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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

 

Test toys from the 3D printer at UnLab.

Test toys from the 3D printer at UnLab.

On Thursday, July 25th I had the pleasure of visiting with Stuart Clark the treasurer and chief tour guide to London’s own hacker and maker space UnLab run and operated with sister company/organization UnLondon.

My tour through London’s hacker haven

Podcasting

Podcast StudioStuart was instantly welcoming and happy to show me around this tech cave of treasures. Stuart is the host of the Canadian Tech Podcast and has created a podcasting studio at the UnLab for his show and for UnLab members and guests to make use of. The room is complete with:

          • 4 microphones on booms.
          • 2 guests via Skype or Google Hangout.
          • Apple computer for capturing and editing with GarageBand.
          • camera in top right corner of the room to capture a live feed of the interview.
          • Large table that guests can sign there name to upon completing the interview.

It’s pretty much what Jian Ghomeshi has for running Q on CBC, right?  Stuart has also offered PodCamp and you can catch examples of campers fine work here.

What else will you find at UnLab?

collage unlab

    • 3D printers
    • Sewing machines
    • Soldering irons
    • Power tools
    • Servers
    • Books
    • Nuit Blanche projects
    • Cable, tones of cable
    • Honeybadger (if you look really closely!)

People and 3D Printing

The guys hanging out in Unlab are working away on various projects.  Some projects are for your-eyes-only when you go and are not for sharing online since the artists are working for companies and have NDAs in place. Of course, this slight bit of secrecy only makes it more appealing to me.  People were happy to talk about what they were working on and share ideas for working my way into creating maker spaces for youth in London in classroom spaces or elsewhere.  Vice suggested looking into TinkerCad and gave me a quick demo.  He also had two great insights about 3D printing. Both I should have already known, but what can you do. They are:

  1. You don’t just get a 3D printer. You need a reason/problem to design something. Or else you will be stuck downloading projects from the Internet and printing them out. That get’s boring pretty fast.
  2. If you own a 3D printer you spend most of your time fixing the 3D printer.

Design Principles at UnLab

Gary Stager simplifies the design and invent process down to three words: think – make – improve.

K-12 Design thinking in the style of d.school uses six words to capture the process: understand – observe – define – ideate – prototype – test.

The Unlab takes a simple approach with three words:

  • gather
  • create
  • improve

In the End

I am very glad that openness prevails and that UnLab was happy to have visitors and potential new members stop by.  I can see myself, along with Greg, hanging out on Thursday nights and looking for partners to work on Arduino projects, some simple design and 3D printing and podcasting.  Also, I think I just want to hang out and be a fly on the wall as the others work and talk away. I think I could learn so much about the making and the social aspects of making by spending time at UnLab. Maybe I will just begin an ethnographic study of the place. I’ll try to join and gather stories of makers and hackers.

I see so much potential in this type of space for younger people too. London Public Library needs a maker space. Thames Valley District School Board classrooms need maker spaces.  Something feels right.

 

Who is innovating?

Don Wettrick (Google+, Twitter, YouTube) is a high school teacher on a mission and has spawned the Innovations class. He is getting kids to hack their education and he’s getting some high profile thinkers to act as mentors. I spoke with Don about his hacker class and this is my distillation of our high energy, fast paced, intense conversation about hacking and hands on learning with teens.

What is the Innovations Class?

Don is reaching out for opportunities and helping his learners find and develop their entrepreneurial spirit. The Innovation course is by application only and spans 9 months of the school year. His current class has 9 enrolled students and 3 auditors. He admits that scheduling has been a challenge and some students have selected to audit the course without academic credit as a work around for joining the class when it really didn’t fit their schedule. I call that hack one! Below is a video created by students demonstrating one project from the class:

The secret ingredients are mentorship and sponsorship.

Hack two is that Don has realized what many are missing in the conversations about hack education: the need for mentors and sponsorship.  I do not mean sponsorship in the NASCAR sense, I mean in the learning sense. We both realize that the social aspects of learning are still paramount to success and he is executing this point. Don is helping his students find mentors and sponsors to deepen understanding, broaden their reach and participate in what David Weinberger calls networked knowledge. Don Wettrick is not a name dropper, so it took a little bit for him to spill the beans on the big wigs he’s brought to his school. Have you heard of Ryan Porter? (No, I hadn’t either, but if you are a screenager, your answer would likely be different). But, I know you have heard about Daniel Pink, right? The YouTube interview can be viewed here. He admits that some mentors provide a “one-and-done” experience, which is fair, Mr. Pink has other things to do.  Don points out that the real value is having kids reach out and build rapport with their own mentors instead of having teachers fanboy and fangirl out on their own thought-leader-superheroes.

Who wins? Who loses?

How are students responding to the elective Innovation class? Okay, quick pause: predict what student profile would do the best in this classroom.  Who might demonstrate the greatest success in the Innovation class? Picture the student in your mind including their grade point average, work ethic, organizational skills and so on.  I will provide Don’s observations in 3 seconds:

 

3

 

2

 

1

 

Answer: Students who are comfortable with freedom, openness and uncertainty did best. Don observes that students chasing high grades are the lowest achieving in his class. They apparently struggle in the absence of a syllabus and assignments.  I wonder if this is because these students are good at school and bad at learning? He also notes that students who are not motivated and who appear apathetic get overwhelmed very quickly.  Having freedom to exercise your own creative spirit is a scary thing and requires some scaffolding. I wonder if the profile of the successful student will change over time as more students develop problem solving, networking, collaboration and HOMAGO (hanging out, messing around and geeking out) skills.

Hands on Learning: What does this look like in the classroom?

There is a structure to his class to support his learners. The innovation cycle begins on Mondays as Don drops the inspirational bait or bomb to get the thinking moving. He tracks trends online via Forbes, You Tube, Twitter, and Stumble Upon. The students latch on to ideas and the class moves forward from there. The Next step is to research and find mentors. Students share their research on the topic followed by a day to themselves to let the ideas congeal. Friday is the day of reflection and blogging and wraps up a week of innovation.

Who else is an educational hacker?

Since speaking with Don Wettrick I have also found others that are offering hacks within their schools. David Preston is hacking the curriculum at his high school too. Howard Rheingold interviews Dr. Preston below and DML has written this blog post.

So what? Now what?

So, somewhere between kindergarten and a post doc, learners are asking their own questions.

Now, how do we hack mainstream and required high school courses? How do we hack elementary school? Passion projects, genius hour, problem based learning, gaming, gamification, hack the classroom? Should we hack the classroom? Why would we want to do such a thing?

Why? Because there should be more than two sweet spots (K and PhD) in education where a learner’s wonderings are taken seriously.

 

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