I’m writing this morning from Manchester, New Hampshire, where I’m about to begin the second day of Constructing Modern Knowledge, a week-long workshop/summer camp/makerspace/learning conference. Put on by Gary and Sylvia, with a cast and crew of plenty of smart and makery others, the event is an opportunity for curious learners to come together around some simple ideas. The belief that learning happens by doing, for one. That the smartest folks in the room are the room is another.
Gary, when introducing folks to the ideas of the week, reminded us that one of the best things a teacher can do when someone is wondering about something is to nudge them along, but only a little bit, either through questions or a bit of feedback. As I overheard Sylvia explaining the event to someone this morning, she pointed out that what CMK is trying to do is to model what it might look like to create a less structured learning space, what it might look like to create the right space for powerful learning to happen. Folks are encouraged to think about what they want to make, rather than what they want to learn. The learning comes when the making (and the maker) gets stuck. “How do I get this thing to do what I want it to do?” becomes “I need to learn more about X.” And then direct instruction is something the learner seeks out rather than something the learner is subjected to.
There’s a lot of important stuff in there about motivation and desire and learning.
The structure of CMK is simple. Put lots of curious folks in a room. Surround them with a few experts, an awful lot of raw materials, and the McGuffin of getting to work on a “project” that’ll be completed a little bit later. Then step back and see what happens. Might take all week. Might take a day. But the desire to get something made is what will drive the learning.
I was struck yesterday, as I got stuck in a new world for me, a world of some new hardware, and a new programming interface, and a new challenge to make with those things, by how it felt to not know. It’s scary and can cause anxiety when you know something might work, but it doesn’t yet, and you feel like maybe you can’t do it. Or you’re missing something obvious. I forget sometimes that accepting help can be really, really hard.
But I have cultivated a powerful network of people who know things I don’t, and who can do things I don’t yet know how to do. And when I get stuck, I can reach out to one or several of those folks and they can help me figure things out. That’s what I did yesterday, as I tackled my coding dilemma through Twitter DMs, Web searches, and deep dives into tech specs for products I was holding and trying to unlock.
I’m reminded, too, that at least a little bit of teaching has to look like helping people learn how to engage with others. That involves sharing what we can, and maybe the biggest challenge for me lately, accepting help when those other folks know, and I don’t1 .
I’m grateful for the time, the opportunity, and the experience of being in a place of learning with so many others who wonder and hope and dream and fiddle and tinker and hack and make and play. I’m appreciative of the example of CMK, the example of what a rich learning space can look like, and how I can enter into a room full of strangers and get right to what they describe here as “hard fun.”
At least sometimes, maybe most times, this is what learning should look like at school, too.
- Yeah. I’ve said this twice in this reflection – it’s something I want to pay close attention to this week. Why, when I work so hard to help others, and to make sure their needs are met, am I so worried/bothered/concerned/anxious about seeking help when I need it? [↩]