Episode 1: Gabi’s educational journey from Silicon Valley to the Mother City

Join us as Indieschoolers chats to Gabi Immelman (Founder of MindJoy) on creative, learner-led schooling.


Welcome to the first episode of our Indieschoolers podcast! We’re chatting to the Founder of MindJoy, Gabi Immelman. 

“I always like to say I'm passionate about everything education and learning related, and I'm still a kid at heart.”

Gabi started her education journey a long time ago in the art space, working as a children’s theatre producer and technician looking at how kids can be motivated to learn through different projects and provocations. She went on to work as the Director, Teaching Artist and Technician at Palo Alto Children’s Theater near San Francisco, USA. The children’s theatre at Palo Alto “exists to nurture the intellectual, artistic, and personal development of youth through multi-arts education, performing opportunities, and extraordinary theatre experiences.” 

“Through multi-arts education, the Children’s Theatre develops lifelong skills such as critical and creative thinking, cooperation, and aesthetic sensitivity.”

It was there, at one of the oldest arts organisations in America that services kids, that she gained exposure to the children of some of Silicon Valley's founders. The children’s theatre only hired professionals in their fields to facilitate learners between the ages of 8 and 16 in learning skills such as production design and management, dance, music, programming of lights and set design.

“Basically, the adults would be standing back letting kids do the whole thing.” 

Through her work at the Palo Alto Children’s Theater she also became involved in other schools, teaching STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts & Maths) workshops. She shares her experiences and what she learnt from the teachers she collaborated with in this time. Something that really stood out for Gabi is that her classes were becoming increasingly popular, even though they were held at 10am and 11am on weekdays. She realised that there was a large homeschooling community in the area, with an obvious need for creative skills-building classes.

She carried over her experiences in Palo Alto when she moved back to Cape Town and started the Pukka school - a workshop-based learning centre that focused on equipping kids with skills they need to deal with adult life in the real world, while fostering curiosity and reminding them to play and have “hard fun”. She then started pursuing a Master’s degree in Inclusive Education just as the pandemic hit in 2020.

As part of her studies she began having conversations with parents and children in marginalised communities, and together with Marlon from RLabs she realised a growing need for micro schools to help kids and parents cope with online and at-home learning.

“One thing all parents and kids really wanted help with was how to motivate your kid to do the learning.”

Gabi highlights the two main types of motivators for learning: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation are those factors that are external to the learner and usually imposed by someone else, for instance rewards, deadlines or avoiding a penalty. Intrinsic motivators include internal factors that are important to the learner, such as confidence, purpose and skills. In this sense the real value of gamification is debatable since it often relies on extrinsic motivators to get kids to learn. 

“Don't try and gamify school. Rather, how do we make school a better game that kids want to play?”

Another important factor to alternative schooling that Gabi notes, is that parents or teachers should make time to talk to the kids about their lives and what they want to learn. Taking ten minutes a week just to hear what’s important for them will help immensely in structuring their learning in a fun, engaging and rewarding way. Then, using the STEAM model, you can help them learn about Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) by creating experiments and open-ended projects which taps into the Arts (STEAM).

“In the Arts, there are a lot of applied and more creative, open-ended applications for learning.”

Show notes

1:00 - Introductions

02:14 - About her work at Palo Alto Children’s Theatre

4:00 - Alternative education for homeschoolers in Silicon Valley

6:00 - Recreating the “summer camp” experience in South Africa

7:30 - Pursuing a Master’s degree during a pandemic

8:52 - Extrinsic and intrinsic motivation for learning

11:13 - Is gamification really necessary?

22:21 - MindJoy success stories

24:37 - Clayton Christensen’s books, "The Innovator's Dilemma" and "Disrupting Class"

26:33 - An average day for Gabi

27:43 - Other books that have inspired Gabi: One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan, Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play will Make our Children Happier, more Self-reliant and Better Students for Life by Peter Gray. For more check out her blog: MindJoy.

28:49 - Getting in touch with Gabi: Linkedin, MindJoy.com, or email her at gabi@mindjoy.com