Oct 25, 2009

Insights from cleaning a pan

From An Engineer's Playground
I have an ugly frying pan. It's an All-Clad that we bought a few years ago, but somehow, perhaps through neglect or oily living, it's become sticky ugly. (Maybe that's why Marie doesn't stay for dinner...)

Today, I was in the Chinese grocery store and picked up a curly metal spongy thing - much like a Brillo steel wool pad. At Target, the cleaning section contains any number of plastic or natural fiber cleaning pads designed to be kind to non-stick pans. I can't tell you how long I scrubbed with them (even the 3M heavy duty) with no success. Within about 5 circles with the steel, I saw noticeable change. Within about 15 minutes, the pan actually started to shine. Sometimes the old ways are the most effective.

As I cleaned the pan, I got a bit obsessed with some of the really icky spots which nestled around the rivets. I found myself scrubbing these spots longer, with much more zeal, but with little noticeable progress compared to some other areas of the pan. I finally made the decision to clean over the whole pan, making the pan look better overall, than necessarily perfect in any one area. It reminded me of sketching. It also reminded me of teaching engineering to elementary teachers.

From An Engineer's Playground
Minnesota is requiring children to learn engineering from kindergarten through 12th grade. Elementary teachers are particularly worried about whether they will be able to handle the material, let alone teach the children adequately. But in a way, it is like my pan. In the early stages, it is best to work the whole surface, cleaning away the "easy" spots, giving a sense of accomplishment, and a providing a sneak peek to what a completed job can look like. Another day, I will scrub more around the trouble spots just like a teacher, later, in high school or even college, will be able to teach a student more in depth on a few focused topic.

Teaching breadth is not watering down just like cleaning the entire pan and leaving some icky spots is not cheating. It is an important stage in the learning (and cleaning) and if done well, can inspire one to pick up the task again, with new vigor and motivation. -- And sometimes discovering the old ways can be more effective than new more modern inventions.