CMK18 – Eat to Learn

[First in a series of posts reflecting on my experiences at Constructing Modern Knowledge (CMK) 2018 in Manchester, NH. CMK is billed as “a minds-on institute for educators committed to creativity, collaboration and computing.” Often referred to as an unconference, it feels like nothing less than a Maker Educator summer camp run by Willy Wonka.]

Anyone who follows CMK impresario Gary Stager on social media, knows he eats his way around the world with all the enthusiasm of a newly minted Food Network host. So it is no surprise, that food plays a vital role in the CMK experience. There is a layer of subtext around food and the connection with teaching and learning that I think should be called, Eat to Learn. (A play on Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez’s book Invent to Learn which you should read.)

Gary began the CMK introduction by saying that only a single institute dinner would be provided. Catered box lunches are expensive and provide a crappy experience. Instead, we were in an area with lots of really good restaurants in walking distance and when we were hungry, we should walk out of the building and go find one. Right away, the CMK ideas of autonomy and self-reliance were on display. As educators, we often see examples of how expensive and crappy it is when we attempt to teach and assess the same things at the same time to every student. Standardized computer-delivered content and tests are the awful hotel box lunch that we feed to our students. So, instead of a soggy sandwich, bag of chips and bruised apple on the first day, I had all-you-can eat sushi across the street from the hotel.

Gary elaborated on the restaurant selection in Manchester saying that there was no good reason why there was such great food in the area. Manchester is a city of contrasts billed as one of America’s cheapest cities to live and one of the top educated cities while also serving as a poster child for the opioid epidemic. (In March 2018, Donald Trump chose Manchester to announce a get tough plan opioid epidemic plan.) I took this to mean that if great food can happen in Manchester, great teaching and learning can also happen in unexpected places.

The CMK Institute dinner is held at an all-you-can-eat Brazilian churrascaria with a full salad bar and an endless stream of waiters bringing around different selections of meats to sample until you cry uncle. This parallels the rich availability of tools and materials available to CMK participants to develop their projects. Every type of maker tool that can reasonably fit in a suitcase or box were shipped to Manchester and available for us to try. And if that wasn’t enough, Gary pointed us to a local makerspace if we somehow found ourselves needing bigger tools. Autonomy and self-reliance on one hand and a full menu options on the other enjoyed with a community of learners.


Afterwards, I had pie with CMK faculty at the Red Arrow Diner which has a rich tradition in American politics as an essential stop on the presidential campaign trail.

On Wednesday, the entire CMK group went to the MIT Media Lab to hear talks by Makey Makey co-inventor Eric Rosenbaum and Chibitronics founder, Jie Qi. Afterwards, a beautiful selection of cupcakes were provided as a snack and Gary encouraged us to try multiple flavors. I thought this was a delightful parallel, to think of the Makey Makey and Chibi board as delicious desserts that can be appreciated on their own. (And that it is okay to have dessert before dinner!) It was nice to have this common experience with all the CMK participants before heading out to explore Boston’s culinary offerings with groups of our choosing. The drop-off location and pickup locations were over 2 miles apart forcing participants to explore the city. I ended up walking with a group of CMK folks from MIT to downtown Boston before splitting off to have chowder and lobster at the Union Oyster House. A shared group experience combined with individual exploration.


Imagine if we ate our meals like we taught school, 10 min to eat the grains, then 10 min to eat the vegetables, 10 min to eat protein and 10 min to eat dairy. That would be a crappy way to eat a meal when those same ingredients can be combined together to create an endless array of dishes. The project is the fundamental unit of the CMK process not individual pieces taught separately. The joy is in how quality, fresh ingredients are brought together to create a delicious meal.

My CMK ended with a simple meal of chicken and potatoes, fried and seasoned to perfection by an expert hand eaten at just the right temperature. I left Manchester with a full stomach and a full brain. The ideas and experience of CMK will nourish me for a long time to come.