From nothing to something...
I'm tired. Very tired. My emotions have been through the wringer the past few days. Day 2 of #cmk17 was amazing. After a busy day hearing the infamous Deborah Meier (@debmeier) speak (#teachercelebrity) and a dinner at a great Brazilian steakhouse, the team came back to the hotel and ended up discussing life, pedagogy, and education issues until almost 1:00 a.m. It was an exhilarating discussion... not only within our team, but with many of the faculty for our event including Gary Stager (@garystager), Sylvia Martinez (@smartinez), and Brian Smith (@briancsmith) - our "gear mentor" who has challenged our assumptions, ideas, and guided us (we grudgingly admit after dealing with the many frustrations his guidance presented) in getting to a completed project. (Also an empathy lesson in regards to our students!)
Then Day 3 started. We worked diligently on our project in the morning while we waited for our first speaker at 11:00 a.m. Things seemed to be moving along smoothly. My emotions started to get the best of me (my emotions are more volatile upon getting less sleep) when we got a chance to listen to Ayah Bdeir (@ayahbdeir) who is the founder and CEO of Little Bits (see video below). Her story was not only engaging and entertaining, but also very relatable, personal, and inspiring to me. Ms. Bdeir shared how her mission is to help children become inventors. She is also inspired to help blur the boundaries between disciplines - her thoughts on careers for the future included robotics veterinarians and artificial organ farmers - doesn't get more cross-disciplinary than that! Crossing disciplines truly challenges children (and all people) to build skills that they don't yet have. I felt true inspiration (tears) as well as excitement (more tears... what can I say, I'm a mom now and that's how my overtired body expresses itself!) when she shared the video below. She also shared some insight into the up and down roller coaster she has been on while founding her company. Many of her insights and feelings mirrored my own as I move forward with The Innovation School. I have lows where I wonder why I'm doing this (it's not easy) and worries about finding students and families to join me on this adventure (which is essential to its success). But as Ms. Bdeir shared, when she was at her lowest point, she would get an uplifting email from a family or educator that couldn't wait to buy her product, and so she would lift her head and move forward. This phenomenon has happened to me SO many times during this process of starting our independent school. Local educators sending me a message of support. A family with 3 young children asking to get on a waiting list. Our own staff continually impressing me with their positive attitudes, resourcefulness, and honest insight during this experience at Constructing Modern Knowledge. And so, as in the journey of Ms. Bdeir, I continue to plod forward with my head held high, with a mission to change my community (hers is the world!) by creating an environment where children can be successful impactors of the world around them.
After hearing Ms. Bdeir, the rest of the workday was up and down. Our project initially sounded very simple and quick. We were brainstorming (daydreaming as Sara Wussow likes to say) about extra bells and whistles we could add before our final presentation. Then, as obstacle after obstacle appeared, we began to wonder if we would even finish by Friday! Day 3 was filled with frustrations, excitement, and even a weary case of the giggles as I (over tiredly) found the idea of whittling amusing after my 5th prototype for a custom 3D printed gear. For me, Day 3 was also filled with insecurity and scrutiny. There are many educators here that are familiar with a LOT of the sweet tech available to us, and here was our team working with simple motors, gears, and LEGOs. Which leads to my last and most important reflection...
The theory of constructivism is that learners construct knowledge for themselves and individually construct meaning as they learn. THEREFORE, we MUST meet students where they are.
After scrutinizing and feeling insecure about our final project, it hit me... WE are working FROM WHERE WE ARE. Two of us had never seen Scratch before or even seen any kind of block coding. None of us had ever used a Hummingbird Duo before (or a Raspberry Pi, Arduino, or a simple breadboard). Gears were something we learned (for a test) when we were younger but never incorporated into something meaningful or useful. None of us had ever used a 3D printer or Tinkercad before. Some of us had never used a Dremel. Does this make our team incompetent? NO. This shows our inexperience, but also showcases our ability to learn new things, show perseverance, and is the definition of what we are trying to create at The Innovation School. Students bring their own knowledge to a situation (project, discussion, experience) and build upon that.
Our project is physically small. But what it might not show is what we have learned through working on it. Let me see if I can list some learning highlights... the concept of refrigeration and air conditioning, RPMs, torque, application of gears, importance of stability of a structure, precision, Hummingbird Duo, 3D printing (including custom LEGO gears), Tinkercad, Snap, Scratch, using a Dremel, and waterproofing. Some things we "knew" but were able to actually apply during this project were understanding how gears work, height/width/depth (3D printing), design, speed, and thermodynamics. That seems like a lot to learn in 3 days. BUT that's not even the whole story. I have also learned some remarkable "intangibles". I have seen our team working together as a true team. I have seen one working not only on the project but to make another team member laugh during frustrating times. I have looked to some team members as a resource when I didn't have the right answers. I have seen us building upon one idea and the next to create something new, inventive, and great. I have seen kindness, empathy, and understanding. I have seen four teammates working hard to work together, embracing differences, dealing with frustrations in a positive manner and celebrating victories in an inclusive way. And I have seen some team members embrace a role as "inventor" that was surprising only to themselves... the impact on our team being so powerful that we can no longer see them as anything but inventors who learn! All these experiences have led us to be proud to have made something out of nothing!
And I have also seen constructivism at its finest. I have met Eric from Baton Rouge, who is an expert at 3D printing but was only just introduced to it 2 years ago (and swears up and down that it's learnable). I have heard from Jaime who was educated as a graphic designer but taught herself coding for web development and is now the technology teacher a K-8 school (and helped her team find a coding solution to a problem after 4 hours of hard play, also known as "work"). And from our own Kelsy Power, who understood and was inspired by a faculty member (Josh @joshburker) who wanted to create a physical way to teach students how to find the surface area of a 3D object using nets. (I immediately only thought of fishing nets... another learning experience for me!)
What conclusion can we draw? First off... Constructing Modern Knowledge is the best "conference" you will attend as an educator searching for answers or strategies for progressive education. Second, when you are tired and frustrated, grab some wood and whittle away. (Oh, wait, that's probably just a "had to be there" kind of experience.) Third (or is it second? it's late and I'm confused), the knowledge you bring into a situation directly impacts the outcome of your learning experience as does the effort you put into it. And lastly (this one I know is on target), the people you surround yourself with (learn from) help you make a true and immediate impact on the world.
Want to "make" a better future by creating makers OF the future? Consider sending your child to The Innovation School. Contact me with any questions. Good night! (Or is it morning?!?!?) :)
Maggie Barth - Director and Founder of The Innovation School