Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Easy Peasy slow cooker meals!

Slow cookers are awesome if you can set them up so you can come home after a long day at work and walk into the house and dinner is already made.  They have the added bonus of turning cheaper cuts of meat into delicious foods due to the long, slow cooking time.  There are zillions of recipes out there for all sorts of things, but let's face it ... if you're like me, there's no way in heck you can prep a stuff in the morning with kids and hubby underfoot getting ready for work and school,   and in the evenings once I've wrestled the kids into bed, I'd rather watch an episode of Downton Abbey on Netflix or cruise Facebook for crumbs of info from the world outside my parenting bubble.  So here are a few super easy things to throw in your slow cooker:

1.  Beef or Pork Pot Roast.  Place the roast in the slow cooker. Pour a cup or two of beef or vegetable broth over the top.  Add some garlic and onions if you feel like it.  (Tip:  I keep pre-chopped onion and garlic in the freezer, so I can just grab some whenever I need it).  Turn the slow cooker on low for about 4-8 hours (depending on the size of your roast, your slow cooker manual should have a guide), or use the temperature probe if your slow cooker has one.  Optional:  add some potatoes around the roast.  (If they are really large, cut them in half).

2.  Roast Chicken.  Place the chicken in the slow cooker.  Pour a cup or two of chicken or vegetable broth over the top.  Cook on low for 6 hours.  Optional:  add some potatoes around the chicken. Note:  the skin doesn't crisp up, so you will want to pull it off before slicing up the chicken.

3.  BBQ Ribs.  Place the ribs in the slow cooker (either attached, or cut apart, depending on your preference).  Dump about a third to half a bottle of your favourite BBQ sauce over the top.  Cook on low for about 3 hours.

4.  Honey Garlic ribs.  Place the ribs in the slow cooker (either attached, or cut apart, depending on your preference).  Dump a bottle of store bought honey garlic sauce over the top.  Cook about 3 hours.

5.  Italian Chicken breasts.  Place 4 frozen skinless, boneless chicken breasts in the bottom of the slow cooker.  Sprinkle with Italian dressing mix OR pour on some Italian salad dressing.  Add one to two cups of chicken or vegetable broth, or water.  Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours, until chicken breasts are cooked through.  Optional:  add some potatoes around the chicken.

6.  Reheat Soup, chili, pasta sauce, etc.  Pop a frozen container of soup, chili, curry, or pasta sauce you've previously made into the slow cooker and turn it on to low for a few hours so it's ready to go when you come home.

Do you have a favourite super-easy slow cooker recipe of your own?  Please share!

Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Homemade Muffin Time & Money Saver

For years, I've always had store-bought muffin mixes on hand.  But over the past year I've been doing an increasing amount of cooking and baking from scratch. And I'm always on the lookout for tricks to offer convenience and savings alongside home-made goodness.

So I decided to try making my own muffin mixes.  Now, these don't turn into add-water-only recipes (though there may be a way to do that using powdered milk and eggs).  But by pre-measuring the dry ingredients and storing them in a jar, I save a bunch of steps when it comes time to making the muffins, and also ensure that I have everything on hand.  (Especially the chocolate chips, which somehow always vanish from the cupboard!)

Basically, you take your favourite recipe, measure all the dry ingredients and put them in a large mason jar or other container.

Prepping the chocolate chip banana mix

Close the container, and put a note on the outside listing the remaining ingredients to be added, and the oven temperature and recommended length of time for baking.

3 blueberry muffin and 3 chocolate chip banana mixes completed
Easy peasy!

This morning, I made up 6 jars of muffin mix.  It took me 20 minutes today, but that included clearing off the counter before I could get started, hunting down the camera to take some photos in the middle, refilling my flour and sugar bins afterwards, and washing all the measuring cups. Just the mix prep could be done in 10 minutes, and I often make up a mix or two when I have taken out the ingredients to make one batch on the spot.

  • Use a funnel to help fill the jars more easily.
  • Measure one ingredient at a time into each jar (eg: measure 2.5 cups of flour into each container, then move on to the next ingredient).
  • You may want to give the jar a good shake with the lid on to help mix up the salt, baking powder, etc so it's evenly mixed already when you go to use it. 
  • Once you've written out the instructions for finishing a recipe once, photocopy it or scan and print it for additional copies.
  • Look for recipes that don't have too many wet ingredients to add in order to complete the muffins.
Here is our favourite recipe, the Chocolate Chip banana one.  It has only 3 wet ingredients to add (mashed bananas, egg, and melted butter.  You can use oil instead to save the melting step):
From the Munster United Church cookbook, 2004

Monday, 24 June 2013

Watch this Space!

You may have noticed that after a long drought I flooded the is blog the other day with a series of postings related to classroom assessment and evaluation.

I'll confess that I didn't just open the floodgates out of the blue and decide to sit down and write a bunch of stuff on that particular topic.  For the past few months I've been taking a course to add to my professional teaching qualifications.  The last module of this course addressed the topic of assessment and evaluation and one of the options for the culminating task was to blog on the topic of assessment an evaluation.  While the intent was to blog to an audience solely of other educators, I though there was great value in also considering a parental audience.  Not to mention it fit better with my blog (sadly neglected though it has been).

Coincidentally, today a discussion regarding elementary education and parent concerns over the programming and delivery going on in the province in general and some local classrooms in particular came up today on a community discussion board of which I'm a part.  What became clear to me from the discussion was that there is a lot of misinformation or partial information out there about what goes on in today's classrooms.  Parents want to know more, and be more involved, but there is a disconnect between what the Ministry of Education, and school boards and individual schools are trying to communicate, and how it's being received by teachers.

So I'll be putting some time over the summer into trying to simplify some of the school jargon, and pare down the wordy and lengthy curriculum documents to give parents a better idea of what current best teaching practices entail.  I expect that putting it all out there into words will improve my own teaching practice, and perhaps also that of any teaching colleagues who also stumble across the blog.



Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Home Connection

NOTE:  This post is the fifth and final entry in a miniseries on Assessment and Evaluation in the classroom, aimed at providing support both to my teacher colleagues and to parents of school children. 

 Family are a child’s first teachers and they continue to play a vital role in a child’s education as they learn and grow.  Here are some ways for parents to help strengthen your child’s ability to communicate their understanding. (And ideas teachers can suggest to parents through newsletters and parent-teacher interviews).

 ·         Ask your child to explain or demonstrate what they are learning at school. This will help them to practice explaining their thinking or practice carrying out a task.
·         After a child finishes a learning task, ask them how well they think they did. Ask them what they think they could do to improve next time.  For example, if your child is practicing printing the number 3, ask them which of the threes they feel was their best one, and which one they think needs the most improvement.

 ·         Ask your child questions such as “why?”  “how do you know?” or “what makes you think that” so that you can understand their answers.  They might have an incorrect math solution, but have used a really great strategy to try and solve the problem.  Or, they might have a correct answer but not be able to explain how they came up with that answer.  It’s just as important for students to be able to communicate about what they think and know as it is for them to have the right answer.

·         From time to time when school work or report cards come home, sit down with your child and look over the work.  Ask them how they feel about their work.  Together, choose some things that are areas of strength, where your child feels confident.  Then choose some areas that you both agree could use some improvement.  Involving students in looking at their progress and setting goals for their next steps to work on helps improve their academic performance.



Involving the learner

NOTE:  This post is the fourth in a miniseries on Assessment and Evaluation in the classroom, aimed at providing support both to my teacher colleagues and to parents of school children. 

Part of good assessment involves making it clear to the student what the goals or expectations are for their learning, and then also involving them in thinking about their learning, reflecting on how they are doing, and encouraging them to identify what they do well and where they have room for improvement or further practice.

In this photo, we see a student-friendly visual rubric outlining the different achievement levels.

And here is an example of a rubric that can be used with students to assess their learning about a unit of study in math:

I need some more teaching about this.
I need some help to practice this.
I can practice this on my own.
I am ready to help others with this.
Name each Canadian Coin and its value
I need a lot of reminders to help me with the names and values of the coins.
I need some reminders about the names and values of the coins.
I know the names and values of the coins, but I sometimes make a mistake
I know the names and values of the coins.  I am confident and I rarely make a mistake.
Find the value of a group of coins
With help, I can sometimes find the value of simple groupings of coins.
With help, I can usually find the correct value of some different groupings of coins.
On my own, I can usually find the correct value of some different groupings of coins.
On my own, I can almost always find the correct value of many different groupings of coins.
Given a group of coins, tell the value of the whole group
With help, I can sometimes tell the value with some accuracy.
With help, I can usually tell the value with good accuracy.
On my own, I can usually tell the value with good accuracy
On my own, I can almost always tell the value with great accuracy.
Given a value in cents, choose coins to represent that value
With help, I can show the value.  I can show it in one way.
I can sometimes show the value. I can show it in one or two ways.
I can usually show the value.  I can show the value in a few ways.
I can always show the value.  I can show the value in a few ways.


New Ways to Assess

NOTE:  This post is the third in a miniseries on Assessment and Evaluation in the classroom, aimed at providing support both to my teacher colleagues and to parents of school children. 

Whether you’re a parent or a teacher reading this blog, chances are high you spent over a decade in a traditional public education setting and you’re likely very familiar with your teachers using quizzes, tests, and pencil and paper assignments to assess your learning.  But good teaching practice today extends to using a much wider range of ways to assess student learning.  Today I’ll be offering some examples as a way to help parents recognize assessment activities that might be happening in their child’s classroom and as a way to offer inspiration to teaching colleagues looking for fresh ideas.

·         Observing students and making notes on a chart or post-it notes

·         Conferencing with students

·         Having students do hands-on tasks

·         Using a checklist

·         Asking students to self-assess their learning

·         Asking a student to quiz the teacher by creating a question for the teacher, and then verifying if the teacher has the correct answer

·         Looking through a portfolio of work

·         Asking students to give a presentation

·         Students teach a skill or concept to their peers

·         Asking students to show their answer in more than one way

·         Asking students to write a journal or blog about their learning

What does Assessment look like?

NOTE:  This post is the second in a miniseries on Assessment and Evaluation in the classroom, aimed at providing support both to my teacher colleagues and to parents of school children. 

What does Assessment look like?

Assessment takes place before, during and after every kind of learning.  It can be either formal or informal.  It can include traditional tests, quizzes and pencil and paper assignments.  But it also includes observation, presentations, performance tasks, interviews, checklists, and ongoing oral and written student work.  Because a lot of today’s assessment is informal and ongoing it may not appear visible to parents and sometimes not even to the students themselves.  But the effective classroom teacher is keeping checklists, observation notes, anecdotal records, and maybe even photographs of student work to help him/her make decisions about the student learning that happens in their class every day.
Here assessment looks like a student using what she knows about floating and sinking to design a “boat” that will hold 10 marbles. She explains her design to the teacher and the class, and the teacher takes  a photo to include in the student’s folder for easy reference when it is time to complete the end of unit evaluation.

Assessment might also look like a standard diagnostic tool.
Here, a running record offers good diagnostic information as well as indications of progression in student reading and comprehension. 

What are Assessment and Evaluation?

NOTE:  This post is the first in a miniseries on Assessment and Evaluation in the classroom, aimed at providing support both to my teacher colleagues and to parents of school children.  
I think probably every parent of a school-aged child has wondered at one time or another just how teachers take a whole lot of class work and assignments and projects and stuff and somehow know how and what kids are learning, and then take the next step of turning it all into a grade and a comment on a report card.  I think it’s equally probable that every teacher or teacher candidate has wondered that too at some point in their career.  Teachers often talk about “assessing” and “evaluating” but sometimes it all sounds like a secret language.
This series on “Teachable Moments” aims to demystify current assessment and evaluation practices  for parents and for teachers who are either beginning their teacher practice or who want an opportunity to review and reflect on their teaching practice and perhaps get some new tips and ideas to implement in their classrooms.
Let’s start with what is the difference between assessment and evaluation.

What is Assessment? 
Assessment is the ongoing activity of collecting information and evidence about what a student knows and how they are learning, as well as how they are able to apply that information to other situations.  It includes looking at how a child learns. The teacher uses assessment to determine what a student has learned, needs to work on, and the best way to help them learn based on their learning style.

What is Evaluation?

Evaluation takes place at the end of a segment of learning.  It involves a judging of a student’s skills and demonstration of understanding in a particular area based on an established set of criteria.  In the public school system, the established criteria are the provincial curriculum guidelines for your child’s grade.  (You can see the Ontario curriculum documents and student exemplars on the Ministry of Education website here.)  The evaluation will most often be communicated by a grade on a report card summarizing  student’s achievement in an area of study, accompanied by a written comment on their progress in that area.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Candy from a Baby

Whoever said taking candy from a baby is a piece of cake ... has never tried to pry a half-eaten jolly rancher out of a toddler's hair.