What Learning Is / What Documentation Is #cmk16

Thursday, July 14, 2016

My previous post was about my learning experience at #cmk16 connecting an Atmega32u4 breakoutboard to the Arduino IDE and to an LED belt. With assistance.

The posts this week are all from Constructing Modern Knowledge Un-Conference in Manchester, NH, with Gary Stager, Sylvia Martinez, and the rest of the amazing intellectuals they run with.

After a long morning of learning, documented in the above post, I joined the large group for a panel discussion conducted among Carla Rinaldi, Gary Stager, and Edith Ackerman. The purpose was to have an opportunity, promised each year of CMK, to have conversations. Conferences in which speakers fly in and are ushered to the podium in a hermetically sealed packet only to be ushered out to the airport with barely a handshake or a selfie are not the CMK experience. Speakers spend the week with us.  They are by our sides engaging with us.  They accompany us to the dinner at Gauchos, they join us on our trip to MIT Media Lab, and they participate with our projects.  We learn next to them.  They learn next to us.


To have our un-conference leaders sharing their thoughts and questions with each other in a collegial manner is not as easy on your attention as being presented to. We are not being entertained or having our preconceived notions validated.  We don’t come to CMK for the opportunity to hear from our heroes on the speaker circuit. CMK is not an elitest gathering, but it is an intellectual experience.  It is not a Disney movie.  Not being a cinema goer, the closest picture I can compare CMK to is The Matrix.


Okay, it’s nothing like the Matrix, but it is closer to The Matrix than to any Disney movie I’ve ever seen.  The point being, you cannot be entertained by CMK without allowing yourself to dig deep into the learning process, deep enough to be affected by the ideas you are asked to consider.  It’s all-consuming which is part of why it’s called “hard fun.”

I love it. It taxes me. It gives me the boost that I need. It reminds me that professional development is not about “learning to use the Google,” to quote Gary. “Making kids behave” is also not on the agenda here.  This is a circus atmosphere.  When you are on the flying trapeze, precision is needed. When you create something that has never been made, you are flyer through the air without a net.


CMK is a juggling act.  We are thinking, creating, wondering, proecessing, communicating, inventing, questioning, demonstrating, documenting, and, sometimes, tweeting. Here are some:



Piaget refers to the start of symbolic function. Not only reading/writing but playing what if games, make believe, suspend disbelief


We can be inspired by children. The drama and beauty of learning. The complexity. Carla Rinaldi

We can be inspired by children. The drama and beauty of learning. The complexity. Carla Rinaldi

We can be inspired by children. The drama and beauty of learning. The complexity. Carla Rinaldi

Edith Ackerman discusses what keeps the fire burning for the learners preventing extinguishment of the drive.
Creative debugging?

The art of leaping from debugging mode to the playful mode and back again. Edith Ackerman finds this so precious about Reggio Emilia.

Gary Stager shares what he finds that *making* adds to child development. Enhanced expressiveness. precision.

Ability to create real things, (modified) allowing complexity to be accessible. I would add caring.

What is a project? Carla Rinaldi is asked. It makes visible the learning processes of the child, for one.

A project is for sharing not only the what but the how and the why. From Carla Rinaldi of Reggio Emilia.


Finally, later in the evening, a tweet came across linking to an Edutopia post about “Assessment in Making:”

Here’s the link. My disappointment with it are the questions it offers.  The questions are offered as a framework for exploring “assessment in making” and they disappoint:

“1. Does maker education raise test scores?”

imho:   This question should not be asked about making. If you are asking this question about making, you are expecting to enhance learning experiences through the exact lens that has been degrading learning experiences for so long.

I can't even

2. What is a maker curriculum, and how might we align it with standards?

imho:   This question should not be asked about making.  To design a curriculum around making is a worthy quest. To have the chief goal the alignment “standards” (which ones?) is, once again, expecting to enhance learning experiences through the exact lens that has been degrading learning experiences for so long. It’s not the standards themselves that degrade learning, it’s the relentless pursuit of proving them reached that has degraded the learning environments we find outselves in.

drinking tea

But that’s none of my business.

3. How can I assess making?

imho:   Assessment of making is a worthy endeavor when it focuses on the right things. When it has the learner as the center, assessment can look at what the learner cares about. It can assess what the learner thinks about the making.

It is at this point in the post that the author brings up “Assessing 21st-Century Skills” and “Digital Portfolios,” including some examples.  Check them out.

For the record, I understand that the authors of the post, Stephanie Chang and Chad Ratliff, are constrained by the conversation in which we are all immersed: test scores and standards. My beef with the post is that I believe changing the conversation is just as important as the quest for assessment of making. I do, however, understand the need we all have to stay in the conversation.

Here is the video embedded in the post:

My final comment on the Edutopia post is its emphasis, commonly placed upong the maker movement, on reaching the disengaged learners. My wish would be an emphasis on preventing disengagement in the first place. Making should not be defended as a prescription for students who have failed to thrive without it.  Let’s promote making as a way to enhance the learning environments all students are in.

Thanks for listening to my rant.

many thanks.png

How do you document maker experiences?

How do you assess making?


2 thoughts on “What Learning Is / What Documentation Is #cmk16

  1. Pingback: Recovering from lost video creations but determined to press forward #cmk16 #ecg2016 #passthescope2016 | cynthiaedaydotcom

  2. Pingback: (Nearly Complete) Constructing Modern Knowledge 2016 (Text Only) #cmk16 | cynthiaedaydotcom

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