Archive for November, 2009

Wednesday Book Review – Bathroom Trivia

Did you know:
Someone with arachibutyrophobia has an irrational fear of peanut butter sticking to the roof of the mouth?
Infectious Lass is a DC comic superhero with the ability to give anyone a temporary sickness or disease?
In Thailand, it’s illegal to leave your house if you’re not wearing underwear?
Don’t worry, I didn’t know these factoids either. That is until my seven-year old daughter received a copy of Max Brallier’s BATHROOM TRIVIA DK Canada ($11.99Cdn/$9.99US tradepaper). My daughter now interjects interesting and sometimes bizarre facts into every conversation she has.
Designed for kids 8 to 12, the book is full of trivia, puzzles, stories, articles and quizzes all in bite sized chunks. The pages are fun and colourful with a mix of illustrations and photographs and various font styles and sizes. Kids can turn to any page and pull out something interesting, quickly. For the more methodical, there is a table of contents. And knowledge is a good thing right. Even if it is stranger than fiction.
But be careful, although the book is designed with kids in mind you might just find yourself sucked in the next time you’re in the loo.

Report Cards Byte

Although I’m not teaching in a classroom these days, I’ve been thinking about report cards and school/parent interaction since I read that schools in some American states are turning to online reporting.   By one account, 29,000 students in Tennessee and another 54,000 in Texas[1] won’t be taking home traditional paper report cards this year.  Instead, their parents will be able to log into a website portal where they will survey the numerical proof of their progeny’s progress.

Between reporting periods, some parents will even be able to find out how their kids did on last week’s test and homework assignments – at least as soon as the teacher gets tests marked and results uploaded to the online grade book.   I’ve also read that parents in some jurisdictions can activate an alert system that will send them an e-mail if their child is absent or if a homework assignment was not completed.

For parents who want frequent contact with the school, online reporting might be a good thing.  Face it, teachers are busy and don’t always have time to schedule meetings with parents after school, or to return all the phone calls and emails they receive. Online reporting would allow parents to find out if their child’s marks are chronically low; if the marks are hovering around failure; if they’re dramatically different from last year in the same subject; or dramatically different this year in one subject compared to another – without waiting for the report card or a letter of concern.

Notwithstanding my concerns about the amount of time teachers will spend keeping automated reporting systems up to date– instead of teaching, and my concern about the number of families who either do not have access to the internet – or who are not computer literate, I also worry that online reporting will simply reinforce our already excessive focus on marks.

We need to beware of over-reacting to marks – both in online reports and in traditional paper reports.  We should think of marks the same way we would think of stock market prices.  We should watch the trends – not the specifics – because a student’s grade in a course is the net of greater and lesser marks on tests, quizzes and homework assignments.

But, we also need to remember that a student’s experience with a course, and a student’s experience in school as a whole is also worthy of note – perhaps more noteworthy than the marks themselves.   For all the value online reporting might provide, what it doesn’t do is provide parents a glimpse into their child’s ability to manage time, organize learning materials, outline and draft an essay, or study for a multiple choice as compared to a true or false test.  Neither does it say that Debra understands the math concepts, but makes too many calculation errors to be able to fully demonstrate her potential.  Or that Jamal understands the structure and themes of The Old Man and the Sea, but can’t read the book fluently by himself.  And it sure doesn’t address the student’s behaviour, motivation, emotional comfort, or ability to socialize, make decisions….. (I could go on, but you get the idea).  Of course, report cards created on PDF templates (the Ontario model) don’t tell much of that either.  They, too, place an inordinate emphasis on marks.

In the last ten years of my classroom teaching experience (in a private school north of Toronto), I had a love / hate relationship with report card season.  I didn’t mind calculating marks or class means, but we wrote long narrative reports – 250 to 350 words per student, per subject.  I taught English, French, History, Geography and Guidance.   With 20 students in the 7/8 class on average, I did a lot of writing! And I always dreaded combing through my long term planning binder, my daybook, my marks book, and my anecdotal records books to compile data on each student so I could begin writing.

What I loved about writing narrative reports was the clarity it provided me about which of my pedagogical goals I’d met for the term; which students still needed teaching or re-teaching of various concepts;  which strategies had worked, and which had not.  But, the process also gave me renewed insight into who the students were – how they approached their learning, what their strengths were, academic and social – and what their challenges were.  By the time all the reports were written, I was recommitted to the unique potential of each student – and thoroughly invigorated about the coming term and what we could do with our time together.

I know public school teachers don’t have enough time to write narrative reports for all the students they teach – and that school boards aren’t going to free up teaching days to enable teachers to write that kind of report.

But if the traditional system is overly-focussed on marks and poorly designed to meet parents’ needs, I’m not sure the web solution is really an improvement.  Rather, I think the web solution is going to feel like an improvement because it offers the instant gratification upon which we have all become so dependent.   In this case, short answers to (often) under-informed parental questions delivered in digestible bytes.

Hungry for more information just hours later.

Submitted by Diane Duff.  Diane is an experienced and highly regarded educator.  For more about Diane and the services of her company, Aldridge-Duff, go to


Book Review – An Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures

Books are big in our house. This year we’ve been participating in a Harry Potter Reading Challenge (we have a year to read all the Harry Potter books). We’ve seen all of the movies so we know the stories, but reading the books provides a whole new perspective. My kids are fascinated by the fantastic mythical creatures created in these stories and other’s like Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean.
In the book An Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures (text by Anita Ganeri, illustrations by David West and published by Hammond) you can learn more about these creatures and their origins. Discover Dragons, Serpents and Worms; Flying Creatures; Chimera; Half-Human, Half-Beast; Water Beasts; Giants; Shape-Shifters; Demons, Ghouls, and Ghosts. Each has it’s own chapter in the book and each chapter is broken up to include a paragraph of key creatures in each category, like Centaurs or The Kraken or Trolls. The pages are full of fantastic computer generated 3-D illustrations that weave in and around the text. There’s also an index as well as a glossary at the back explaining some of the more common used words. The book is designed to look like a leather bound guide; even the edges of the pages are drawn to look like old parchment.
My kids were fascinated with this book, the illustrations and the content. They hung on every word I read about the creatures. I liked that the pages are broken into chunks for each creature making it easy to skim through and read more on the creatures you’re interested in, although you’ll probably want to read it all. The computer renderings are very life-like to the point that I actually skipped sections of the book (my kids are young and the book is intended for a young adult audience). I even found reading the historical significance of some creatures very interesting. 
An Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures might be just the book to get that fantasy reader in your family.

Every Wednesday you can see more book reviews on Carrie Anne’s blog Another day. Another thought…or two as part of her weekly Write a Review Wednesday

ABC’s and 123’s of nutrition for kids

One of the most valuable tools for feeding our children is to understand the basics of nutrition.  Most of us have a handle on the four basic food groups courtesy of the Canadian Food Guide, but I wonder how many of us know how many calories our kids should consume in a day, the three different food sources of calories, and most importantly the calories that are most beneficial and those that are dubious at best.

It wasn’t until my nutrition training at culinary school that I truly appreciated what the Canadian Food Guide was trying to say. Just I needed to understand the science behind cooking to better execute the technique and method; I needed to understand the “Why” behind the guide to make better sense of it.  Hopefully in this blog entry, I can provide you with a quick overview of basic nutrition so you have the tools to make healthy choices or provide a starting point for research of your own.

If our children are active, and depending upon their age and sex, they need between 1500 and 2000 calories a day.  A boy between 6-7 years old needs 1800 calories a day and a girl 1700.  Calories are the fuel or energy the body needs to maintain optimal functioning and growth.  Food is broken down into three main groups:  carbohydrates, fats and proteins.  Each gram of carbohydrate and protein contains 4 calories and each gram of fat contains 9 calories.  It is ideal for children if 45-65% of their calories come from carbohydrate, 10-30% from protein and 25-35% from fat.  These ratios relate closely to the bodies daily requirements of vitamins, minerals and other dietary nutrients.  Too much or too little in one of these areas can lead to problems of weight gain, cardiovascular health and diabetes.

Carbohydrates are found in fruit, vegetables and grains.  Protein is found in dairy, meat, nuts, soy and legumes.  Fat is found in dairy, meat and vegetable oils.  When we look at the food guide with this in mind, it is evident the number of servings in each group correlates to the recommended amount of calories, carbohydrates, proteins and fats.  These in turn provide us with the dietary nutrients we require to maintain our health.    It is important to note though that not all carbohydrates, proteins and fats are created equally and there are certainly choices that are healthier than others.  Again, the food guide does a great job of identifying these differences.

The Canadian Food Guide recommends that a child between 4 and 8 years old eat the following:

5 servings of vegetables and fruits,

4 servings of grains,

2 servings of milk

1 serving of meat.

That all sounds pretty straight forward doesn’t it?  Unfortunately, this is not always the case when you are dealing with children, time constraints, and perhaps a lack of cooking skill.  Even if you have cooking skill and time, there is no guarantee your children will eat what is before them.  There is almost a guarantee though, that they will eat the sweet, salty and fat laden packaged food that crowds the grocery store aisles.

Our first nutrition task should be to re-evaluate the foods that are children are currently eating.  If possible, record what your children are eating for a day or two and see how it correlates to the food guide.  There is a fabulous tool on the website that makes this task easy and informative.  Gather all of the packaged and prepared foods in your home and have a good look at the nutrition labels to see where they fit into the food guide or better yet, identify, if their calorie, sodium, sugar and fat levels put them in the dubious category.  I highly recommend that you focus on sodium levels to start.

Children between the ages of 4 and 8 should not consume more than 1200mg of sodium per day.  The amount for an adult is 2300mg a day which equals one teaspoon of salt.  Three quarters of our sodium intake comes from processed foods and it is primarily used as a preservative and flavour enhancer.  For example, a serving of Goldfish contains 250mg of sodium or about 20% of daily intake.  An order of Kelsey’s chicken tenders has a whopping 1040 mg of salt.  It is challenging even if we are attempting to choose healthier prepared options.  Life Choices vegetable grain chicken tenders has 580mg of salt and even a simple multigrain pizza crust and sauce has 780mg of salt for two slices, and that is before cheese is added!

Our second nutrition task, after eliminating what is not nutritionally beneficial to our children’s diet, is to start building a repertoire of foods that align with the Canadian food guide.  To do this you need to clearly understand which ingredients fall into the four groups and understand how combining those into recipes can place a dish into a number of groups.  For example, you may serve broccoli but if you pair it up with butter or a cheese sauce you may be adding too much salt or fat to your child’s daily requirement.  You may have a child like mine that refuses to eat fruit and fibre but will eat a banana loaf with some oatmeal or flax mixed in.  Once we have these building blocks we can build a repertoire of foods that we can depend upon for a healthy balance.  The Canadian Food Guide website has wonderful information and tools to help you do just that.

My task over the coming weeks will be to assist you with creating a repertoire of foods that you can serve in school lunches, or even snacks and dinners.  I really believe in streamlining food choices, planning and preparation.  One of the main reasons we turn to packaged food is that it quickly solves the problem of feeding our children.  If we make our food preparation more convenient and enjoyable I have no doubt our children will be eating better and we will be less stressed.

Tracey is owner of Epicuria and mother of two young boys.  Watch for her lunchtime solutions here at Best Tools for Schools.

Meaning of Home

What does home mean to you? The thought of it probably makes you smile.  Home is where the heart is, right? Sadly, for many, it is only a dream.  That’s why we’re thrilled to share this wonderful contest with our teachers and parents who read our blog.

Genworth Financial and Habitat for Humanity have partnered to bring  you the “Meaning of Home” Contest. It is a unique educational experience with a philanthropic touch.  Two of our favorite causes together! Below are the details.  Please share with your schools.  Only two weeks left!

  1. Students in grades 4,5 and 6 can submit their choice of written composition, essay or poem describing what ‘home’ means to them.
  2. There will be a First Place Winner and five Runner Ups.
  3. The First Place winner will: Take part in the ultimate gift – a new Habitat home for a deserving family. Genworth will donate $60,000 towards the building of a new Habitat home in a community of the winner’s choice. As well as receive a high-performance Dell laptop with 80 GB hard drive, 3 GB RAM and an extended warranty, loaded with Microsoft Office.
  4. Five Runner Ups will each: Help a family to get a home of their own. Genworth will donate $5,000 to a Habitat affiliate of the winner’s choice – which will support the building of a new home in that community. As well as receive a $100 gift certificate to Chapters Indigo.

For all details about the contest please visit: Meaning of Home


Candace also blogs for
the Yummy Mummy Club!