Sunday, August 26, 2007

Content Cake and Technology Frosting

My last post reminded me of one of my favorite teaching "rules." I love introducing technology to my classes. However, it is inevitable that the "bells and whistles" will draw kids' attention away from the content.

So, a few years ago, we came up with the "cake and frosting" analogy. The content is the "cake." Obviously, if the cake is terrible, I don't care how good the frosting is, people aren't going to eat it. And, if you are planning on handing me a plateful of frosting without any cake, I am going to be rather offended.

We go on to discuss that you can make some frosting ahead of time, but it needs to stay in the fridge until the cake is ready to be frosted. If you focus too much on making the frosting and don't pay attention to the cake, it can burn or collapse and you'll have to start over.

Once they have a good cake, they can decorate with "frosting" (the effects, comedic interludes, or (shudder) "bloopers".) However, we discuss how the best cakes have simple, well chosen frosting for dramatic effect. (In fact, when the class and I create a rubric together after viewing previous student work, they almost always add a requirement to "limit random distractions." However, once they actually begin a project, they see how tempting it is....)

With every technology project I have implemented, I have had open lab time and often I am shooing kids out of the room at 5 pm, 6 pm and even later. They put even more effort into their content, so that they can add the "fun stuff" later. In fact, my kids have (on average) put more creative effort into digital projects than anything they've turned in on paper.

Of course, the kids take the analogy as far as they can. For instance, one kid tells me, "my sister likes to scrape the frosting off the cake and eat it by itself." I tell them that after they finish the cake for me, they are welcome to scrape off the frosting and post it on YouTube...


Sue Stack said...


I have just been browsing the web looking for science education blogs and came across yours... very thoughtful and warm... It reminds me of what I consider important in science education and all the competing dilemmas... how as teachers we need to be magicians in a way to balance so many different educational purposes... and it sounds like you have a pretty good wand and hat for the task!!!

Thanks, Sue

Future OB/GYN said...

Ms. Mytko,

This was a great post! I'm looking forward to more on the subject of technology!


Anonymous said...

I've been given an assignment to look for an educational blog containing issues that concern me. When I first started my search about a week ago, yours is the one that struck me the most. As a future science teacher I find that your cake analogy is a perfect one for the challenges that are particuar to teachers who want, not only to use technology, but to be as hands on as possible. It is sometimes hard to keep in mind that the experements we hand our students aren't just fun, but also have a point. In the future I know that I will keep the cake and frosting analogy with me.