Thursday, May 26, 2011

Let them make cakes

Students analyzing cakes.
Inspired at the beginning of this year by Kevin Simpson's talk about differentiated instruction and my return to teaching World Religions, I wanted my students to communicate ideas in creative ways that would demonstrate their synthesis and analysis of information in the way best suited to their own skills rather than simply showing me that they know how to use google. To facilitate this, I encouraged students to work with stories or images they created and to analyze these products in terms of our content. As the year progressed, I became more relaxed about the type of projects students turned in so long as they demonstrated their own mastery of the topics. In a moment of pure genius (or insanity - you choose), I told one class that they could even bake a cake for their project.

It was a bit of a surprise one morning to have students deliver two cakes to my classroom. These were not ordinary cakes. These were Buddhism cakes!

In the picture on the left, the cake in the front represents Pureland Buddhism. Pureland focuses on calling on the name of the Amida Buddha for entrance to the "Pureland." Those who enter the Pureland can then travel between realms (symbolized by the ladder on the cake) to assist those left on earth.

Students demonstrate self-control not immediately
devouring their classmates' project.
In the picture on the right, the cake represents Theravada Buddhism. Buddha is represented by the orange figure meditating in the middle of the cake (though upside down in the image). Four brown candles standing up in the cake represent the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism and the eight brown sticks (known here as Pocky - essentially a type of coated pretzel) represent the Noble Eighfold Path of Buddhism.

Class started by having the students come to the front of the room and examine the cakes. The class was able to tell our cake bakers what type of symbolism (more than mentioned above) they saw in the cakes. We then had our bakers tell us a bit more about the cakes (because we didn't really know what they would truly be like until we sliced into them where there was more content to analyze) and as a final reward for a job well done, we all shared in a great feast and consumed the student projects.


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