Those who know me in person know that I have a passion for baking. To me there is nothing more satisfying than serving up a slice of homemade goodness to my friends and family.
When my sister announced her engagement a few years ago, my immediate response was to cross eyes, fingers and toes that I would not suffer through bridesmaid duties. Forget dresses, flowers and table settings. The only part of wedding I am remotely enthusiastic about is the consumption of cake.
However my parents were all about me doing something to mark the occasion so in a stroke of genius my sister asked me to make her wedding cake. Making a wedding cake had been on my baking bucket list for years and here was my chance to avoid dreaded bridesmaid duties while still keeping my parents happy by being ‘involved in the wedding.’
At this point you may be wondering what on earth my sister’s wedding cake has to do with educational technology.
Fellow COETAILers let’s go on a journey.
When I read both Living and Learning with New Media and Reach my mind went back to how I learned to make a wedding cake. Despite being an accomplished home baker making a wedding cake is not just about butter, sugar and flour. It is a feat of engineering, advanced fractions with a bit of art thrown in along the way.
Only a foolhardy home baker makes the transition from the bringer of dessert to family dinners to the official wedding cake maker without some help along the way. That help has a profound impact on how we view learning and what the role of teachers and schooling not just in the future but right now.
Learning in the traditional sense – or is it?
A few years before project Wedding cake, I completed Wilton’s cake decorating classes at my local kitchenware shop. In those courses I learned the basics. The instructors modelled techniques and I copied them. My cakes began to look better and I became known not only as the person who made delicious cakes but that they look pretty too.
This part of the journey may seem traditional. Student shows up, learns from teacher. However I learned about these courses from a baking blog I found after getting into a fight with one of my flatmates about the difference between cupcakes and muffins turning to google for the answer. I liked the writing and enjoyed the recipes this blogger shared and so subscribed through RSS. This blogger was the one who directed to me to cake decorating classes by sharing it on her blog. Already, a network was helping expand my horizons of my hobby.
Looking for inspiration – networks
A few years before the wedding my friend Sophia shared a delightful recipe from a blog Smitten Kitchen. I became a subscriber. One of Sophia’s friends chirped in about the author of the blog. “Deb is basically the reason I can cook. She’s become a good friend even though she doesn’t know it.”
And it’s true.
Through reading blogs over a long period you feel like you know the people. I have followed Deb’s blog since 2008. Since then she’s made become a mother, published author and a wedding cake baker. Knowing that a home baker in my circle had made a wedding cake made me feel confident that I could make a wedding cake too. Scrolling through the comments I learned even more about the process. Through Deb sharing her story, she inspired me to do something I never would have thought possible.
Product testing – aka how to be the most popular person in your school
Deb was also the person introduced me to my cake bible Sky High Cakes. This book wasn’t available in New Zealand bookstores so I had to order it online. I wasn’t sure which recipe to use so during the months leading up to the wedding, I baked a ridiculous number of cakes. I wanted sturdy cakes that weren’t hard to make as I would be baking them in my sister’s kitchen. I tested out various recipes from the book and bought them to school for evaluation. The staff were happy to oblige.
The maths – there’s a context and app for that
Making a cake for your family is easy – you follow the recipe and chuck it in a standard cake tin. 75 guests? You’ll need help. To decide what size tins to use and how much you’ll need to scale up your recipe. I studied the wilton guides and asked for advice from their online cake forums. Eventually I settled on a six inch cake and a 10 inch cake both of which had three layers. My current recipes would need to be scaled up and down and I needed to work out the ingredients I would need to buy.
Wedding cake maths became part of my maths programme during the weeks leading up to the wedding. I had to teach adding and multiplying fractions anyway but the context made the maths come alive.
Sky High Books is written for an American audience who uses some absurd measuring system. I had no idea how to convert between Fahrenheit and Celsius, pounds to grams.
I still don’t.
I got an app.
Conrad Wolfram Maths is a subject that hasn’t changed much in the digital age. We still spend hours teaching kids calculations that would be done more accurately on a compute while real life problems are dumbed down to the point of nonsensical for children to learn about in class.
Design – Pinterest and Youtube
While my co-workers were enjoying cake samples, my sister was scouring pinterest for possible cake designs. I then spent hours scouring YouTube to find videos to find the techniques the baker used. My Wiltons books weren’t search able and I couldn’t see exactly what the bakers were doing. In the end the bride decided on a simple design and made the topper herself.
Sharing the journey
All through the project I facebooked and tweeted my journey. Being able to share my cakes gave me feedback and made me feel part of a larger community. A family friend who saw my cakes wanted to know where I learned to decorate cakes. Now she owns her business run through Facebook.
And so another story begins…
Take aways from Wedding Cake 2.0
Formalised learning is just one piece of the puzzle – I learned the most from my classes where I received feedback from my instructors and learned the basics of cake decorating. Going to class enabled me to learn the fundamentals of cake decorating and feedback helped me correct my errors. However the rewindable aspect of YouTube is also a way to have do overs.
Books still matter… but not as in the traditional sense. I still purchase books but these days most of them are online. My tastes these days are a lot more specialised and influenced by a network of bloggers, facebookers and tweeters.
Learning has always been social… it’s just a lot broader now Asking friends for advice and recommendations is something we’ve always done. I asked the staff at my school to sample my cakes because I valued their opinions. However now there’s an extra level of friends to interact with online. Those friends are my PLN.
Sharing one journey can start another… Through the telling and re-telling of stories we grow our capabilities. As our interests are becoming more specialised, many of those who share our interests are too far away to connect with physically. Now we have the internet to bring us together. In my lifetime I have participated in usenet New Zealand politics usenet groups, online ESL forums, travel communities, stepmama blogs. Where in the past people with crazy passions were geographically isolated we now form communities online to share and grow.
What about schools? Schools have always prepared kids from ‘just in case learning.’ You better learn how to add fractions just in case you end up making a wedding cake. Learning now is more ‘just in time.’ Knowing how to ask the questions, connect with the right communities aren’t just for learning. This is the world of work our students are entering into right now.
Oh and just in case your are wondering… Ta da!