There are so many things that were learned about making, about self, and about various educational connections at the Constructing Modern Knowledge (un)conference, a.k.a. #cmk18. This extremely hands-on, four day workshop was lead by Gary Stager and Sylvia Libow Martinez, with many, many supporting actors. This is one of THE workshop for makers and educators. I have heard about it for years, and it was finally my time to attend. I was beaming!

Learning, tinkering, cooperation, connecting –all things learned while immersed in the daily events. But the most powerful and overarching theme was the joy of learning. Though I am not as adept a writer as @BudtheTeacher (maybe I need his Metaphoe Muse machine), or as technical as @JoshBurker with my creations (as of yet), or as reflective in my thoughts as @DesignMakeTeach, I can say that as a result of this workshop I was able to enhance my own maker-knowledge, increase my confidence with various old and new technologies, and expand my vision as to what true making is all about. I hope that in this post, all of this is shared with you.

To begin this (not)conference, there was the usual housekeeping, anecdotes, etc, which I relish since I like to know what “rules” there are, particularly so that I am aware when I am not following them entirely (ask for forgiveness, not permission, right?). Flying under the radar is my mantra in life, humble if you will. I don’t like to make a fuss, and certainly not waves, but sometimes I just don’t fit into the directed box, and I end up doing something totally different, but still in the same arena (I would like to think that most  students don’t want to be directed towards such a box, either). But here, there were no rules, no directions, no direct instruction or guidance…only a ridiculous amount of energy and encouragement from all sides of the room. “GO MAKE!,” he (Gary) said, in that booming and jovial tone. “Go and find people who are as passionate about some random thing as you are! Let me hear some ideas!”  People began to call out various ideas for projects, from ‘Virtual Reality Choose Your Own Adventure Games’, to an ‘annoying hall pass that summons anyone in a 5 mile radius when you have expired your time limit’ to an ‘interactive map using bulbs, sensors, code, and paper craft. Carnival games? Yup! Interactive Dress? Sure! Someone even shouted,  “I want to make a shoe that can call an Uber… a Shoe-ber!” It was made. A Microprocessor-controlled Hydroponic Scale Model Greenhouse with built in Ecosystem? Of course! After a hilarious round-robin of ideas, the masses stumbled out into the hallway to find our passions and the people crazy enough to think like us. The work can begin!

But I slammed on the breaks…

Filled with excitement and anticipation, I wanted to bolt out that wide, double door and find my project, and my people, for the week. But as soon as I left the ballroom, diving deep into the sea of noise with homemade signs containing ideas scribbled upon them (so you can find your project/idea/group), I froze. So many amazing projects! So many wonderful ideas! So many strangers! Ok, right, so as an adult I am supposed to be able to go up and talk to anyone…no big deal right? WRONG….this was like a horrible sociology experiment where I was the only subject –walk up to an already formed group of total strangers and ask to join? Or stand there with a sign hoping, begging inside, that one or a few people would pick me and my insane project? No, thanks. As an introvert, I am completely overwhelmed by something like this (ok, so I don’t love making small talk, sue me). This, on top of the fact that I wanted to do like 10 different projects! How in the world could I find one/commit to one/not seek like a Jane Lane, or inadvertently a Daria Morgandorffer, when trying to join a group. So here is where I decided to break the rules a little (though there weren’t really any rules, remember?) and fly under the radar (see, it’s relevant now). Though I totally see why this (the grab and go format) is an amazing strategy and how it works so wonderfully for this (not)conference, but for the few introverts that were there, this is a really uncomfortable moment.

Taking a lap (or three)…

After I covertly avoided the “sea of people happily conversing and overflowing with ideas” and headed into the armory (the large ballroom where all the fun stuff was stored and making happened), I did a lap to see what was available. The first thing to my left was a makeshift library, overflowing with books to use during the week for inspiration, tutorials, and reference. after browsing the endless titles, I did a quick turn to my right and a walked down the wall lined with tables. EV3 Lego kits (been there, done that for so many years, so I kept moving), various USB cables, power sources, and wires, followed by a wide selection of tools. At the end of the line was a heaping amount of arts and crafts, things to take apart (toys, games, etc), and a mass (mess) of 3D printing scraps (what a great idea!). Another right turn led me to a soldering station (ooh! I need to try that), a bank of Ultimakers, an embroidery machine (sounds like fun), and more craft supplied geared toward sewing. Another right turn, and down the other long wall was and endless view of pure delight. Conductive materials, LEDs, microprocessors galore (Hummingbird kits, Microbits, etc), Arduinos and all of their lovely accessories and extensions, LittleBits, Snap Circuitry, Raspberry Pi’s…the joy seemed to go on for miles. I took two more laps, taking it all in like a small child stepping into Chocolate World in Hershey Park for the first time. It was a makers dream!

I had made up my mind that “one project model” just wasn’t going to work for me – for the reasons mentioned before – and for the fact that I wanted to try so many different things in a short period of time. I figured jumping from project to project would be annoying to other souls, and trying to coax someone to follow me on this crazy path may be too time consuming. At this point, I made a list of things “I needed to play with/try/learn” and set off to find a space to work. Those last two laps around the place may have put me at a disadvantage in this department…all the tables were filled. So I set up shop in a corner (a few different corners) for the week.

Documentation, sort of…

Since most of my successes and failures, and possibly food wins, are posted in sequence on Twitter (@TheRobotFairy), I will just sum up my learning adventures here: TurtleArt refresher, TurtleStitch with the embroidery machine, which led to an obsession with the embroidery machine and produced many greeting cards and test swatches, then paper circuit fun (its always fun to play with Chibitronics), an Arduino refresher, then a tutorial for Lilypad coding with a Protoboard – complete with synchronized lights and music (Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star is always a fan favorite), and finally a self-taught-crash-course with a Hummingbird, programed with Snap! which is so much like TurtleArt and Scratch that it was a breeze. Though I did not have one huge project to share at the end (like the super cool homemade Operation! game), I did have some mighty fine greeting cards, a nice fabric swatch with various patterns I made, a recording of my Hummingbird board blinking its lights and turning its servos and motors, and lastly a snazzy video of my Lilypad Protoboard singing and blinking (luckily the Lilypad was something I brought with me, and I am now working on improving my coding skills with it and sewing it to my amazing swatch of random designs made on the embroidery machine). Thanks to @JaymesDec for helping me fine tune my code.

And now for something completely different…

Imbedded in all of this making and creating, was conversation (yes, I finally did converse with people…after I accidentally followed a small group to lunch. We were all in search of falafel apparently, and in this small, more cozy setting I was able to open up a bit. Waiting an hour for falafel really allowed for some great sharing! Shout out to @RobbinSimons, @andrewstapleton, and @MsLAsAdventures.) I had amazing conversations with the aforementioned as well as casual connections throughout each day. On the midnight madness work session, a bunch of singlets ended up in the tavern attached to the armory, and we all became “twitter friends,” but I like to think of us as real friends, though we are many miles from one another. The conversations that I had, while trying to daintily eat my absurdly messy burger that evening, were the most meaningful for me; each participant brought to light ideas in my mind that were percolating there, but just weren’t quite fully brewed prior to this casual, and delicious, encounter. Queue: Bud Hunt, Kenneth Rowland(who should really change the digits to 8675309), Benjamin Doxtdator, and Julie Fellmayer.

So much more to say…

There were so many more things that happened at #cmk18. Some planned, some organic, some random. But this post is already quite long, and so I will continue my thoughts in a “what I really learned at #cmk18″ (site: paragraph 2) in another post, and i will deeply explain how it connects to the “only the tip of the iceberg” learning that I have outlined above. There is James Loewen, the sociologist-historian. There is Carla Rinaldi of Reggio Emilia. There are musicians. There are pioneers and inventors of code!

So consider this part one of two for #cmk18 and making, for now. Thank you Gary. Thank you Silvia. Thank you everyone who planned this event, ran this event, and attended this event. This is more learning on four days that I have experienced in quite some time.

Update 7/30: The second installment is the True Meaning of Making (for anyone actually reading these).

Post Icon Photo: A cute little Microbit from their webpage