(Nearly Complete) Constructing Modern Knowledge 2016 (Text Only) #cmk16

Trinket Challenge at Constructing Modern Knowledge

Monday, July 11, 2016

Constructing Modern Knowledge is the “unconference” that considers teachers capable of mastering difficult knowledge and skills.  Or, as Gary Stager says, “We don’t treat you like idiots.” Straight talk. Instead of learning how to use the Googles, educators attending #cmk16 learn in an atmosphere imbued with cutting edge technology where the hood is lifted.  Educators are allowed to get as deep as they can in the workings of electronic platforms and their components.

We spent the day working on Trinket, getting it to blink, double blink, triple blink, work a servo motor, and more. Here is a thread of my snaps: https://youtu.be/cAhesLmpVEM

We worked alone and together. We went out for lunch in area sandwich spots and the park in bunches.  We gathered at the end to reflect upon what the experience of learning meant to us individually, and heard what the faculty thought about the experiences we were having.

Gary Stager, who tells us what he really thinks to a fault and beyond, gave us some historical perspective about learning breadboarding and coding.  He had a teacher, Mr. Jones, who taught him as a kid.  He learning computer programming in MUCH more depth than “Hour of Code.” Here are a few snaps of him threaded together: https://youtu.be/YJU8GpyfBRs

And now the second day is getting started.  I’ve listened to the opening remarks, introcution of faculty, explation of the structure – and lack thereof – and the choosing of projects.  Here is a snap thread from that:  https://youtu.be/im94yyRB5HU

Click here to see  the photos of the ideas that were offered on flickr.

Now I have work to do, so, if you’ll excuse me…..

  • What are you creating today?


Flexibly choosing first project to start

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Last year at Constructing Modern Knowledge , an “un-conference,” was my first.  I was a noob. And that was fine.  I experienced the whole catastrophe that comes from having been schooled for life to do what I’m told and being an educator for 20 years being expected to design learning experiences for others in which they will never wonder what is expected of them or what why we’re doing what we’re doing.  Administrators are supposed to be able to walk through a classroom and see posted on your wall “learning intentions” that are cross referenced to Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards, and the Vermont Framework for Learning.  And it has to align with Grade Level Expectations and Quality Expectations.

We decide here what we want to do based on curiosity — both intellectual and creative — and passion, which sounds great until it hits you suddenly. And the choices are practically unlimited.  You meet people, mostly educators, who are likewise both stoked and intimidated.  You jump in and go through all the stages of excitement, panic, overload, accomplishment, failure, frustration, and lots of other emotions and states of being.

This year I didn’t want to be in a group.  Not because I don’t like people. In part because I do like people.  A lot.  I would like to be silly and learn about their dogs and kids and jobs and make sure they feel included in every decision and happy with all the outcomes.  I decided shortly before coming here that I would go solo so that I could focus.  I could stay home, but it’s not the same.  Here there is a powerful surge of energy that comes from people on missions. People normally focused on young people in their charge and presently given permission to focus on their own learning.

I brought with me some projects which I prepared for by collecting items and reading up.  I have every intention of documenting my work with everything from pictures to video to blog posts and more.

My first project didn’t work out because I had purchased the wrong part by mistake.  I tried a work-around and it was going to be more complicated than I wanted to deal with so I chose a different project.  I quickly realized that I had not purchased enough of the parts and doubted that I could find the exact parts I needed here. https://youtu.be/R9pSlQy5F1M

There is a ton of stuff made available here at the institute, but I just decided to go with a project for which I know I have everything: https://www.flickr.com/photos/adafruit/5387932657


I started by making sure I really have everything I need.  I threaded together some snaps of the parts as well as a preview of the tutorial online at Adafruit.

This project will involve soldering which I’m not really great at.  I’ve barely done it.  I’ve also welded, but under close supervision.  (Won’t need to do any welding this week….)

Here’s a preview of what I’ll be doing tomorrow: https://youtu.be/pL2F_i-R7B8

Tonight, we are going to a Brazilian Steak House just as we did last year.  I was on a meat-free phase last year. So I ate bread and salad. I was meat-free all winter, but have fallen off that phase lately.  So I’ll be indulging.  🐂🐃🐄

  • Have you made any wearable electronics?
  • Does any of it interest you?

Making Up My Mind at #cmk16 and Carla Rinaldi Illuminates Us

Wednesday, July 13, 2014

Tuesday, the first day of #cmk16 proper, was not as productive as I hoped, but I accept it.  I am ready to proceed.  My mind is ready. My plan for documentation is ready. I’m beginning now.

Click here for an Adafruit tutorial for what I’m making.

And here is the preview I put together Tuesday: https://youtu.be/pL2F_i-R7B8

The process of choosing a project to start with took me on a few goose chases related to my own poor planning. But I’m prepared for this project so I’m good to go.

Reflection time was helpful to me since I’m working solo and yet don’t wish to be isolated. We went out to Gauchos Brazillian Steak House, the tradition at CMK, where I managed to sit with people I hadn’t yet met.  The conversation was fabulous because we all had some commonality of interests and experiences which was made even more amazing given all the differences in our backgrounds, positions, and passions.  We talked about woodworking, programming, all kinds of things, with an enthusiasm rarely found in a team meeting at school. Collaboration at dinner can be so much easier than during the work day.

So that was Tuesday, the halfway point in the CMK journey. Then came Wednesday, which was the day for the keynote speaker.  Carla Rinaldi gave a riveting presentation. She had some slides, but the way she spoke was the highlight.

It was a moving presentation that I will carry with me moving forward.

In my next post, I will pick up where Carla’s Rinaldi’s talk left off.

  • What do you think about Carla’s ideas?
  • What do you know about Reggio Emilia?
  • Is there anything about it that strikes a chord?

Digital LED Belt, Soldering at #cmk16 and MIT Media Lab

Wednesday, July 13, 2014

My last post ended with Carla Rinaldi’s presentation at #cmk16.  Link to it here.

Then I got to work on my Digital LED Belt. The link to the Adafruit tutorial is here.

My previous SnapStory overview of the project was in an earlier post.

Here is Part One of a SnapStory of my Wednesday work: https://youtu.be/WrRhK5MDerw

During this clip I solder pins to a board. I also attach the board to the LED strip. Both these steps were done incorrectly. So this clip shows where I make two critical errors which come back to haunt me later.  They are:

  • My soldering job is inadequate to the point where it renders the board completely inoperable. I just didn’t get it right. Plain and simple.  Later, Karen will notice this after we have done some trouble shooting.  It ends up being easily corrected.  But it marks an important juncture in my learning journey.
  • The directionality of the current through the belt is backwards. The coding instructs the board what to send into the belt to make the LED’s do what they are coded to do.  There is a direction through which they must go.  They must enter through the ends marked CI and DI.  Those I’s stand for inputs.  I was able to see the C’s and D’s, but the print was so small that I didn’t notice the I’s.  Likewise, on the other end of the belt, it says CO and DO.  I saw the C’s and D’s but not the O’s.  I simply didn’t realize that I was on the wrong end of the belt.  Fortunately, this is something pretty easily fixed.  Ben helped me realize the error and I fixed it myself.  I write more about this at the end of the week.

Here is Part Two of Wednesday’s work: https://youtu.be/eNm8IlXul_I

What I’m doing in this clip is downloading the code to make the belt light up in the pattern that has been designed for it.  Eventually, my plan is to alter the lighting pattern and combine it with other components such as sensors (accelerometer or light or sound).  During this clip, I first make sure I have the latest Arduino IDE for TeensyDuino.  Then I try to get the code for the belt from Adafruit’s GitHub.  Since the IDE is open source, my operating system (Mac) wants to make sure that I don’t download something unsafe.  So I have to unlock it to allow me to download it.

After briefly reflecting as a large group on our work for the day, we left for MIT Media Lab in the afternoon in a bus.

Here is a replica of MIT Media given by the LEGO foundation in honor of their 30th anniversay of collaboration: (pic)

The first thing Mitch Resnick did was show us a video. https://vimeo.com/143858250

This gave us some context about the collaboration and how it evolved. (Tweets from the evening)

  • How do you feel about the Computational Revolution?
  • Have you noticed the signs of its approach, of its accelleration?
  • How will schools adjust?

That Digital LED Belt, Though    #cmk16

Thursday, July 14, 2014

Last night at MIT Media Lab in Boston was phenomenal.

Here’s the video.

And then this morning it was time to get back to working on the Digital LED Belt that was documented in my last post.

Here is the geeked out learning in all its Snapchat glory:

Here’s Part One: https://youtu.be/nwLvtyrBaX8

This clip shows me removing the solder from the board using something referred to as a “solder sucker.”  It wasn’t difficult.  The short circuit is removed and we move on. Once Karen and I get the computer able to sense the board, we are able to have the computer lead us to the list of boards that are available in the Arduino IDE. We settle that part of the project.  We get the blink.  Getting a blink is a good sign!

Here’s Part Two: https://youtu.be/bCLhBfyU02s


The clip shows me removing the solder from the board using something referred to as a “solder sucker.”  It wasn’t difficult.  . I simply heated up the solder on the pins so that I could vacuum it into a syringe. The short circuit is removed and we move on. When I brought it back, we had a big win. A light lit up.  This felt empowering!

The feeling of independence made the successes sweeter.  The feeling of independence made the struggles lonelier.  The atmosphere at CMK is supportive in a way that energizes without overloading.  If you feel overloaded, it’s because you haven’t yet learned that you don’t have to be. If you feel jazzed up, you can do a happy dance without self-consciousness.  If you feel overwhelmed, you can reach out and everyone will know what you’re going through. You are not alone.

Then we encounter another problem.  We don’t discover the solution (or the exact problem) right away.  We get to it the following day.  (By “we” I’m referring to Ben and me.) During this clip, Karen gets the blink of the board, but we don’t get the belt to light up. Karen gets strategic with the multimeter.  We want to rule out some connection issues before moving on.  But the multimeter wouldn’t work.  I wasn’t sure if there were batteries in it.  When I checked, they turned out to be there.  Assuming they were dead, I took them out and replaced them.  Still didn’t work.  I ended up putting the old ones back in and it worked.  Surely, there is a logical explanation for that! They must have been situated in such a way that the connection would not hold.  No problem. It’s working, and that’s what matters.

But then it was time to regroup. I’ve done some file management, some reflection, some blogging, and I’m ready to get back to work.

My big takeaway is the power of nearby support.  At home, when I run into difficulty, the experience is rarely empowering.  It takes such a heavy lift to figure out where to turn.  My wheels spin.  I second guess myself.  I get distracted.  But with support available, and with people all around who are going through similar trials, I can persevere without losing the passion.

  • What situations drain your enthusiasm?
  • Why is it that one experience of struggle can bring you down when another can power you up?


What Learning Is / What Documentation Is              #cmk16

Thursday, July 14, 2016

My previous post was about my learning experience 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.

(Tweets from the panel removed from post)

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

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.

  1. 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.

But that’s none of my business.

  1. 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 and feels about the making.

It is at this point in the post that the authors bring 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:  https://youtu.be/_MDOB5-ocQc

My final comment on the Edutopia post is its emphasis, commonly placed upon 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.

  • How do you document maker experiences?
  • How do you assess making?

Last Day at Constructing Modern Knowledge 2016             #cmk16

July 20, 2016 (Written about Friday, July 15, 2015)

I have finally finished replacing the videos lost to earlier posts, and I’m ready to complete my final post about Constructing Modern Knowledge.

A previous post about the institute, #cmk16, left off with my Digital LED Belt project in progress Thursday morning. (Between then and now, I posted about a panel discussion held at CMK Thursday afternoon.)

After the panel discussion on Thursday, we had a brief reflection. Lots of my fellow Un-Conference participants at CMK went back to the work area on Thursday evening.  Not me. I grabbed a garlic/mushroom pizza and collapsed in my hotel room to edit video and catch up on the day’s events in the world at large.

We all got right to work Friday morning and it was exceptionally productive.

Tracy (and then Ben) helped me discover the solutions to problems I was having uploading the code to make the belt light up like this: https://www.flickr.com/photos/adafruit/5387932657

My videos (below) show the experiemental process of figuring out that the problems stemmed from issues:

  • in the soldering
  • in the directionality
  • in the order in which I would hit one button and then the other

There are five video clips.

The first shows Ben leading me to understand the coding issue.


This style of learning — wherein the learner independently makes things, tinkers, takes chances, runs experiments, and seeks help when truly stuck — requires  more than a growth mindset.  One must be able to communicate without overwhelming, have trust, be patient, be proactive, listen, make decisions, maintain momentum, and get out of one’s own way.

These abilities fall into the category sometimes referred to as “soft skills.” Adding to the complexity, theses soft skills are being applied en masse. Without all of them functioning, a blow-out is likely. (Fortunately, nothing like that happened at CMK.)

In practice, these soft skills are required of the “teachers” as well. If a teacher is overbearing or aloof, the system fails.  Collaboration between individuals in a working group or in a class would add to the complexity of instructional dynamics.  A room full of high-maintenance individuals and a cranky teacher can throw a monkey wrench into the learning process.  If you were to add to that a fire drill, a health problem, a wifi loss, or some type of stress from outside the learning environment, things could break down altogether — even when all parties have good soft skills on board. I was lucky. (We all were.)

The second video clip shows me fixing my original soldering job.


Having soldered several times in the past, I came to CMK will some  decent soldering skills. They were not strong, but they were there.  I had received instruction, but had not truly had the motivation to want something to function for me.  In other words, I had lacked the passion that a special project can bring.  So I had soldered and simply seen the results of my work. There was no sense of accomplishment.

This time, I was able to internalize the direct correlation between quality of soldering work to outcome of project.

That soldering iron is gonna get that connection right!

The third video shows Ben taking my newly repaired soldering and getting the belt to light up correctly. He showed me how the code needs to be uploaded in exact timing with the pushing of the reset button.  Also, the video shows me attaching the power supply by soldering a diode to connect two wires (one positive and one negative) in the correct direction:


One of the recurring themes in my learning this week is that directionality is important. Early on, I had failed to take into account the fact that the LED’s would need to be powered and programmed from a specific direction.  The print on the LED strip was so small — and buried under thick plastic — that I did not make out the “I” for Input and the “O” for output.  It says DI and CI on one end and DO and CO on the other end. I only saw the C’s and D’s. Each end had looked the same to me, with each end having a C and a D.  I didn’t question it. That error made it necessary for me to redo the the connection, but that was “okay” for several reasons. Yes, it put me behind schedule.  But when it was time to solder the diode, I understood that I had to LOOK for the correct direction, and that I had to maintain it. It’s a lesson I won’t have to learn again. Next time, I will look for the end that is input and the end that is output. No one will have to remind me.  I own it.

The fourth clip shows me finishing up the soldering and then coating it with rubber tubing that is shrunk with heat from the iron:


Take away:

It’s important to turn on the switch when you want something to work.

Likewise, knowing that I am prone to absent mindedly neglect such wisdom, I can compensate for this by taking extra precautions such as deciding to BOTH turn off the switch AND remove the batteries when it’s time to solder.

The fifth clip shows the finishing touches, including the dramatic end when the belt lights up with all the code working.  I think the chocolate helped.


By the time that I had to connect the power supply to the board, I had developed two drives within me — working in tandem:

One drive was toward precision.  Of course I always want to be precise.  But, this time, I really, really, really wanted to make sure that I hit the nail on the head. And I did.

The other drive was to study the inner workings of the project. I didn’t just want to get it working so that I could be done with it.  I wanted to master it. I wanted to be the agent of my destiny. Ego? Probably. But in a good way, I think. I was feeling more and more control over the outcome of the project and it felt good. The sense of control came from a combination of knowledge and confidence.

And I did get it right. I’m not gonna lie: it’s an awesome feeling.

My colleagues, too, made some amazing things.  It was an honor to be among them.

Next is a video of most all of the other projects at CMK:


Give it up for the people who persevered to create.

Finally, here is a video from the closing session in which we reflected with the faculty on the experiences we had. And Neil Diamond Kareoke.


To Gary Stager, Sylvia Martinez, and all the good people of Constructing Modern Knowledge 2016: Thank you.

  • Have you ever been to an “un-conference”?
  • Which professional gatherings have inspired you to continue the work into the future?

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