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.

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