISTE members by asking, "Is there some use of technology we (ISTE) should not endorse?" A great question that was never answered.

  2. Adam, I think you've captured the essence that is CMK. Don't worry about what you don't know, dive in and do it. This is such an important lesson for our students and most importantly, we the teachers.

  3. CMK turns out to be one of those rare, recurring events that actually evolves. It's structured to allow for both philosophical grounding in the experience of children as learners and as a working conference that 'lifts' a teacher out of the 'responsibility role' inherent in any formal school. After an intense year, it was amazing to have four days to ask questions of my own and to meet with curious people and speakers who are drawn to learning.