Research in the 21st Century: How Sweet It Is!

By Julia Gross
From the get go students were hooked!  In fact, before we even started our fall Explorations unit they were asking if “Fondant Fun” would be offered in the spring or if they would be able to sign up for the class a second time around.  This is great, I thought. On the other hand, some adults were skeptically asking, “Are you really teaching cake decorating?” Hummm, maybe not so great. Nah, it was going to be great!

In fact, I was secretly rubbing my hands together and cackling a hardy “MWAHAHAHA!” My secret plan had been set into motion. I was going to get the kids to use 21st Century Research skills, that are MBE based, all under the guise of cake decorating. Yes, it is true, all of Pearson’s Skills for the 21st Century would be utilized: critical thinking, creativity, collaboration, metacognition, motivation and performance-based assessment (Pearson’s Assessment, “Assessing 21st Century Skills: Integrating Research Findings”).   Best of all, it was going to be fun (and delicious)!
We began the unit by researching different ways to make and dye fondant, as well as design techniques for molding. We surfed Pintrest boards and gathered our favorite designs. Then with buckets full of lofty aspirations we took a critical look at the project that lay ahead. We had decisions to make! Within a short, five-week timeframe, we would need to gather supplies, stay within budget, create a design (one that would not result in an epic Pintrest fail!),  make, dye and sculpt the fondant, as well as, assemble the final project. Wow, this Explorations was starting to resemble a (drumroll please...) full-fledged research project. And yet my little Duff Goldmans remained motivated and inspired.

During the planning phase ideas had to be enhanced, modified and sometimes scrapped altogether.  At times it was frustrating and disappointing. Like when one student realized that it would be impossible to construct an entire unicorn out of cake with a fondant overlay in forty-five minutes and they had to compromise and sculpt several small, fondant unicorns to prance merrily across the surface of their cake instead. Or when we discovered that we only had two cans of white icing and four people needed an entire can to themselves. What did we do? Give up? Nope, we regrouped, reconfigured, collaborated and moved on. Resilience was key and compromise was king!
On the day that the cakes were to be assembled everyone was ready for action. Within forty-five minutes we had some pretty amazing looking cakes! Now, did they resemble their original designs?  Almost across the board, they did not. But this was ok. In fact, it was a great teaching moment. They could look back and see how their designs had evolved and, despite the fact that they were not what they first envisioned, each and every student produced a successful final product. A product that they were proud to call their own. So, look out Charm City Cakes, here we come!