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Cupcake Geology

Cupcake layers

Photo by Jessica Krim

Guest post by Jessica Krim

Last week on Learning Space, I sat with Georgia and Nicole and talked them through the Cupcake Geology lesson that I have conducted with pre-service teachers. (Well, some eating was done as well!)

We began with the discussion of why the cupcake was concealed – chocolate frosting on the top and surrounded by a silver wrapper. I think everyone knows that the cupcake may hold something interesting, but preserving the element of surprise until the last minute really lends itself to the impact of this activity.

The foundation of this lesson is based in the principles of the Nature of Science:

  1. Scientific knowledge assumes an order and consistency in natural systems
  2. Science addresses questions about the natural and material world
  3. Scientific knowledge is based on empirical evidence
  4. Scientific knowledge is open to revision in light of new evidence

When focusing on these principles, the activity can be expanded to include the data collected by several classes; each class’s data will hold a piece of the puzzle. Recreating the history of the earth’s continents with cupcakes could link into plate tectonics and basic geological concepts, such as stratigraphy, original horizontality, anticlines and synclines, cross-sections, and superposition.

A great idea came from a caller, who suggested using a sheet cake instead of cupcakes, and even creating communities on the surface of the sheet cake to introduce the idea of where to sample, and the difficulties in locating a viable core – For example, taking a core sample in a river would be different from taking a core sample from a grassy hill.

The Disciplinary Core Idea that most closely links to this lesson is located within the first bullet of ESS1.C History of Planet Earth and also ESS2.B: Plate Tectonics and large-scale system interactions.

The most obvious crosscutting concepts that can be included in this lesson are patterns, scale, proportion, and quantity, and systems and system models. Science and engineering practices include:

  1. asking questions and defining problems
  2. developing and using models
  3. planning and carrying out investigations
  4. analyzing and interpreting data
  5. constructing explanations
  6. engaging in arguments from evidence
  7. obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

There are so many options that are available within this activity, it just depends on the direction in which you want your lesson to go.

I greatly enjoyed my time on Learning Space and am looking forward to visiting again!

Editor’s Note: Download the pdf version of the activity here. See this episode of Learning Space on YouTube

UPDATE 6/18/2014: Here is a new worksheet to go along with the activity!

One Response to “Cupcake Geology”


  1. Worksheet for Cupcake Geology | Educators Zone - […] Remember when we did a Learning Space episode on “cupcake geology”? We used layers cakes in foil-wrapped cupcakes to …

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