Two of my former professors at Harvard have described "understanding" in ways that I consistently go back to when I think about this word. David Perkins has said that understanding is knowing both the parts in the context of the whole while also recognizing the whole as the sum of its parts. Stone Wiske has defined it as being able to think freely and flexible with what one knows. Yesterday when my brother sent me a New York Times article about Star Wars Uncut and its recent Emmy Award, this notion of true understanding immediately came to mind.
This amazing example of crowd-sourcing was started by someone at the online video site Vimeo. The original Star Wars (A New Hope) was broken down, start to finish, into 15 second clips. Then, users were allowed to pick a clip and recreate just those 15 seconds in any way they desired - animation, live action, claymation, flipbook - and submit it back to the site where the Star Wars Uncut team would pick the best ones and put it back together.
If you are even a casual Star Wars fan, it is easy to see that the people who participated truly understood Star Wars. I think it would be great to see school projects designed this way. This fall I'm going to talk to a French teacher about trying something similar with her students, perhaps recreating a play they normally do: Les Trois Petits Cochons (The Three Little Pigs).
Header photo by Robert S. Donovan