Periodically I will come across an organization which reflects some of the ideas and inspirations I have about creating my own career, or even business or nonprofit. One idea I’ve been playing with recently stems from my frustrated kitchen antics – I watch too much Masterchef Australia – there’s a whole snapper in my fridge right now because I’m convinced now I can fillet it without ever having tried.
Before I left my last job, I was fascinated with breads. I don’t really eat them, but I want to understand the mechanics of leavened vs unleavened, dense vs airy and all the other variations in breads. Memorization and math, as established, aren’t my strong suits, but what I know I could benefit from is making breads myself and then taking notes on the basic nomenclature of each type. Since my comprehensive bread book is in another country right now, this last two weeks or so my focus has shifted to sauces. A béchamel vs a veloute, how to make aioli or hollandaise.
To simplify these even more, so that I can remember a logical progression rather than memorizing individual recipes, I try to map out proportions, something observed in cooking shows. Because I rarely do things like this without eventually sharing the information, I decided maybe I’d practice my artistic and design skills by using online infographic sites to compile what I learn into an easy visual representation. I don’t have any to show you, as this was yesterdays brainstorm, but some of these sites in case you’re interested are: Piktochart, Venngage, easel.ly, infogr.am and visual.ly. As you can tell, I was diverted from my sauce obsession onto finding all the best infographic sites online – not necessarily a bad thing. 😉
This plays into my ideas about experiential learning and how schools often miss the mark (in my opinion) on how to really help kids gather knowledge. As I’ve written in the past it would be wonderful to have some sort of experiential and mentoring non-profit, maybe outside school hours, for kids to come and have short 1-2 hour immersions in new areas and ideas.
One scenario that always dominates these mental wandering of mine is challenging kids to build a pyramid.
- basic supplies
- bit of a challenge
- maybe some software
- iPad internet access.
- 20 minutes on their own individually to do research
- 15 minutes to discuss what they learned about the pyramids, or pyramids in general,
- then some time to try to build their own.
It would also be a bit of a team building exercise, since they’ll learn differing ideas online. Ideally we’d see the astronomical, mathematical, engineering and manpower sides of the challenge, and hopefully more. If less, then there’s opportunity for learning more about research.
Sometimes I think the key might be going through the learning process with the audience, by picking a topic even I’m unfamiliar with. The point of being there as a mentor is critical thinking and research skills, knowing how to find information, but not necessarily being an expert on the subject. Educators might scoff at me for that, who knows…
This could be done with bread making… Do you remember Home Ec? I learned how to sew exactly one thing and cook exactly two. There was not even as much comprehensive knowledge as in shop class. Why not a mentored experience of learning things like (for example):
- breads and sauces (any cooking)
- tools, power tools, hardware
- huge range of fruit and veggies (have you seen Jamie Oliver quizzing a kids classroom?)
- determining whether news is factual, or represented differently around the world
- comparison of languages and writing styles (in a fun exploratory way, not dull or academic)
- antiques, antiquities
- antique carpets
This is just a top-of-my-head list, but any adult “new school” format is chock full of topics we could offer kids. I bring up carpets because they’re one of my recent passions and I’ve spent literally hours researching how to know the value and authenticity of silk persian rugs.
Giving kids an experiential overview of the worlds carpets; their fibers, design elements, persian vs turkisk vs other knots, quality, reproduction, value and the testing for all of these things has educational merit that’s not merely frivolous. As a child this would automatically have led, for me, to learning about history, geography, indigenous crafts and arts, antiquities and even the global aspects of imports and exports or the political aspects such as our countries current ban on Iranian rugs.
If you think about it, we offer this sort of learning experience to adults all the time. Why? I supposed it’s because we get to choose what we want to learn. And isn’t that a fundamental point?
There really are unlimited non-traditional topics to which we could expose children. As a child I read like some sort of mulching machine being fed branches, but sadly most of the children and adults I meet “dislike” reading (ugh, shudder). Wouldn’t this be a way to inspire the search for knowledge and by doing so, improve the world? Improve the quality of what our kids want/do in and to the world in the future?
In my fantasy organization we would have the best balance between the highly educated and experienced professionals and non-traditional, inspiring and creative staff, to not only ensure we have the benefit of experts and the most up to date research, but also offer opportunity to potentially effective and inspiring mentors/educators who might not be considered for positions like this because of their level of education and training (ahem…like me).
So – back to my original reason for posting. Today in my wanderings through Facebook (of all places) I came across a school in California called Playmaker. I’ve posted about one or two others in the past. I’m always excited when I see groups like this because it means maybe we’re making progress, albeit slowly, in improving how we teach in the US.
I cannot help but refer to my own career change path when I make these discoveries. Often when I read these sites I peruse their career and about pages to learn what it would take to work with them. In this case I was impressed by their particular brain trust, but also somewhat discouraged in my own aspirations by seeing the years of teaching experience, and at least one Harvard education in the mix.
My coach says I don’t need to go back to school or have a specific skill set to be able to create my own place/career, but it’s difficult when I see groups like this not to agonize that I wouldn’t be taken seriously. I don’t doubt my ability or potential, but I’ve found our world often devalues potential and ability when the next best thing/person is waiting just around the corner.
My personal “weaknesses” (to some) lie in the fact that I’m an ideas and inspiration person, and a worker and organizer, but I am decidedly not a business person or accountant. As a worker and team member, I need to be listened to and included, not dictated to and excluded. I strive to create and be a leader in this sort of experiential learning space. Obviously nothing this amazing happens alone. We NEED, not want, experts in the arenas we lack or dislike, to really make the end product sing. Many would enjoy and or force themselves through the business plan, grant request, networking aspect of starting up something like this, but not I. And this is where I struggle, because I don’t believe that good ideas should be stifled by bureaucracy or expense.
When I think about all the steps required to establish my ideas into stand-alone businesses, all I see is bureaucracy and expense, and wish there were some way around it. An MBA would scoff at that – c’est la vie. I say one woman’s lack of supposed professional “maturity”, is another woman’s level of evolved professional enlightenment. If you think about it, maybe California can afford Harvard and teachers with decades of experience, but can the areas of the country or the children with the lowest education levels afford that? And were they to receive the same quality of knowledge and effort, what difference would it make so long as someone offered? So perhaps it is possible to create the same level of quality, without requiring prohibitive levels of qualifications? Who knows.
No really. Who knows? If you know who knows – tell me! 🙂
Regardless of my musings (or rantings, as the case may be)- very interesting group at Playmaker, and definitely inspiring. Please check them out, for your own entertainment and enlightenment – and tell me what you think!
Much of what you describe is the Montessori method. Both of my sons had Montessori education, and I was consistently impressed by the approach.
I’ve always wondered what it is really like. Have read a bit about it but the info was always slightly vague. Not meaty enough to give me a real idea how they teach. Have heard good things though. I makes me wonder why they’re not more widespread. There’s a school even in Bahrain, but it seems like for every 1 Montessori school I see, there need to be 10! Did/do you observe anything different about your boys compared to their peers, anything striking, academically or how they process? I’m very curious.
Most of their peers went to the same school (it was up to eighth grade), but Montessori kids are very good at thinking creatively and seeing all sides of an issue. They also tend to be very polite as socialization and courtesy are stressed. My mother and sister are/were public school teachers, and yet they were the ones to tell me about the program. I wish all kids could experience that type of education.