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5 things schools can learn from the food truck phenomenon


Food trucks are becoming popular for a reason. Can schools learn from them by harnessing simplicity and specialization?

Unless you have been hiding out in the remote hills of the Appalachians, you have probably noticed the onslaught and popularity of food trucks over the last several years. 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.

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 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 people flock to, specifically because their simple menu often leads to the achievement of 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), they might find their schools more successful.

2. Specialization: Along the lines of simplification, there is specialization. Food vendors, and schools, cannot be good at everything. 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. Too many of our schools are not known for being really good at something or being the best at anything, since most schools don’t specialize, they generalize.

(Next page: More school tips from the food truck phenomenon)

3. 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 because it’s usually convenient and also fun. Schools need to do the same. Just as food tastes better when we’re having fun, learning can happen at higher levels when students are having fun.

4. Mobile / Flexible: The obvious big advantage that food trucks have over brick and mortar restaurants is their mobility. They can come to the customers. 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? For example, field trips, community locations, industry locations, field study, internships, externships, work-based learning, and more could be unique venues for learning. 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 allow students to access curriculum and programs at home, with video, at different times. We can create flexible and individual environments, assessments and projects.

5. 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, social experiences. If educators don’t shoot for that each and every day, than education often becomes fleeting, meaningless and disconnected. For instance, if we reflect upon our most impactful learning moments, we would probably identify them as experiences.

So the next time you’re eating at your favorite food truck, or teaching a class, ask yourself what could a food truck have in common with the classroom? Let’s see if our school “menus” can look and feel more like the food truck phenomenon.

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