Thursday, July 7, 2016

5 Things Education Can Learn From The Food Truck Phenomenon

(Inspired by a Voxer Discussion with Jon Corippo)

Unless you have been hiding out in the remote hills of the Appalachians or something, you have probably noticed the onslaught and popularity of food trucks over the last several years. Food Trucks and Mobile Food are some of the hottest things in dining. Although street food is anything but new, almost every suburban and metropolitan area now has a plethora of food trucks serving everything from fusion to comfort food - and everything in between.
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In my own town, we have several special events based on food trucks as well as several new bars or pubs that allow food trucks to serve as their mobile kitchen. And even though they are using a familiar idea, why have food trucks become so popular? And better yet, what could schools and educators learn from the phenomenon?

  1. Simplicity: Since Food Trucks are not large, they tend to simplify their menus. They can’t be one of those food vendors (like too many restaurants) that try to prepare, sell and offer an unending list of seemingly unrelated foods. They have a handful of menu items and people flock to them for those. Their simple menu leads to simple quality. Schools have long suffered from trying to do - or offer - too many things. Most schools have dozens and dozens of programs, initiatives and plans all trying to address hundreds of standards, needs and goals. If schools could focus - or simplify if you will - they might find their schools tastier (and maybe more successful).
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  1. Specialization: Along the lines of simplification, there is specialization. Food Vendors, and Schools, cannot be good at everything. All of us need to figure out what we do best and then just do that. What is attractive about Charter Schools is that they tend to have a focus or specialization. They don’t do everything, but get very good at something. When we visit a food truck, we know that they have a specialty and are seeking them for that. Too many of our schools are not known for being really good at something or being the best at anything. And most schools cannot since they don’t specialize - they generalize.
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  1. Social / Fun: Most of us that visit food trucks could also visit a restaurant just as easily. However, we are opting for the food truck experience - not just because it’s potentially convenient, but also it seems fun. We tend to be in a fun environment focused on socializing or special events, rather than just eating. Food trucks bring the fun. Schools need to do the same. Most food trucks are not boring. Too many schools are. Food tastes better when we’re having fun. We also learn at higher levels when we’re having fun.

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  1. Mobile / Flexible: The obvious big advantage that food trucks have over brick and mortar restaurants is their mobility. They can come to the customers. Whether it’s a concert, a pub, a special event, a game, etc. - they can bring their unique food offerings to your activity. This allows the customer to enjoy their food in many different and unique environments. Schools and educators could learn a great deal from this. Where can we have learners experience their learning.? How many other environments are more conducive or authentic for learning beyond the classroom? Think field trips and beyond such as community locations, industry locations, field study, internships, externships, work-based learning and more. But even simple things such as changing the location from inside to outside can make a difference. And with technology, we now have the ability to have our students access our curriculum and programs at home, with video, at different times and more. We can create flexible and individual environments, assessments and projects.
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  1. Make It An Experience: More than anything, we are all looking for an experience. Almost everything we enjoy is about the place, the people and the unique moment. Because food trucks tend to be simple, specialized, social, fun, flexible and mobile, they create a unique experience each time. This is what is missing all too often in schools. Students are not having unique or special experiences. Learning should be just that - an experience. If we don’t shoot for that each and everyday, then our education risks become fleeting, meaningless and disconnected. If most of us reflect upon our most impactful learning moments, we would identify them as experiences. We remember them and their impact because someone made it an experience.
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So next time you’re eating at your favorite food truck, and/or at a school, ask yourself what could they have in common? Let’s see if our school menus - what we learn - can look and feel more like the food truck phenomenon.