One challenge that I face, however, is that my students are used to their curiosity being satiated so quickly and easily. If they want to know the answer to something, they can just Google it. On their phone. Right there.
Iâ€™m wondering â€“ does solving the answer to â€œThe Ticketâ€ permit the use of a cell phone bar code scanner? I easily got â€œ2000â€³ for the answer using the Amazon iPhone app. I had a feeling my students would find the answer that way too. Yup. It took about a minute before a student took out his phone and used Google Goggles.
I was in Kansas earlier this year when this problem reared its head and threatened to swallow up back-to-back workshops. I had shown this video and we were kicking a few questions around before eventually answering, “How much money is on the walls?”
In the first workshop, a participant asked, “Why did he do it?” and I talked about the $100,000 that Hugo Boss awards Guggenheim artists for the design of an installation. A few people snickered and I realized I had just answered our next question.
In the second workshop, we were working off Guggenheim blueprints to determine how much cash was on the walls and one group seemed disengaged. I walked over and saw New York Times coverage of the installation on several screens. The headline has the answer.
Two options here:
- Throw suspicion on Google. I asked one group to please make sure there are really $100,000 on the walls. I mean, what if Feldman just quoted that sum to the New York Times but pocketed $40,000 thinking, “Who can really tell the difference between 100,000 and 60,000 bills?”
- Ask a question that’s never been asked before. The point of the Guggenheim task is to have students model the total dollars using a) the surface area of the walls, b) the surface area of a dollar bill, and c) the amount one dollar bill overlaps the next. My students found an easier way to resolve their perplexity than build that model. Power to them. So I asked them, “What would the bills look like if there were a billion of them up there?” Eventually, you ask, “What’s the most cash they could pin to the walls?” In both cases, they have to construct the same model. They’re just solving for a different unknown. For the ticket roll task (original question: “Given a ticket roll, how many tickets does it contain?”) I said, “I’m inviting my 1,000,000 friends over for a party. I’ll need a ticket roll that holds that many tickets and I’m wondering how big that’ll be. Can I store it in this room? Will I need a shed? A warehouse?”
I have a lot of faith in that second option. It extends to any kind of task. Swap the known and the unknown. Pick a number with a lot of zeros and then build a story around it.