Sleep-Away Nerd Camp ’12 – Constructing Modern Knowledge
For the several years, I’ve tried to find some professional development experience each summer that affords me a few days to learn something new in a lot of depth. I’ve tackled specific programming languages (Racket via Program By Design last summer and Python with Mike Dawson a few years before that), and more generalized math-ed work (Math Workshops at Dana Hall **). I know these weeks are a luxury, purchased at high price by my school and my family. Whatever the NerdCamp topic happens to be, it serves as a intellectual and social antidote to the generalized conference – ISTE or Whipple Hill or Lasuanne – where everyone spends each day in a flood of different topics, and after-hours social whirlwind starts by 4pm. A good NerdCamp experience has me engaged with tough problems through lunch and dinner, and then up late pushing the day’s learning as far as I can. I know I’m flighty, and the opportunity to think and play with with powerful new ideas for days on end is a rare gift.
I’m not opposed to fun and social connection, but if there’s an “evening out” portion of your conference, it had better be something awesome and on-topic.
Which is basically why I’m going to Constructing Modern Knowledge.
When I list out the things I’d hope to see or learn at CMK, by definition what comes out are ideas that have already occurred to me. As a class, I do need to build more connections between to experts and other communities of makers. I need to devote time to a show-and-tell space, which includes modeling with my own work and inviting outside participants. While I hope to connect with some other educators at CMK, and by extension their groups of young Makers, there’s no magic technology that will create and maintain a supportive culture and enthusiastic students. That’s on the ground teacher work, and I’m looking forward to it.
CMK suggests that participants leave their teacher hats aside and thoroughly engage as a learner, which is largely my definition for NerdCamp.*** But the description of the wide assortment of modern gizmos, combined with the suggestion that participants bring some toys from their “fool around” shelf, leaves me unsettled. Should I bring my parts bucket and as much as my toolkit as I can get past TSA? Should I bring an single project and aim to move through a few prototypes? Will bringing too much of my own baggage, in every conventional sense, help or hinder the meta-learning of CMK?
I’ve reread Andrew Watt’s posts from CMK-09, which mainly offer notes on some of the presentations and an reflection on the process of drawing Alhambra in a Logo. Reading from those posts into the fall of 09, I don’t get a sense that CMK gave him any powerful tools for his personal or classroom learning. But the Andrew who attended CMK-09 was still two full years out from his world-changing trip to Nueva and dLab, not to mention the last full year of design work with students. How would today’s Andrew react to CMK? Would he find more powerful tools to bring back to his students design spaces, or just more techno-cruft? I feel more akin to the post-Nueva Andrew, ready to bring this change I’ve felt in myself and in the world into my school space. Not because it’s mandated, not because there’s a popular ground-swell (although that’s getting larger!), but because I’m unwilling to teach any other way.
I’m not sure I need to be transformed by Constructing Modern Knowledge, but I’m desperate to be surprised.
I’ll do my best to blog and document throughout, especially if I build any paper-prototypes.
** I really enjoyed my trips to the Dana Hall Workshops, but I’m not sure I would choose it as a NerdCamp again. On my first day Dana Hall, I learned that not everyone was eager to push through more math problems during the lunch hour. I remain incredibly grateful to another other Andrew (sadly lost to the pre-Twitter mist) who joined me for many meals where math consumed far more napkins than food.
*** Although I’ve had great NerdCamp experiences where I could dive deep some aspect teaching practice without the distractions of an active school year. Teaching is a craft that I will always need to improve and refine.