Sunday, July 13, 2014


I had a wonderful experience this week at the Constructing Modern Knowledge Summer Institute (CMK14) in Manchester, NH.

This event has been happening in at the same location for the past 7 years, but I only heard about it two years ago. I was lucky enough to go for the first time last summer and loved it so much that I went back this year and probably will again next year.

CMK14 was an amazing four day event with hosts Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez of California.

A symposium that is made up of "appointments, not schedules" with no formal structure to the activities that attendees can participate in, it can be overwhelming on the first day where all participants gathered and brainstormed ideas of what they were interested in making, inventing, or trying to accomplish over the course of four days, the ideas were posted on close to 50 different pieces of chart paper around the front of the main event room. After the brainstorming session participants wrote their names under the ideas that they were interested in, then chose the idea that they wanted to work on, some as large groups, small groups and some individuals.

I chose to work as an individual on an idea to make a wind up toy with the 3D printer. My idea stemmed out of my love for toys and especially the small tin wind up toys that my grandfather used to give us when we were really little. My father told me at one time that his father made those toys, but I was never able to ask my grandfather how, since he died when I was eight. What I learned was that it is more complicated than I thought, but I did get a working model by the end of the four days, learned a ton about how to design for 3D printing, and the limitations of the 3D printer that was available.
My goal in this was to learn enough about 3D printing, to help word grant writing for fundraising, in order to purchase a 3D printer to use in my science classes. While I was making my parts, I had many discussions with other teachers there, and one mentioned  that it would be cool if we could make a scale model of the solar system with the 3D printer. Just imagine how large that would be!!

Other awesome projects included a large Rube Goldberg machine, which used a large variety of recycled materials, electronics, water and bubbles to pull a sign open. This was an amazing problem solving activity, with so many different parts that had to work together to solve one problem.

 Another great aspect of CMK14, was the field trip to the MIT Media lab where we met Mitchel Resnick, one of the people involved in the making of the Scratch programing language for kids (and adults). I loved his take on the 'hour of code' that happened last winter, he mentioned that only an hour isn't long enough, and the kids (and adults) should be doing real coding, instead of playing code games, which were part of the 'hour'. Mr. Resnick explained how Scratch was developed and the new development of Scratch Jr. for younger kids.
Also at MIT, about half of us stayed for a fireside chat with Marvin Minsky one of the founders of the Media Lab, who was also one of the developers of the Logo Programing language for kids. He has quite the insight on teaching and learning, this year I took away from his chat this: "when they say, don't do it, don't listen", "currently the US is in a science desert", "Fortran is a much better programing language, it can do anything" and "never worry about a problem, find the right person."  
Mr. Minsky this year received, the BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge Award in the Information and Communication Technologies category. He is regarded as the founding father of artificial intelligence and the author of key theoretical and practical contributions in mathematics, cognitive science, robotics and philosophy. Not only that, he is willing to sit down with a group of educators and say that he stopped lecturing and decided to allow students to ask the questions that they wanted to learn about. 
An amazing man, and my hero! Mr. Minsky is also my inspiration to be a better teacher, by giving kids opportunities to learn, rather than spending time listening to me lecture.

 This is a Makey Makey sound garden

Below is an interactive heart beat, using a MakeyMakey and a sound program.

And one of my favorite projects, a light sensing chicken coop.

On Thursday we met Cam Perron, who pretty much single handedly from the age of 12 to now (he's about 19) has found more Negro League Baseball players than he, or anyone thought possible. Not only that, he has also found enough information on many of the former players to prove to Major League Baseball that they played the four years required in the Negro League, to earn a MLB pension. Check out this video on him. In my humble opinion, this young man deserves a Nobel Prize for all of his volunteer efforts on behalf of the Negro League players.

We also met tree house builder Pete Nelson and learned how he started building and continues to build tree houses all over the country. He was quite interesting and down to Earth about his methods, willing to share is ideas and plans, especially how to care for the trees that are used in construction.

I plan to bring the CMK14 energy to my classroom this year and look forward to seeing what my students will WOW me with.

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