Everyone is in a rush. Technology and instant access to information via our ever growing collection of digital devices has conditioned us to think that we have all of the answers. Gifted kids are notorious for measuring their success by how quickly and easily they can complete a task. Instead of celebrating finding the “right” answer, let take the time to savor the moment of not knowing and reward the process of discovery. Let’s explore how to accomplish this by investigating Cheese Mountain.
In the past, I have been guilty of presenting interesting charts and infographics in rapid succession. I had convinced myself that more was always better. Likewise, as teachers we put tremendous pressure on ourselves and our students to rush through content as quickly as possible rather than savoring the richness of the learning experience. In a sense, we are guilty of transforming rich content into the equivalent of fast food. Instead of gulping down our intellectual meal without tasting it, let’s instead to resolve to slow down from time to time and truly delight in the yummy goodness that is a finely prepared meal or well placed piece of intriguing information.
Here’s how it works.
In the past, I used the following chart in workshops. I would pause and ask if anyone had any questions. Undoubtedly, there is lot to wonder and inquire about related to this stockpile of cheese that we are amassing. Take a moment and consider some of the questions that you have about this chart. Think about these two important prompts.
What do you notice?
What do you wonder?
This is where it usually ended. I realized now that the problem was that I had asked people to generate questions, but I did not provide an opportunity for them to find the answers to the questions. I was in too much of a hurry to rush on to the next interesting thing rather than providing some time to explore. As a result, people quickly forgot about Cheese Mountain.
Then one day, I decided to ask people to find out all they could about the chart. Initially, I provided 5 minutes, and as I have done this multiple times with teachers and students, 5 minutes is never enough. Take a few minutes to see what you can discover. Go on! I will wait right here.
If you took me up on this offer, you quickly discovered that this is a VERY deep rabbit hole. Who knew that there was so much information to uncover about this stockpile of cheese? It is interesting to see what direction people go in their search for information.
Invariably what happens as a result this brief exploration time is that you are know much better equipped to have a real and informed conversation about the political, economic, and environmental implications of cheese. Allow your students to begin sharing some of what they learned in the process. Some will explore the cause of the increase in the cheese stockpile while others will be interested in where the cheese is stored and in what forms.
As I have used this activity, I have become intrigued by how much cheese this actually is. In 2018, the U.S. has 1.39 billion pounds of cheese stored in warehouses. At first glance, that seems like a ridiculous amount of cheese. The size of which is approximately the size of the U.S. Capitol Building.
One obvious extension would be to have students determine what other things are equivalent to 1.39 billion pounds or 808,000 Cubic Yards. Watching them create them create new visual representations based on things that they are interested in is both fascinating and incredibly rewarding.
ENCOURAGE ADDITIONAL QUESTIONS
1.39 billion pounds of cheese is roughly 4.3 pounds per American. With that in mind, we might next wonder how many pounds of cheese the average American eats in a given year. With the help of Google, we can quickly learn that estimates seem to vary from 23 pounds per year to 43 pounds per year. By comparison, it is estimated that the average French person consumes 57 pounds annually. With this new information in mind, what once seemed like an absurd amount of cheese being stockpiled suddenly appears that it may not be enough. Could we be facing a CHEESE CRISIS?
Other students might be interested in exploring where the cheese is stored. This could also lead to a study of how cheese is manufactured and all of the types of cheese. The possibilities for extensions from this simple prompt are seemingly endless, and all because we took a moment to slow down before rushing on to the next thing.
If you share Cheese Mountain with you students, I would love to hear how it went. Where did they go next? Try slowing down with other interesting prompts and see what happens.