Tie And Jeans

Sample Size Insufficient

For years, my interview lecture for math jobs was about the number system. It was flexible, would fit well in almost any class, and generally involved enough fancy math word to impress administrators. The 20 minute lecture built up from troll counting to the natural numbers through the Real and Complex fields by pushing at the questions that a given system couldn’t answer and framing the next system as the extension to the previous rules that would give a label for what was previously unknowable.

It was also pretty funny, as math lectures go.

When I started interviewing for exclusively “tech” positions, I shifted to lessons about Conway’s Game of Life, finite state machines, and other bits of basic CS that we could tackle even in a classroom without computers. I have a deep, historic love of Conway , and that combination made sure that I could get any group of kids up and moving. Since I last interviewed with this lesson, I’ve found even more great examples of this format in the amazing CS Unplugged.

Sample lessons are a layered pantomime, where teachers are asked to build 20 minute scale models of the relationships and learning that we’d struggle to build over years. Being successful in these lessons often means convincing the adults in the room more than connecting with students.

Occasionally I break out in a sweat about what my next set of sample lessons will look like. I’ve given lots of thought to what a better interview  might look like, but I’m still stymied on how to express my current teaching goals into the traditional sample lesson. If a potential hire showed up with a backpack full of cardboard , does that make them the teacher equivalent of a prop comic? What about a truck? How do you model long-term engagement and student inquiry, processes that already strain against the 45 minute boundary, in a 20 minute teaser?

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3 thoughts on “Sample Size Insufficient

  1. Although I don’t plan to leave my current job any time soon, I’ve often wondered how I would go about interviewing for a new job, and what my sample lesson would look like. Maybe I should show up for a lesson about Christopher Columbus with a back-pack full of pre-made astrolabes, calibrated for the location of the school? That’s a lot of work, for a job that I might or might not want. But showing up with a pre-printed set of astrolabe parts, and expect a group of kids who’ve never worked for me ever to build their own in a half-hour lesson, that’s not a great option either. How does one convey how design thinking or Makery changes a lesson, a teacher, or a school? I don’t have a good answer to that, yet. I barely know how to show colleagues what it means to be a Design Thinker.

    As you may know from one of my recent blog entries, though, a lot of it has to do with how the classroom looks. How do you do that in someone else’s classroom? Maybe the Platonic solids would work for me — getting a group of kids to build a group of solids, and then discover the interrelationships between them… what solids fit together well? Which ones don’t? Which solids are compatible, and which aren’t? That requires that the solids be built on the same framework, though, rather than differently-scaled…. unlike the set I currently build. Hmm.

    More often than not, as you recognize, the learning that we do as teachers is our principal product. Our own Palace of Memory, including both its knowledge bank and its skill bank, is our primary product. That’s what our next employer is buying access to, and agreeing to attach its existing faculty-mentalDB.

    Which means, increasingly, that the tech-savvy teacher has to be more aware of the interrelationships in the school, and whether or not the school itself is a functioning community, or a dysfunctional one. And while it’s important that we have a source of income and health insurance, etc., our own skills and abilities and knowledge work better in a school that is functional and wants our abilities to complement their own extant knowledge-base, than in a dysfunctional school that merely needs warm bodies.

    • tieandjeans on said:

      Oh, that last paragraph is a doozy.

      A functional school hires new faculty because they want to become the school that includes that person’s ability, personality and skills. Dysfunctional schools “fill positions” because they’re a school that has 4 6th grade teachers, and there needs to be a name on the door come September.

  2. Pingback: Maximizing School Interviews | Tie And Jeans

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