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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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What Do Mangoes and Learning Have in Common?

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Have you ever tried to eat a mango? Well, it is quite an experience. Though mangos are my favorite fruit, I do not indulge as much as I would like because of the hassle of pealing and then eating it. To date, I have not personally found a clean way to eat a mango. It's kind of like trying to peal a peach and then eat it, or maybe even more like buttery corn on the cob -- both a juicy mess.

As you eat the mango, you cannot help but become irrevocably invested in the mango eating process because it gets all over your face and it drips all over your hands and clothes. But each bite is heavenly, and certainly worth it.

The Best Part

Yes you guessed it; teaching is kind of like eating a mango. Definitely a worthwhile endeavor, but a good teacher will be invested in the sweet stickiness of the classroom, and the gooey uncertainty of student learning gets all over the place, much of it on the teacher and a good amount on the students. Preparing the mango for consumption begins the sticky process, similar to preparation of the learning experiences for the students. Pealing back the protective skin reveals the sweet orange colored enticement. Teachers also peal back the jargon of the state standards seeking for the most important learning expectations for the students to devour. Once the mango is pealed, there is no escaping the necessity of holding the juicy mango with your fingers in order to eat it. Then the actual fun of consuming of the mango begins.

Having fun with students learning is rarely an antiseptically clean event. Teachers are rarely behind their desks, students are excitedly discussing learning and rarely in their desks. Critical reading is only a little messier than critical writing, while math and science manipulatives usually scatter on the desks and floors. Document-based questions (DBQ's) lead students in history class to scour the books, magazines, online resources, perhaps via iPad, to answer them -- not forgetting the messy efforts to cite sources and make note cards. A well-consumed mango leaves the individual with sticky juices down to the elbows, cheeks, chin and nose in the same condition.

Aside from the mildly annoying fibers between the teeth, the mango aficionado licks lips and fingers as best he can and savors with a smile the lingering flavors of the heavenly fruit. After productive and messy learning, all over the world, smiling teachers thoughts linger on the fun and the joy experienced as they happily clean up the residue of learning that occurred in their classrooms.

For the Fun of It

Dr. Michael Schmoker wrote a fascinating book, called Focus in which he claims that the simple, straightforward learning processes are the best, if used consistently. What could be more simple and straightforward than having fun while learning? There is nothing magical or mystical about inspiring learning. Just have fun doing it. It doesn't take special training, or tools, or technology. The teacher simply must be an enthusiastic aficionado of learning and not afraid of a little disorder, chaos or messiness in order to engage students of all ages.

There is a solution, by the way, to the messiness of mangoes. In the Zocalo (City Square) of Mexico City, you can buy a huge mango (sprinkled with cayenne pepper), pre-pealed, and prepared on a stick to minimize the mess, but somehow that takes away some of the fun of eating mangoes, and the personal nature of the process.

Never let the standardized testing movement steal the joy and the mess of learning with your students. Take a minute to share with us your fruity experiences of teaching.

Photo credit: fred_d_lee via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Comments (8)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educator, Blogger, Southern California

Just for the fun of it...the best way for deep learning and the best method of review!

Melanie Link Taylor's picture
Melanie Link Taylor
Educator, Blogger, Southern California

Just for the fun of it...the best way for deep learning and the best method of review!

Ms. Strong's picture
Ms. Strong
K/1 teacher from WA

Thank you Ben for your insightful view on classroom engagement. I love mangoes and I love teaching- so this was so wonderful for me to hear. I tend to avoid chaos and messiness in the classroom, so your words helped to remind me that student learning can be much sweeter when we don't fear getting our hands dirty. Especially in a primary classroom, I need to remember to allow my students the opportunity to get messy and have fun learning. I think I'll go eat some mangoes and reflect on how I can apply this to my classroom!

Stephanie E.'s picture
Stephanie E.
2nd grade teacher from GA

I love your comparison of learning and mangoes! How original! I believe students have the most authentic learning when they can get their hands "messy" in their learning and are having fun. They need to be completely involved in lessons, not just handed the final product. I heard somewhere that the students should be doing more work during the school day than the teacher. They are the ones learning, so they should be the ones doing the most work and making the mess! My classroom is often a mess at the end of the day...Is that a good sign?

Eileen's picture

You're comparison between learning and mangoes is great! Funny thing is that I enjoy messy foods and the messier, the better! Similar to students' learning when there is excitement and fun involved the students are fully engaged. Students are having fun and not knowing they are learning. This reminds me of the saying on a poster I read,"please excuse the mess, my children are busy learning". Stephanie from GA I do believe your students are learning and a mess is a great sign!

Sharon J's picture

I have always believed that learning should be fun! As a Spanish teacher, we do many hands on activities and play games in class. Other teachers do not understand that even though the students are laughing and enjoying the class, they are also learning the information. Some of the teachers at my school really need to try eating mangoes from time to time. Thanks for the affirmation that it is ok to have fun at school!

Samantha's picture

I agree having fun isn't usually antispeptic. Back to school we start the year with having every child plant a TickleMe Plant. Like eating a mango, kids love watching the soil pellets expand and getting messy planting the seeds. And you should see the joy and smiles when the kids first see their plants move like an animal. TickleMe Plants are the only classroom plant that will close its leaves and lower its branches when tickled. My kids run to homeroom to tickle their plants. You can see a live video of the plant and pick up classroom kits to grow them at http://www.ticklemeplant.com or search online.

John Bennett's picture
John Bennett
Emeritus Faculty in the School of Engineering / University of Connecticut

I don't know about the phrase: A messy desk is the sign of a genius. Would be good for me if it had validity! BUT I do believe "messy" is a good characterization for both effective problem solving and effective learning.

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