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Constructing Modern Knowledge CMK14

Constructing Modern Knowledge (CMK) provided a summer stopping point at the intersection of learning and maker culture right in the heart of constructivism.The crowd was pretty special: whimsical, intelligent, techy, artsy, and hip in the way that people who reject hip are hip (read: geeks).  It was a group of way finders who seemed to be happy being at the outer edge of the world of education and meeting up to make a community and create some nifty projects in a 4 day period. CMK was a 4 day event held in Manch-Vegas (Manchester, New Hampshire) July 8-11 2014.  It’s taken this long for me to let this blog post free.  I have great respect for Gary Stager and his collaborators. I am also unsettled about the place of make, invention and programming at school. I want it to work, but it continues to make me uneasy.  Join me in revisiting this event and indulge me by reading my thoughts about programming, constructivism and constructionism. Thank you.  If you make it through this post, check back later this week for another on CMK14 keynote speaker Pete Nelson, Treehouse Master.

Who? Papert et al

It was perfectly clear that Seymour Papert is the patriarchal figure of CMK.  Gary Stager made frequent mention of Papert and Logo with fond affection, great loyalty and zeal.  Papert is the intellectual father and even his descendants were honoured faculty at the event.  Artemis Papert was there with her family Brian Silverman and daughter.  Authors of the authoritative book on Logo, Learning with Logo Dan and Molly Lynn Watt, also point to the lineage of this gathering.  They are elders of the community that shape the narrative by way of oral and written history.  They are also sharp minds ready to assist with the more recent incarnations of programming languages for students such as Mitch Resnick and MIT’s Scratch.   During Stager’s opening address he made so many references, both direct and indirect to Papert that I wish I had started a tally. IMG_1327

Where’s Papert? Who gets credit and who doesn’t.

Stager is not only honouring the intellectual past of programming in education, he seemed to be fighting for recognition for Papert and Papert’s contribution. He indicated several times that Papert has been systematically erased from the story of programming in education.  I was not able to get to the bottom of this sentiment expressed by Stager, but my sense is that perhaps it isn’t only Papert that has been underemphasized but also Stager and Martinez.  The two have authored a super successful book Invent to Learn and have a long history of contributing to educational circles.  They are riding a wave of enthusiasm for maker culture, hands on learning, and STEM/STEAM education.  If the maker movement is a passing fad, Gary and Sylvia will be championing constructivism and constructionism and the hard fun of invention with and through programming long after the last LED stops blinking.  After all, they and their merry folk have been around before Make was spelled with an uppercase M and followed by the familiar TM.

Constructivism Constructionism Double Take

The event is called Constructing Modern Knowledge and I am wondering why I was at all surprised by the heavy constructivist approach.  The theoretical underpinnings are from the constructivist tradition and the play and materials people.  Piaget, Patri, Montessori and Reggio Emilia are big influencers.  This is apparent from the talk and the library collection.  Michael Hyde, my friend and fellow attendee points out to me that constructivism starts to look, feel and sound a lot like constructionism. Indeed it was Papert who hand-crafted his own educational theory with the notion of constructionism. When touring the projects there was a lot of building and making and crafting and construction.  Edith Ackerman, one of the guest speakers, even suggested in her talk that perhaps “the maker movement takes hands-on too literally.”  Is a constructionist approach too literal? Is it possible that taking constructivism too literally leads to constructionism?

I love the giant robot hands.

I love the giant robot hands that one team built. IMG_1359 They were huge, glorious, well crafted.  They even worked like real hands with stringy tendons and fingers.  They were marvelous.  They are proof that making is marvelous.  But is construction enough to achieve the objectives of constructivism and play?  Would adding an arduino and some programming make it even better or would it simply be animating an inanimate object? It’s so marvelous, the picture doesn’t even begin to show the magic. But, is this constructivism or constructionism? Is one better than another? Does it matter which?

Mind your Ps and Cs (Hot words of the 21st century)

I think if we are moving our pedagogy and our curriculum towards incorporating all the illustrious C words of 21st century learning as well as the P words, than both constructivism and constructionism will have a place.  Where play, passion, peers, projects and process (The 4Ps behind Scratch) are the mega goals and values of the classroom or school then bring on the cardboard, 3D printers, scanners, arduinos and whatever-else-you’ve-got.  Edith Ackerman supports the notion of making, but also encourages us to consider making-do as in reclaiming an age of domestic arts where fixing, repairing, improving and repurposing are as valued as inventing something out of nothing. I feel in my heart that there is value here, but I also feel a trap.  Edith Ackerman is interested in the relationship between the mind, the hand and the tool.  She says that it is not about success or failure but rather the ability to determine the next step.  She also calls on us to stay with these innovations long enough to see if we were seduced by a quick thrill or whether something greater and more important emerges from the intersection of the tools and the way they are appropriated by people and communities.  CMK is an epic win because it is this kind of intersection.  One with a pulse and a heart.  Like Michael, Greg and their team’s creation (pictured below).  It can be beautiful and meaningful all at once.  But, it is confusing.  It’s closer to art than to the school I know, but I am pretty sure that’s a good thing.

Heartbeat Wall from CMK 2014 on Vimeo.

 I feel it.

IMG_1298

“I do not remember the school ever staying with a beautiful idea long enough to have it become part of children’s lives.”

-Angelo Patri