Without Sense of Hierarchy

“You realize how there’s no ceiling and how everyone is going to be able to contribute to everybody else’s learning no matter where they came from, when they got here or where they were at.”

In this short (1:35) video reflection, Angela Jochum, an ICT Integration Coordinator at the Frankfurt International School, shares her experience at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2014. The phrase that stays with me is when she talks about on there being “no sense of hierarchy.”

Join us this July 11-15 at Constructing Modern Knowledge!
Her reflection illustrates the absence of a hierarchy that is prevalent in many educational settings. A hierarchy constructed of perceived, and often intentional, divisive levels between the “smart” kids and “dumb” kids. Unfortunately this is plays out in classrooms (and teacher lounges) around the world where kids are ranked and sorted by grades and test scores. Angela’s is describing how CMK is wholly a different experience.

At CMK, people from various educational institutions (i.e. – schools, museums, etc.) come together for four days to do projects they’ve never done before. CMK participants often feel a bit uncomfortable the first day. Angela experienced the notion of learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. From what I recall, her self-selected project group also consisted of a kindergarten teacher and a AP physics teacher all learning together to do things each of them had never done before.

CMK attendees experience something that is not like a most conferences where attendees shuffle from hall A to hall B listening to one-direction presentations. They hear wacky and whimsical ideas that seem to have no place in serious professional learning. They wander the plethora of learning kits, google what an Arduino does, peruse volumes of books, and wonder what the point of it all is. Oh! They listen, chat and dine with stellar educational heroes too!

Everyone learns at CMK. Largely, it is about experiencing what it is to be a learner again. Learning from and with others.  In doing so, we can begin to empathize with our children, our students and fellow teachers in the modern landscape of learning.

CMK: Not Your Father’s Conference

This past week, I had the pleasure of attending Constructing Modern Knowledge (#CMK10), a one of a kind learning institute. The “minds on” institute did not have sessions to shuffle in and out of in hopes of catching a few nuggets that I might address when I return to the “real world”.  No, this was different.

The entire institute was what a classroom can be and I’m sure, in some places, is. There wasn’t the latest in revolutionary technology gadgets being touted, but there was plenty of fun and purposeful technology to be used.  The engagement and empowerment that we all experienced helped develop a community of practice within which we felt comfortable moving about the room asking questions and answering others.  Yeah, we had one room and it was fantastic. We sat on the floor, spilled out into the hallway and went out to the local convenient store for supplies.  Well, I’m not really sure if anyone did that, but we could have and that empowerment is important.  The environment had many books, treats and beverages, and trinkets that inspired projects and were just plain fun to play with (i.e. – marshmallow gun & Incredible Hulk fists).  From the first brainstorming session to the presentations there was lots of noise, to which, as Gary pointed out in his closing, no one complained.  Even the hotel staff was fond of the bubble machine floating bubbles over those dining in the cafe. This is good-natured stuff. Chris Lehmann sums up the environment well in his reflections of CMK.

No, CMK is not your father’s conference.

The speakers were excellent.  The collection of minds that Gary put together for CMK is astounding.  Deborah Meier, Alfie Kohn, James Loewen, Marvin Minsky, Brian Silverman, Cynthia Solomon, Peter H. Reynolds, Artemis Papert (Seymour’s daughter) & John Stetson were not only speakers, but participants and teachers as well.  They stuck around, were genuinely interested in our ideas, projects and thoughts about education and learning.  Artemis even offered me a one-on-one tutorial on TurtleArt despite the fact she and Brian had a large group appointment scheduled (we had appointments) the next day.

No, CMK is not your father’s conference.

The stark contrast between going to sessions and working playing through a project is one of the largest differences.  I approached CMK focused on a couple of things.  First, I wanted to collect ideas for the Playful Inventors Workshops I will be leading in a few weeks (for educators) and during the next year (with students).  Secondly, having always been envious of gearheads (people who are competent at motors, gears and the like) I wanted to use CMK to start learning more about gears in order to help students design and create wonderful things while learning through active science, engineering and math.  I was successful in both and will be trying to write more about the experiences here.

I did not leave CMK with a new tool (though I did share the Lego Tool with anyone cared to listen or try it) or the latest strategy for using Web 2.0 tools.  Here are some of my takeaways.

  • what it means to dive deeply into learning
  • to take time
  • to walk away from something and come back to it later
  • to develop a better environment where learners feel comfortable and safe (not just physically safe, but mentally safe to take a risk, ask a “silly question” or challenge someone (thanks to John Stetson for being the gear bully and not just giving the answer to our problem of torque).
  • to have fun and play (even if it involves flying marshmallows)

No, CMK is not your father’s conference.  It’s not a conference at all.  It’s a learning experience.