During the last years, as part of my work for different higher education institutions, I have been training future teachers and helping them in their certification processes as Bilingual or English as Second Language teachers. Each semester, after making the required presentations and reviewing the expectations for the course, I always start every class by talking about the importance of two aspects that I consider fundamental: culture and language. I explain to my students that to be truly effective teachers, we need to know, understand, and appreciate our students’ cultural and linguistic diversity and their various backgrounds. However, to do this, one has to have a broader definition of culture and language. When we work with our students (even more if we work with English learners), we must consider the culture and language aspects that define them as individuals. Additionally, we also need to understand that their life experiences also define their identities, and those experiences, at the same time, are part of their culture and language. Their experiences in different contexts (as members of a minority group, immigrants, children, and many other instances) play an essential role in determining who they are and their perception of the world around them in the new and often intimidating reality of a classroom where a new and unknown language is spoken. As teachers, we must be empathetic and willing to understand, learn, and honor the set of collective experiences that shape the culture and language of each of our students. Not being able to develop that empathy and respect for what is different and the otherness in our society makes us create barriers that hinder coexistence and learning.

A few years ago, while watching the Netflix series called Ugly Delicious, it reminded me of an experience with a fellow teacher when I was the new bilingual teacher at an elementary school in Texas. It happened one day when I sat down to eat my lunch in the teachers’ lounge. I opened my food container to start enjoying an arepa stuffed with aged cheese from Venezuela with a nopales (cactus) salad as a side, which my newly Mexican wife had cooked and taught me how to enjoy. At that moment, one of the several teachers sitting around me frowned and covered her nose (perhaps because of the strange consistency of the nopales salad and the strong smell of the aged cheese). Then with a not-so-friendly face, she asked what I was eating. In a very proud manner, I explained to her my Mexican-Venezuelan dish. I also added the description of the red liquid that accompanied my lunch (Agua de Jamaica – Hibiscus tea). It was then when she told me, “I don’t understand how could you eat so much food from sub-cultures!”

In the days that followed, while I was now eating a “less smelly and better looking” menu in the solitude of my classroom, I pondered about the power of words. I thought about how impactful our gestures and comments can be when referring to elements of culture or language that are foreign to us but so appreciated by the other. I remembered then when I was a child in Venezuela and how other children made fun of Portuguese children because they were bakers (although they were not, that was the stereotype). Or the Chinese for eating “Aloz Chino,” and how impossible it was for parents of Asian children to pronounce certain words. Although I knew it was not correct, I remembered that I went along with my friends. Until that moment in the teachers’ lounge of that school in Texas, no one had done it to me, and never before had someone referred to my arepa in a derogatory way. Until that moment, I had not had that experience. Having experienced this situation and other similar circumstances as a foreigner and as a member of a minority group, I identified myself with what was being discussed while watching the Ugly Delicious series. It invited me to continue watching the series and learn more about other cultures.

Ugly Delicious is a Netflix series presented by David Chang (creator and owner of the famous Momofuku restaurants), which examines the history of foods that many of us love, such as pizza, tacos, fried chicken, or fried rice. At the same time, it shows the negative impact that stereotypes related to these foods have between cultures. For example, in the episode “Fried Rice,” we can see how writers Serena Dai and Jennifer 8 Lee discuss the relationship between the idea that Chinese are “dirty and disgusting” and how Chinese food has historically been degraded. In that episode, we are told that when Asian groups immigrated to the United States in the 19th century, newspapers set about spreading the idea that the Chinese ate strange foods. For example, at that time, the New York Times published an article asking if the Chinese ate rats, to which Lee says, “This idea of these people eating strange things was used to drive a wedge between us and foreignness.” In that same episode, many other essential ideas are presented that I usually discuss in my classes, but in this series, they are shown in a practical way and from the point of view of an element as relevant in our cultures as food. In addition, in this series and others available on Netflix, we can see how elements such as cultural perception, acculturation and assimilation processes, and the creation of stereotypes and racism come into play. That is why now, as part of my classes, I have created activities that require students to watch specific episodes of these series, work in groups to discuss, analyze and extrapolate what we have learned from them to our works as Bilingual or ESL teachers.

But it is not just about knowing the culture and language of students who come from other countries. It is about understanding the experiences of each of our students and their different origins and ethnic groups. For example, in another episode of Ugly Delicious, a universally appreciated comfort food such as fried chicken is brought into the discussion. Unfortunately, in the United States, it’s also a dish linked to racist stereotypes that go back to the days of slavery. An uncomfortable subject and one in which Chang and his guests, including writer Lolis Eric Elie and Professor Psyche Williams-Forson, discuss the origins of the fried chicken stereotype. This stereotype has persisted for more than 100 years and has affected African Americans’ relationship with fried chicken. Chang mentions a black friend who told him that he refused to eat fried chicken in front of the cameras. Chang also meets with Edouardo Jordan, a black chef in Seattle who stayed away from fried Chicken for years due to its racial implications. This stereotype was something that I learned within a few years of starting living in the United States and the stereotype created around the watermelon. This is precisely the main idea of this article. It is about knowing and learning as much as we can about the other. That teacher who made me feel so bad with her comment about my food was simply the victim of her lack of knowledge and ability to empathize with others and their experiences as members of an ethnic or social group.

And that is why we can find the solution (as for many other problems) in education. But it begins by educating ourselves and giving ourselves the task of knowing the other, their culture, their language, their historical experiences, and being able to develop the necessary empathy to understand and adapt. Hence the educational value of Netflix series such as Ugly Delicious and others that I have begun to use in my classes to help my students learn about other cultures. Just as I recommend these series to my students, I recommend them to my friends and family. That is why I want to share them with you here.

I hope you enjoy them as much as I have!

Ugly Delicious | Official Trailer | Netflix

High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America | Official Trailer

Street Food: Latin America | Official Trailer | Netflix

Street Food: Asia | Official Trailer | Netflix

Las Crónicas del Taco | Tráiler Oficial | Netflix

The Taco Chronicles Season 2 | Official Trailer | Netflix

Salt Fat Acid Heat | Official Trailer | Netflix

Science is defined as “the systematic study of the physical and natural world’s structure and behavior through observation and experimentation.” In Leonardo da Vinci’s work, we find the essence of that definition. For more than 40 years, Leonardo da Vinci gathered his observations and ideas in his now-famous Notebooks. In those notebooks, we can observe Leonardo’s systematic exploration of the world, its patterns, and the constant search for interconnectivity among the world’s phenomena. These notebooks include over 100,000 drawings and more than 6,000 pages of notations. Without a doubt, observation skills were at the core of his scientific exploration.

Just like a modern scientist today, Leonardo used systematic observations, logical reasoning, experimentation, and mathematical concepts to find answers to satisfy his curiosity. As a teacher, I found inspiration in Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy to infuse a passion for observation and questioning in my students. I did this as the first step to engage learners with science education, but also to facilitate the learning of any other subject and show the interconnectivity among all areas of knowledge. I would show my students pages of Leonardo’s notebooks and how on those pages, the great genius of the Renaissance, through the use of simple sketching techniques and recording his ideas, was able to open the doors to a whole world of inspiration. I genuinely believe that those students that create and maintain an interactive notebook in the style of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks have a powerful tool that can be used to make connections and expand their understanding of the world around them. It offers a space where students layout the product of their perceptions in order to make meaning of them, apply their new ideas, and share them with their peers, parents, and teachers.

Teachers who promote Leonardo da Vinci’s interactive science notebooks in their classrooms will foster a higher order of thinking and increase comprehension and retention in their students. Sketching, labeling and coloring as forms of note-taking have a radical impact on creative problem solving and deep information processing. These types of notebooks not only become enabling tools that create windows to the world and promote creativity, but they are also an excellent instrument for tracking and assessing students’ learning.

Research clearly shows that using notebooking techniques in the classroom increases students’ success. I know from experience that using interactive notebooks helps students develop, practice, and improve their scientific understanding. Students learn to monitor and take control of their own learning. Plus, the use of notebooks engages students in real science processes and techniques. They have the opportunity to record data and information following the steps of the scientific method while using sketching as a form of note-taking.

Science notebooks help students with reading, writing, math, and visual communications skills that are fundamental in the 21st-century workplace. But this is not only useful in science. Using interactive notebooks inspired by Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks helps students develop crucial visual literacy skills while increasing understanding and retention in any subject. They facilitate learner-centered activities that dynamically involve students in a constant reflection on what is being learned and how and why it is being learned. Additionally, these notebooks enable communication with parents and can be used as a demonstration of learning. Best of all, in the words of Leonardo da Vinci, these notebooks help developing a Complete Mind, which, according to Leonardo, could be achieved by following these steps:

  • Study the science of art
  • Study the art of science
  • Develop your senses (especially learn how to see)
  • Realize that everything connects to everything else

In 2014 I published and children’s book titled Leonardo da Vinci – The Art of Science. This book helps us show young readers how they can find inspiration in Leonardo’s legacy to create and maintain their own interactive notebooks. I have recently updated the book and the resources offered for the classroom. The Spanish version is ready for you to order now. (the English version is coming out soon)

Although the text has been written for students at 5th or 6th-grade levels, this book’s main objective is to provide educators and parents with a tool to awaken their children’s curiosity and desire for scientific and artistic exploration. We offer free printable resources and book readings via Zoom (for school groups) to help inspire students with Leonardo da Vinci’s legacy.

I would love to have the opportunity to work with you and your students. Meanwhile, here is a video that talks about Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.

The year 2020 for us, as perhaps for many in the rest of the world, was a year full of uncertainties and challenges during which we have learned a lot both professionally and personally. Among the most fundamental things we have learned has been knowing how to appreciate every detail of our everyday life and not taking anything for granted or ignore the opportunities that come our way. This has also been a year where, like many other companies, we have adapted to new realities and possible future changes. To reflect those changes, we have started by creating a whole new website where we want to facilitate new communication methods with each group to which we have dedicated our service in recent years. Now we have sections for parents, teachers and administrators, and preservice teachers on our website.

At Enabling Learning, we are committed to creating new and better opportunities to facilitate learning. We are sure that 2021 will be a year full of opportunities for all of us involved in education. That is why we are very excited to introduce the new online courses on our website, which will allow future teachers and those in the classroom to complete training courses at their own pace through the use of videos and interactive activities.

Similarly, we have created new alliances with institutions and professionals to create and make available to you a new series of educational solutions such as the PleIQ Smart Cubes, the PleIQ School learning monitoring platform, and the interactive notebooks with augmented reality that will be available for the new school year 2021-2022. We also invite you to visit the Free Webinar section, where you will have the opportunity to register for our future events and watch past webinars’ recordings.

We will continue to inform you of our new resources and learning opportunities through this Blog and our social networks.

Thank you for being part of our educational community!

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