I just spent an incredible week at Gary Stager’s Constructing Modern Knowledge conference. I think my brain might explode. I need to tell you all about it.
I first discovered the mind that is Gary Stager at the first Constructivist Consortium in Atlanta, GA during the Atlanta NECC conference. The Constructivist Consortium is a one day event at the NECC/ISTE conference. It is a separate event, but so worth making time for it. There were many things that took place that day. Gary talking about making things and how learning should be. It was the first time I felt as though I had found an education home.
Forward 3 years. I attend my first Constructing Modern Knowledge Conference. I knew that CMK would be an extension of the Consortium, but I wasn’t really sure how it would all work out. So I loaded up 3 of my fellow teachers and we made the journey to CMK. I will only say that it was one of the best journeys I ever made. So good I returned this year.
Let me tell you about CMK. First of all, it isn’t in some swanky hotel that has been around for 200 years. It doesn’t have 1000+ sessions for you to attend. No one is tweeting you to be the 15th person to say how great their product is for a t-shirt. CMK takes place in a nice hotel, in one large room. When you walk in part of the room looks like Toys R Us and the another part the local Borders book store. You are greeted by Sylvia Martinez and Gary. A table is behind them filled with all kinds of stickers, markers, paints, and name tags. This is the first sense that something is different. You are told to make a name tag and you can decorate it as much as you want or even don’t want.
When the day goes full on, Gary talks to the group about his background and about the philosophy behind CMK, although he doesn’t present it as a philosophy. There is NO schedule only appointments and we decide what we are going to do. I came to CMK this year with no clear agenda. Last year I wanted to know all I could about 1-1 laptop programs. It was more than invaluable, it was simply priceless. My only plan this year was to make connections. I made connections, but out of those connections came extraordinary conversations.
Unlike other conferences where you sit and listen to experts speak, at CMK not only do you listen to them speak, but you get to have conversations with the experts. Heck you get to do more than that you get to spend time with them, eat lunch with them, even share the pool or hot tub. This year’s experts were Gary, Sylvia, Alfie Kohn, Debra Meier, James Loewen, Cynthia Solomn, Brian Silverman, Artemis Papert, and John Stetson. There were other experts in the room but they were their as participants. Dennis Harper was there and so was Chris Lehmann. I can’t tell you how excited I was to be able to spend time and have meaningful, real talks about everything with these amazing people. I must admit I wasn’t sure how I would deal with Alfie’s views on competition or no grades, but it resulted in a discussion with Sylvia that I will treasure. The conversation between Alfie and Debbie was, well there are no words to describe it. Yes, it was that good. I spent time with Cynthia at Fablevision discussing leadership and progressive education. I came away knowing I had made a new friend. And that is only the “experts”.
Don’t get me wrong the experts were that worldly and incredible, but so were the participants. I had been following Chris Lehmann for a while on Twitter and it was a goal of mine to be able to talk to him about what it means to be a good leader. I must admit that I really didn’t know how to approach Chris. Did I go up to him and say “Hi, I’m Angie and I am your Twitter stalker” or “Dude I wanna pick your brain?” Ironically it was my call sign and a rival team that helped break the ice. Chris was very generous of his time. I am looking forward to learning more about how he leads his school. There are more similar stories with Brian and Joe and Jeff and the names could continue. It makes all those online conversations so much more connected.
At CMK you aren’t told how to learn, you are given the opportunity to learn. You learn by doing, by asking questions, by being frustrated, by exploring, by talking, by listening. It is how our children and students should be learning each and every day in our schools, but aren’t. I wish everyone would take the opportunity to attend a CMK conference, to be open to the powerful discussions and deeply powerful experiences. I hope everyone can have the experience of eating ice cream at the local hang out at 9 o’clock at night with people you just met because the conversations are just that good. (so is the ice cream)
CMK11 is in the works, I’m sure. Take the chance to be open and learn what education can be and should be. I look forward to meeting you at CMK11 next year.