Don’t waste thinking, don’t waste skills!

This post was originally posted in my Blog Ser y Estar.

Mathematics is everywhere!
We need language for everything!
The scientific method is present in every decision we make!

I have heard these statements since I was in grade 1, and I believe them. However, I wish those that continue uttering these phrases could elaborate more and add examples to make this visible, to help those of us that do not see the connection to see it and make meaning out of this.

IMG_7308In my last holiday, I spent a week in Cambodia, in Siem Reap to be exact. While I enjoyed and knelt before the presence of Angkor Wat, I also had the plenty of time to observe Cambodians and their habits, to appreciate their smiles and kindness, and to reflect. It seems like even on holidays I am learning. Aside from these experiences, my friend and travel companion, Siddharth Mehta, had the chance to watch cooks at RINA RINO prepare a variety of dishes and I joined him in his lesson.

What initially started as an attempt to learn a new cooking technique for him, and a IMG_7325chance to eat again at my favorite restaurant in Siem Reap became a long life learning lesson about the value of skills; how we polish them; how we give them an immediate sense of purpose, and we give back to the community at the same time. As the cooks made those dishes and answered Sid’s questions, I remembered those summer days at the countryside when my family and I visited relatives and I had a lesson from family friends on things that were not taught at school. I recalled how Cupertino, a man who was always fixing something in his house, taught me about the tools, force, levers, etc. Clearly there were many physics lessons every time I visited him; and the learning I got out of them were key as I was out of water and electricity in Qingdao recently (as shared on my post about winter).

In those summers I remember how learning was the result of observation and curiosity, and how the way I paid back for these lessons was the help I gave those individuals that mentored me. I learned how clay “adobes” were made; how to improvise a shower; how to “design” flowerbeds in gardens; how to improvise gadgets on different tractor tools to do many things at the same time; and the science behind mounting a horse. Do I use these skills in my daily life now? No, but they certainly have helped me improvise in many occasions; they have allowed me to develop patterns on things that I can do in the same way; and most importantly, they have helped me stay a curious learner.

Thus, as I observed Siddharth’s learning, I started thinking about all the practice we give students, practice that takes place in the classroom. I started thinking about those worksheets that many students are asked to fill out hence wasting precious opportunities to explore their creative thinking time. I started thinking about how many kinds of apprentices schools could generate if they encouraged students to lend their skills to all those masters that need empowerment and support and will most definitely teach them something in return. I started thinking about how we have diluted the opportunities to take action and just reflect on what can be done or avoid accountability by saying that something is going in on in learners’ heads, but we never try to give them the first hand experience that will help them develop a thirst for application of knowledge.

Many schools around the world are teaching wonderful things to their students, but I wonder how many truly regard their local environment as a playground and as a learning lab. I wonder if schools truly value those golden skills that make their learners unique and try to find ways to make them more meaningful while giving them a chance to give something back to community.

I have been saddened when efforts in many schools are limited to raising money for different causes, which is good, but seems to be the easiest way out. Are these examples of what schools consider the best way to demonstrate what students are learning within their walls? I certainly hope not.

99Can schools create translation brigades and talk with government offices to see whether they are interested in getting posters, forms or instructions translated in the languages that students are learning? Could students translate menus of authentic local restaurants that foreigners could enjoy as much as the locals do? How can they volunteer with municipal libraries? What kind of volunteering could they do to support the city’s tourism (if the city receives a significant amount of tourists)? How can they help improve conditions in local markets? What creative systems could be devised to help farmers, fishermen or other people who do not have the means? Isn’t this the real meaning of trying to do something for the community at a decent scale?

Some teachers complain about resources and everything is out there either virtually or physically waiting for us to find it useful. Likewise, it seems that we are taking the information era quite seriously and have become more interested in creating or discovering patterns to do things. Many times do we just create poster information and let it circulate in our networks, instead of presenting it as a stimulus to spark great ideas and inspiration? How many times do we promote imitation instead of authentic creation and innovation?

Evidently, I wish all students were intrinsically motivated, demonstrated initiative, and explored their local context trying to find opportunities where they could lend their skills, learn something new and help the community. Nonetheless, as an educator, I believe every responsible and respectable school’s curriculum should have a system in place to promote apprenticeship and to fundamentally prevent misuse of skills, so that all thinking is channelized into practice that will yield action and real life experience.

I did not ask for a cooking lesson, but I got learning that suits my current mindset and state of mind. I savored the food that Siddharth learned how to cook with a distinctive pleasure, one that highlighted and pointed out at the enduring understanding I was carrying with me.

This has become my homework and a priority. As soon as I am back at school I will talk to out CAS coordinator on how we can optimize what we do, because clearly we must stop underestimating what we think students can bring into the community!

About J Rafael Angel

Concept-Based Curriculum and Instructor Independent Trainer and Consultant. Concept-Based Language Curriculum and Instruction specialist. Teaching and Learning Director; lives for traveling, reading, learning and tasting new flavours; culture and art lover; passionate about cinema and music. IB Continuum Workshop Leader. Mexican YouTuber and Soundclouder.
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2 Responses to Don’t waste thinking, don’t waste skills!

  1. nainisingh says:

    Will definitely forward this to our CAS coordinator. Love the actions you have suggested. Immediately thought of the Japanese restaurants and how hard it is to order food because the menus are all in Japanese! Students can do much if we let them reflect and look around .


    • Rafael Angel says:

      Our local context will always have an incredible amount of ‘pages’ ready to write upon. Many times, in thinking big we oversee the amount of opportunities around us, waiting for us to pick them. Thank you for your comment.


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