Lou Thomas, Communications Officer, Innovation Unit.
Last night saw the final the Great British Bake Off – the BBC baking competition that we’ve all come to love and obsess over. We’ve all confessed here in the Innovation Unit office that we cried. Lots. It’s been an emotional investment….don’t judge us.
What I came to realise over the course of the final is that Great British Bake Off is essentially project-based learning, and another version of REAL Projects. Not convinced? Hear me out…
1. Lines of enquiry. Every week the contestants were given a topic and a brief, and were asked to design signature bakes and showstoppers. As the weeks went on, the enquiry topics got more complex – with Victorian week for example requiring contestants to conduct deep, rigorous research around the unfamiliar subject, to ensure their bakes were historically accurate as well as beautifully presented. For this, they exercised authentic learning, used significant content and developed key skills.
2. Fail, and fail fast. The contestants did not always get their bakes right on their first attempt – from Dorrit’s melted black forest gateau to Matt’s icing that he baked in the oven – the contestants learnt to stop, assess the mistake and start again. This is particularly true for eventual winner Nadiya who came in last place in her very first technical challenge. Nadiya used this experience as a catalyst to push on, learning from her errors and building on her ideas for each and every task afterwards. Her final bake – her wedding cake – combined all of the lessons from the previous weeks and all of the skills she had built up over time.
3. Cross curriculum, cross projects. In REAL Projects, students are encouraged to produce high quality outputs using skills that transcend subject matter, and prepare them for the world outside of school. It’s the same on Bake Off…showstoppers in particular require contestants to research the context and history behind their bake, include arts and creativity skills, exercise science-based knowledge to ensure the perfect bake, draw up templates and components with accuracy and mathematical precision…the list goes on.
4. Teachers as facilitators. Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry are our teachers in the Bake-Off-come-REAL-Projects scenario. They are always present in the tent whilst contestants conduct their bakes, but they are there only for helpful guidance and advice, never spoonfed information. The contestants are encouraged to make decisions of their own accord and engage in self-lead learning. REAL Projects also encourages a student-lead education, to promote learning that will develop confident and creative individuals.
5.Collaborative working. Whilst the bakers are competing each week, we have seen them help each other in their times of confusion and need. The technical challenge is a great example of this, with barely any instructions we saw the contestants each week asking each other how best to produce their final bakes. As a group they were able to work out the best methods between them.
6. Multiple drafts and critique. This one isn’t exactly evident in the final edit you see on screen, so takes a little explaining. REAL Projects students produce multiple drafts of their work, which their peers critique with kind, helpful and specific feedback. This is to ensure their final products are high quality and relevant to the communities around them. On the Great British Bake Off, the signature challenge is designed so that ‘amateur bakers to show off their tried-and-tested recipes for bakes they might make for their friends and family’ – that’s the official description from the BBC. What this means, therefore is that the contestants create multiple bakes, or drafts that their friends and family provide feedback on before they enter the tent with the best possible recipe ready for their bake. Take Paul’s bread shaped like a lion, for example – he will have researched, and produced multiple versions of that sculpture before bringing the masterpiece that it was to the tent that week!
So there we have it – the Great British Bake Off and REAL Projects are one and the same. Perhaps the most important lesson came from the lady of the moment, Nadiya whose experience on the Bake Off won not just our hearts but ended with quite possibly the most inspiring quote of the year.
“I’m never going to put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never going to say I can’t do it. I’m never going to say maybe. I’m never going to say I don’t think I can. I can and I will.”
That’s what happens when systems, specifically a education system believes any person can achieve greatness, regardless of their background. All you need are the tools and the ideas to embrace it, and the will to succeed.
So…REAL Project schools, will we be seeing lots of baking based projects coming up soon?