Demonstrating Understanding


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One of the things about interviews is that there will be some unexpected questions; by design.  “Expect the unexpected” is a clever axiom, but, of course, it is inherently self-contradictory.

Today I had a great interview question, “What would you do for projects if you did not have a 3D printer?” I was asked. I suppose I enthused so much about the interesting things my kids were creating and producing that it sounded like I was all about 3D printers. “They designed and printed…” “They came up with an interesting way to …” This caught me totally off guard because I am all about using junk to make neat projects. I intentionally include in requirements that students invent or re-purpose all the parts of their tangible artifact.

You see, if I give you a diagram and give you the parts shown in the diagram then show you how to assemble the parts like the diagram … well … what are you learning? To follow instructions?

I believe you show evidence of understanding when you can take information and use it in a new context; when knowledge can be applied to novel situations.

[ASIDE: Curiously, interviews rarely tax this domain of application. Interviews are a lot like tests: you need to prepare then you will be asked questions you are largely prepared for, the unexpected notwithstanding. There is not often “application” questions. Although I did have one in my first job interview. Denny Clark handed me a piece of cement and said, “What kind of rock is this?” Then he asked me – on the spot – teach a lesson impromptu on something in biology (the position I was interviewing for.) That was just one dimension of his extraordinary leadership.]

Anyway, the question caught me off guard because the interviewer could not possibly see the context of my 3D printing – and that was my fault for not providing it! I use the 3D printer, not because it is a secret weapon, but because it is one of my currently available tools that kids enjoy and tap into. And that is what we always do. We use what is at hand (prepared by me scrounging stuff up usually). In Korea we used laptops and Youtube for kids to make up words to familiar songs – thanks Stephen Taylor! We use heaps of Costco cardboard boxes – thank you Costco! We use paper clips – thank you TOP Science! We use dollar store “party favor” tops as mousetrap wheels. We use hot glue (by the mile) though the real adhesive is the creativity of kids that holds things together.

And I love this crafting and creating because it is unique to each student. I just point them in one direction and then I watch them branch off as far as they creatively can.

[In fact, you could make a case for objectively measuring creativity by the degree of “recognizable” variance from the intended target. Hmm… that might me a way to objectify creativity … I need to think about that some more…]


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