Thursday, July 14, 2016

CMK16 Days 2 and 3: Finding our part in the Big Picture

It's the afternoon of day 3 at the Constructing Modern Knowledge summer institute. Yesterday was a whirlwind of learning and inspiration. I'll do my best to capture some highlights.

After a short work session in the morning, during which our groups were able to meet up and decide on some next steps, we were treated to an inspirational talk given by Carla Rinaldi, president of Reggio Children and of the Reggio Children - Loris Malaguzzi Centre Foundation. It is difficult to use words to capture the depth of insight and emotion that she shared with us, but here is a short collection of tweets from attendees. (I would highly recommend that you read and/or listen to her thinking; here is a video summarizing her thoughts on 'reclaiming childhood.')

My background in teaching is as a secondary Science teacher, but every word of Dr. Rinaldi's talk resonated with both the teacher and the mother in me. Science is all about wonder and discovery, and I have seen in my practice that by secondary school many children have lost their natural curiosity, sense of wonder, and willingness to take reasonable risks. Who can blame them? So often, school is about grades, the 'right' answer, and pleasing the teacher. I won't speak more about that here, but feel free to pause for a mental rant if you wish.

We enjoyed a lovely lunch filled with rich discussion about outdoor learning, and the marriage of technology with real-life, hands-on experiences. We compared reporting requirements from our districts and talked about the value of building relationships based on continual feedback that have students, parents, and teachers working in partnership. Rather than being a mental break, our lunch discussion continued to stretch my brain and my thinking.

Back at the conference, we only had a short 30 minutes to meet and work on our project before it was time to get ready for our trip to Boston. This was SO frustrating! In our reflection, someone pointed out that this is exactly what we often do to our students - we introduce a new topic, get them engaged, then the bell rings and it's time to switch classes/subjects. Another great a-ha moment. This is the value of placing ourselves in a learning stance this week - we are experiencing all of the joy, frustration, and growth that students do. Teachers should probably put themselves in this position more often.

We boarded buses at 3:30 to head to Boston. We arrived at the MIT Media Lab around 5PM, and had a few minutes to explore before a talk by Mitchel Resnick. He spoke clearly and eloquently about the goals of the Media Lab, and of his Lifelong Kindergarten Group. One thing that struck me during his talk was that he, as Dr. Rinaldi had in the morning, made it abundantly clear that the work he does would not be possible without the work of those who came before. The new technologies and research coming out of the Media Lab are not unique in nature, but rather extensions, reimaginations, or new innovations based on the work of those who championed maker education year - or decades - ago. I was especially touched by the clips of Seymour Papert, whose delight in the work of children is always so evident. We should all be so delighted in our daily work with students.

After a break for cupcakes, we were treated to a presentation by Stephen Wolfram, a well-known mathematician and computer scientist and creator of the Wolfram language. His demonstration of the Wolfram language and tools was fast-paced. One such tool is Wolfram Alpha, a tool designed to answer questions asked in everyday English. You can try it yourself: go to the Wolfram Alpha website and type something like 'what is the largest mammal' or 'what is the population of Toronto' to get a small idea of the power of this tool. Dr. Wolfram's demonstration of the Wolfram programming language was spectacular, and I immediately wanted to give it a try myself. I can see the potential here for programming to become more accessible and intuitive. Here is a video demonstration of the language. Buckle up.

By the way, Stephen Wolfram has a custom laptop. Check it out:

Released into the city of Boston, we had dinner at a restaurant in the north end (which will remain nameless, because - inexplicably - they were not open to allowing our party of 6 to split our bill despite the fact that we were all from different states and provinces.) A short walk to meet our bus at Boston Commons and we were soon back in Manchester with visions of code dancing in our heads.

Day 3 began with some success and some challenges for the Weasley group. Our early morning troubleshooting session was successfully resolved after 45 minutes when we restarted our computers. (Yup. Try this first, folks.) The clock construction has gone beautifully today. Many thanks to Michelle, Jon, Jess, Kate, and Jennifer for having the perfect combination of nerdiness, creativity, and persistence to make this clock beautiful. Jim and Kate successfully soldered our 60-LED NeoPixel ring to create a programmable clock face. The programming has required a great deal of troubleshooting due to the fact that each quarter of the circle was actually a slightly different product. Jim has done a great job decoding the LED arguments required to properly address them. Reegan and I are determined that we will be able to control the LEDs using Twitter, rather than using the potentiometers. Time is ticking. We're hoping for the best.

I can't say enough about our team. Donuts appeared at some point today (thanks, Jess!) and Michelle and Kate are working away on beautiful take-home souvenirs for all of us. Walking around the facility today, I am continually blown away by the variety and the ingenious nature of the projects people are working on. I hope to document as many as possible tomorrow.

My take-home message for the last 36 hours is that we are all building on the knowledge of others. It is so important to share and discuss the ideas of thought leaders so that we are able to acknowledge their role in making our work possible and build upon their wisdom with our own experience. We can't stand on the shoulders of giants without consciously remembering that we are doing so.

Click here for Day 1 CMK reflections.
Click here for final reflections.


  1. Thanks for your reflections Amy. Can't wait to talk to you more about it in the fall. Reclaiming childhood and natural curiosity should be part of our work K-12.
    You are so right about the tecognizing that we are knowledge builders and so much came before us. I love this poem about giants. It reminds us that is great to have giants for friends, but that we should strive to be one as well. ( read this - before you watch this - )

  2. Thanks for your words, Pat, and for creating conditions that help us feel confident that we can be giants in the work that we do. At CMK I have been touched by people who helped lay the groundwork for technology and making in education, and it has helped me find my place in that collective learning. Wish you were here!

  3. This was wonderful to read today. I am sitting by a lake reflecting on two weeks of facilitating learning in primary math. The educators in the courses unspired me with their risk taking and I hope I was able to create a learning environment that helped them push their comfort zone. Cheers to Summer Learning.

  4. This was wonderful to read today. I am sitting by a lake reflecting on two weeks of facilitating learning in primary math. The educators in the courses unspired me with their risk taking and I hope I was able to create a learning environment that helped them push their comfort zone. Cheers to Summer Learning.