Periodic Daydreaming

The Occasional Thoughtful Ramblings of a Creative and Caffeinated Science Teacher

Innovation-The Scoby of Education (Periodic Daydream #3)

Scoby stands for Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, and is the vital component for transforming tea into the effervescent beverage kombucha enjoyed by many. Kombucha is not a new innovation in the thirst-quenching industry, even though its growing popularity as of late might have hinted at a recent birth. While the origin is fuzzy at best, many believe that this “Tea of Immortality”  originated in China approximately 2,000 years ago. There are many legends connecting it to past cultures,  including the Samurai and even Genghis Khan. Kombucha is brewed through fermentation of sugar and tea by the yeast in the Scoby, resulting in alcohol and carbon dioxide. The bacteria in the Scoby then convert the alcohol  to various organic acids and water.

Now I’m a fan of kombucha for several reasons. Foremost, it is chemistry, and. as a high school chemistry teacher, the science itself hooks me. There are also  several proposed health benefits that might result from consuming this beverage containing probiotics, from antiviral/bacterial properties to  promoting liver and digestive health. In the end though, I admire the simplicity and the versatility of the process and product. While the thread of fermentation science remains the same, one can create a variety of flavors using different teas along with experimentally refining the chemical process. Ultimately, the science is simple and once you’re successful you can continue to easily produce kombucha without much effort through transferring the Scoby from batch to batch.

So why did kombucha come to mind? Well it all started when I was asked to respond to this prompt:

What does innovation mean to you?

What does it actually look like in your classroom, school, or role as an educator?

While the answer to this question continually changes and grows, there is first the initial challenge of defining the term “innovation”. I appreciate the simplicity of the  definition coined by Geoff Mulgan, and presented to me by A.J. Juliani in his post, Innovation is the Buzzword We Need in Education Right Now.

Innovation is simply new ideas that work.

So why scoby? Well, I believe innovation is to education as scoby is to tea for the following reasons:

  1. They are messy. Both scoby and innovation are very elusive at first. Scoby is a gelatinous blob, and without any scientific background, you’re not quite sure what it’s doing as it floats on top of the tea (or when you take your final sip of a bottled version). Likewise, many thoughts or discussions of innovation begin as an ethereal notion, because to some they hope it  just might “work”. However, when you begin any form of innovation in the classroom the process likely is at first  messy, because it involves learning how to relinquish control, diversify experiences, and ultimately allow students the lead in  some aspect of  learning.  Just like refining the kombucha brewing process, you must keep tweaking and trying, in order to achieve optimal conditions for success.
  1. They are symbiotic. Symbiosis usually refers to a mutually beneficial relationship between two entities. The scoby or Symbiotic Culture of Bacteria and Yeast, is the key to this transformational process. The bacteria and yeast work together to transform the tea into an enjoyable, fizzy beverage.  Without the alcohol from the yeast the bacteria would not be able to produce the organic acids characteristic in the varieties of kombucha.  Implementing any innovative strategy also should be a symbiotic process. This symbiosis, often in the form of collaboration, occurs between colleagues, teachers, and students. All parties involved are creating, learning, and growing together.
  1. They are flexible and accessible. Kombucha is flexible, because while there is a general method for making it, you can experiment with various types of teas and flavors, for a diversity of outcomes. Kombucha is accessible because while the bottled versions of Kombucha in the stores can cost you $4, it is easily mass produced in anyone’s  kitchen with simple ingredients. Likewise, innovation is flexible because the various strategies employed can be tweaked for a specific group of students, and strategies are innovative because they are successful  for a diverse student population. Just like a bottle of Kombucha, many schools spend vast amounts of money on innovative curriculums pre-designed for teachers to utilize. While many are very effective at engaging students, that doesn’t mean that individual or collaborative teacher groups do not possess the knowledge, talent, and commitment to successfully promote innovation in their own classrooms and curriculums.(I would argue that this is a more valuable form of innovation, because a specific student group is in mind when the design occurs, and educators grow significantly in the process.)
  1. They are both transferable. The scoby used in making Kombucha can be transferred from batch to batch, allowing for one to continually enjoy the beverage in the future. Additionally, the scoby itself can be given as a gift to a “fermentation  friend”  who desires to begin the kombucha making process. Innovation is also transferable because strategies that work and are truly innovative should be shared and reflected upon. More importantly though are the skills and student ownership of learning that are transferred to a student’s future in the world of college or work. (I personally like Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills, even though I hope for more than just survival for my students in the future.)

So yes, innovation is to education as scoby is to tea.  This is an unusual analogy, but using analogies can be a helpful method for examining your own thoughts or communicating those ideas to others. After reading this, I hope I have at least convinced you to examine your own ideas surrounding innovation and share them with a colleague or two, maybe while enjoying a bottle of kombucha.

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