Denaturizing Learning

I’m sure everyone reading this has fried an egg.

If you haven’t, you basically heat up a skillet, add a little butter, crack the egg into the skillet and wait a couple of minutes, flipping it once.


You’ll notice that there is a yolk and some clear gel-like substance when the egg is added to the skillet.

That “gel” is basically composed of protein chains that are wound around each other to form a protein “ball of yarn.”  When heat is applied, the protein ball unwinds and the protein straightens out , causing the gel to transition from clear to white.  Add some bacon, and you’re good.

The process that causes the egg to change is called denaturizing.  Basically, when you fry an egg, you are denaturizing protein.

A similar process happens in schools, not with eggs, but with learning.

Consider the following diagram, which wonderfully represents the unique opportunity afforded by childlike learning.


Some question of interest is pursued, represented by the first question mark.  The pathway for learning around that question winds around itself, going in many different directions, and ultimately progresses to some type of resolution or to other questions.  The pathway, or the journey of that learning process is unknown but is filled with wonder and curiosity.  What IS known is that everything is unknown.

But add school to the process, and like the egg protein and heat, the pathway unwinds.  Wonder and curiosity are removed, the unknowns at the start of the process are eliminated by known questions (A, the curriculum) that seek an absolute (B, the right answer).

We denature the learning experience in schools.

line drawing a to bWe do so by applying the contexts of school, the silos, the boundaries, and containers to create a linear trajectory of experience.  Everything is orchestrated.  Everything is predictable.

Learners today must be able to navigate ambiguity, when the pathway isn’t provided and the direction isn’t clear and predictable.  They have to be able to be brave enough to ask their own questions, navigate their own learning path, and be able to defend their understanding of the meaning associated with the question, or develop even more questions that continue their learning path.  Or both. That’s what it means to be a learner today.

Imagine learning across a lifetime at the rate of an infant…  Bruce Mau


Egg image:  Some rights reserved by stevendepolo

Squiggle Diagram with question marks adapted from here







  1. A brilliant metaphor. Thank you for the great visuals that bring this post to life. So now what we need to do in schools is un-fry the egg.

  2. davidjakes says:

    Gail: thank you for your kind comment. Once its fried…well…its obviously too late. Perhaps crack new eggs? 🙂

  3. I enjoyed this part of your presentation in Bahrain a lot. I didn’t get to ask a question about Kindergarten classrooms. We know how much children learn by observation & looking & discovering. What kind of ‘future’ classroom do you envisage for the early learners? (up to 6 or 7) I felt that the studio type classroom would be too cold an atmosphere. What about the role of toys, dress up, manipulatives etc. This to me is getting close to where I think young children are free to learn and explore.
    I would like to get your thoughts.

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