Sunday, July 13, 2014

Thinking About CMK14 [Part 1]

My 5th year at CMK (Constructing Modern Knowledge) and the best yet. (Of course I say this every year.) When I look at the range of ideas, and participants, and projects, my head spins. The access to so many materials seems to raise the bar exponentially each year. The complexity and the inter-connective-ness of ideas and tools and computing power makes for projects that you never thought possible**, especially given the fact that in most cases projects were conceived and brainstormed on Tuesday and pretty much completed and demo-ed on Friday!

Looking around the rooms this year, mid-week, I thought of what Papert says about the power of ideas, but also what he says about the power of tools and technologies. 

"Leonardo da Vinci tried to invent an airplane. If you look at his drawings, you see that he had some really good ideas—not that they would have worked. But I think that by looking at his drawings, you can see that if he had been able to experiment with those ideas, he would have seen the ways in which they didn't work and very likely would have made a successful airplane or participated in the making of the airplane in his time. However, he could not even begin that process because in order to do it, you needed a lot of technological infrastructure. You needed machine tools. You needed fuels. You needed some source of power. You needed materials. You needed a knowledge of physics."
-Seymour Papert "Child Power: Keys to the New Learning of the Digital Century 1998

Papert often mentions the sense of empowerment that intellectual tools can give you. This is exactly what I have observed in my years at CMK. There is a growth in the scope of the projects precisely because there has been such a growth in materials, electronics, and components given the rise in the maker movement these past years. The creative and amazing ideas have always been in existence at CMK, as has access to many creative tools and technologies. What I love about the projects that are created at CMK every year is how they combine and use so many parts and pieces of old and new. The projects are truly a bricolage of materials (and ideas), where Lego RCX motors make connections to Arduino boards, or to Makey-Makey's. Where a Little Bit remote sensor block triggers a Rube Goldberg machine that also includes a Bubble Machine and toilet paper. Where the 3D printer allows for immediate production of needed and newly designed parts, where cardboard and aluminum foil and felt are just as important to the integrity of the system as the batteries and the sensors.

"My goal in life, which has been my major activity over the last 10 years, has been to find ways children can use this technology as a constructive medium to do things that no child could do before, to do things at a level of complexity that was not previously accessible to children."
Seymour Papert "Child Power: Keys to the New Learning of the Digital Century 1998

I am always reminded of Papert's goal when I attend CMK, and am surrounded by the amazing educators taking risks and immersing themselves in "hard fun". Why can't I be reminded of this when I look around at what happens in so many classrooms these days? Why are so many children still being given only poster board and markers, and nothing else, and then told to make sense of the words in a text book or a worksheet?

I truly hope that schools and classrooms everywhere will mirror the growing success of CMK and the expansion of the (small m) maker movement, and I hope it remains true to the spirit of learning and as Papert envisioned.

"The deep contribution of the computer to education comes from its being a constructional material as well as an informational medium. Children can use it to make far more complex and intellectually rich constructions. It allows a shift in balance from learning mostly by being told to learning far more by making and doing." - Papert

**CMK14 Vimeo - Project videos

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