Tie And Jeans

Archive for the tag “interview”

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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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MakerFaireNYC: Goldieblox

I met Debbie Sterling at MakerFaire last weekend, where she was demoing Goldieblox her fantastic line of engineering/construction toys aimed at young girls.

As Annika’s Dad, I’m excited by the toy and how it connects the engineering skills to the storytelling experience that is so central to all of Annika’s play. What makes it “for girls” isn’t an avalanche of pink, but the narrative that propels these characters to build tools and reach their goals. I have decades of deeply conflicted thoughts about essentialized gender identity (hello Santa Cruz!), but I can say with confidence that my daughter engages with the world primarily through narrative, and she has no interest in building “stuff” without a clear story hook.
At the Faire, Debbie had both her final prototype and several older models on display. One major difference between these two sets triggered my math nerd response.


              
The older version used standard pegboard with the holes laid out on a rectangular grid, like a geoboard or standard dot paper. Her final model used an offset grid, what I think of as “hexagon” or isometric dot paper. When I asked her about this difference she broke into a huge smile and told a fascinating story about her play testing experience with young children.

The audio shows my distinctly amatuer recording skills, but I’m incredibly grateful to Debbie. I also refer to isometric dot paper as “isomorphic,” becuase I’m a complete goof.

At the end of the book, Goldie makes a star out of the ribbon drive. As any GeoBoard loving math teacher knows knows, you can’t make a clean symmetric star on a rectangular grid.  In playtesting, Debbie learned that this lack of symmetry drives young girls crazy! Debbie found that their negative experience was strong enough to sour them on Goldieblox as a whole, so she redesigned the entire project around an offset grid. The new design yields wonderful, fully symmetric, 5 pointed star shapes. What a wonderful reminder how much aesthetics matter, even in engineering!

I backed Goldieblox earlier this week, and Annika is already asking when the “ribbon dolls” will arrive. By the time she’s 10, my sense is that half of her favorite toys will be Kicstarted projects. I can’t wait to see what happens whenthe generation raised on crowdfunded individual creations realizes that they have access to the same tools.

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