Saturday, January 22, 2011

"Top Chef" in the Classroom

Teacher Tom's recent post made me start thinking. Tom was posting about standardized teaching and how that is really the enemy of true education and learning experiences. Tom said:
Each of us have our own unique recipe for attaining true knowledge and enlightenment: it doesn't come in a can of curriculum or a jar of testing. Teaching is not about feeding kids, but rather helping them learn how to cook for themselves. It's not about manufacturing consumers satisfied with a limited menu to burgers and nuggets, but rather master chefs engaged in the creative process of bringing their own unique meal to the table.
Tom's words triggered my own thinking. He made me think of the show "Top Chef." My wife and I love to watch that show. In it a group of chefs compete through a variety of cooking challenges; each week someone is sent home. Last chef standing is Top Chef. For the challenges, chefs are given some parameters and a goal - then they cook a dish and the judges evaluate. Parameters/goals may be broad: Make a dish inspired by a given emotion. Or they may be more narrow: Make an egg dish. There are time limits and sometimes equipment limits. But, within the parameters, chefs can do whatever they want; the only barrier is their creativity, innovation, and the goal itself.

I think teaching young children is a lot like that. We give the kids tools--blocks, art supplies, toys, rocks, sticks, empty boxes. We give them some parameters and goals. We may feature a topic or concept. We may just tell them to create or play or think. But then the kids take over and use those materials to create their own learning. They may develop some math concepts or early literacy skills. They may develop their social interactions or just quietly ponder and experiment alone.

But--and this is where the analogy breaks down--all the kids are winners in this type of learning environment. No one is eliminated and all can be deemed at Top Learner. Allowing kids to experiment and play and develop their own learning makes the experience truly educational. And our part as adults? Help guide, suggest, applaud, and learn, too. I don't need to force my kids to learn anything. But I can help them shape those thoughts. I can offer new words that help them explain their world. And I can give context to the thoughts they express. And I get to be a "Top Learner," too.

(Thanks for indulging my reflective nature. I'll be back next time with more photos and less "thinking!")


  1. Thanks for the thinking, these reminders are needed right now in education.

  2. I love how we can inspire each other to think, not just to do!
    Donna :) :)

  3. You can get all reflective on us anytime Scott - I love reading what your write.

  4. So, so true! A wonderful analogy! :)