By Robin Spiess, teacher, 8th grade earth science

What do Stone Mountain, earth science, a baked cake and icing have in common? If you’ve had a student in the 8th grade at Living Science, then you probably know the answer! For everyone else, let me tell you…this is the only exam of the year that the students look forward to taking!

One of our eighth grade earth science units focuses on contour maps, building on our knowledge of what the scripture tells us about Creation week and about how the worldwide flood forever changed the topography of Earth. For many students, associating contour lines on a flat map with the 3-D shape of a geographical feature does not come naturally. So this very tactile unit begins by using our understanding of mountain features to build a topographical model of an imaginary island using modeling clay. Students then slice the clay model and use it to create a contour map, which they then plot and graph into a profile of the clay island. This is a messy and challenging process of physical construction and deconstruction of a 3D model into a 2 dimensional map and profile. The goal is a contour map that a Boy Scout could use to navigate this imaginary island on a camping trip.

After rehearsing reading a contour map and graphing it to create a profile, the students are finally ready for Cake Exam Day. Each student uses a home baked cake to create a 3D model from a given topographical map. This is where Stone Mountain comes in. This year the students were presented with a contour map of present day Stone Mountain and were challenged to graph a profile and build a cake model with the features and legend from the profile. There was great excitement when the time finally came to eat the excess cake and completed models.

The students love this exam because it involves eating cake and icing to their hearts’ content. I love it because it incorporates kinesthetic and tactile modalities and allows the students to use their own creativity. The classroom smells like a bakery, and some of our models resemble something you would find on “Cake Boss.” What could be more fun than learning how to construct and interpret contour maps paired with eating cake and icing? This is one unforgettable exam!