The Eternal Interview Continues…

Lego Mindstorms NXT lets you build robots...fast.  Really fast.

Lego Mindstorms NXT lets you build robots…fast. Really fast.

So yes…last Tuesday was the second three hour segment of what turned out to be an intensely long (six hour) interview process for me, with another three hours of formal interview for my co-teacher. Informally, she met with them two other times, both times being full of relatively phony levels of judgment. On the one joint phone consult we had, I actually threw up afterward.

The day before my interview…I was stressed. Stressed out of my mind. I tend to build things when I’m stressed, and there was this Lego Mindstroms NXT kit sitting around. We got it with a GATE grant years ago, and had never had the opportunity to road test it. Some friends in Austin, who are working on an Artificial Intelligence that can stream through an NXT brick wirelessly, were interested in me building a ‘bot so that we could see if that worked. One thing led to another…

…and the art for today was functionally non fiction as a result.

A functioning 'bot built with the NXT kit.  Cool, huh?

A functioning ‘bot built with the NXT kit. Cool, huh?

Skip ahead to the interview. As I said before, it was excellent. I had an audition lesson with the kids that was like a Benetton commercial. They were charming, intelligent, and universally involved in class. It was quite simply what I thought I was signing up for fifteen years ago. When that was done, they had me adjourn to another room to write a “reflection” on my own lesson, which we would discuss.

When we went to the discussion, or the “debrief,” the question came up, “You used no technology in your lesson…and you’re an english teacher. Are you afraid of technology?”

I reached behind me, and picked up the Mindstorms ‘bot. Putting it on the table, I answered, “I built this functioning robot on my desk yesterday, between classes. I’m fine with technology. I didn’t want to waste an minutes of my short audition futzing around with systems that I’m unfamiliar with.”

Bringing robots with you settles that question.

Still…the interview had many parts of it that were forced. The school’s founder seemed torn between trying to get actual lesson plans out of me, while simultaneously scorning my practice…and also mesmerized by the robot sitting on the desk. It seemed to speak to her at points, whispering in her ear, “Hire him, and robots like me will be built here. Microsoft will give you grant money.”

So much so that when it came time for me to run the collaboration, she wanted it to be about how “I would use my robotics in the classroom.” Check out that phrasing, True Believers…apparently I OWN robotics now. Cool. My response that I probably wouldn’t was not well met. There was an insistence that I lead a “collaboration” on robotics in the classroom. I asserted, “Okay, but then you’re going to need to sit through a little Direct instruction, which you’ve said is a no-no.”

“Why?” was the instant response.

“Because I have forgotten more about robotics than most people ever learn in the first place.”

Hand goes up, and the founder CORRECTS me. “You mean you KNOW more about robotics than other people.”

“No Ma’am. The unimportant stuff that I forgot because it’s useless? There’s more of that than most people ever learn. I was speaking precisely.”

So…for a while I talked them through the Artificial Intelligence design, and how it leads to the Seed Factory recycling project, using 3D rapid prototyping, that I’m lending a hand to a firm in Austin…in my vast amounts of free time. The idea of environmental robots was a clear draw, mixing “green concepts” with computer programming. Still…there was little collaborative about it. After a while, I started to pack up my things.

As my robot and I left with the principal, I was pretty amazed. Amazed at how much I liked the concept of the school, and the ideas in education that they wanted to develop…and how little I seemed to like the people. Six plus hours of hoop jumping later, with requests having been made to me to provide my rubrics and lesson plans prior to being hired at all…it seemed that to some degree, the interview was a way to get ideas, to get direction, for a small school that had already cross pollinated as many ideas as it had with merely four staff members.

The principal told me he would be back in touch with me with the ruling of the hiring panel soon enough. Given some of the things said to my co-teacher, and some of the treatment during the procedure, Herbie the Robot, Pony, and myself were just happy to get in the car, and put the thing behind us.

Next Issue: When Comes Galactus!

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