Archive for February, 2010

Why don’t students like school? – by Daniel Willingham

Summary Review of Chapter 3: “Why do students remember everything that’s on television and forget everything I say?”

While driving to see a client this week, I heard a piece on CBC about people forgetting how to read analog clocks because they are surrounded by digital clocks and don’t get a lot of practice with analog. Intrigued, I started to consider my own difficulty remembering which button is which on the remote control. A few minutes later, distracted by traffic, I put the question out of my mind.

But I thought about it again the next day when reading chapter 3 of Willingham’s book about why students don’t like school.

In this chapter, Willingham managed to startle me with the clarity of his definition of memory as “the residue of thought.”

So why is thinking about memory in that way important for teachers? It’s because if we want our students to remember what we teach, we have to construct lessons in such a way as to make them memorable. We have to make them think about what we’re teaching.

We all do that, don’t we, devise creative ways to engage our students?

Willingham provides a great anecdote of a fourth grade teacher who went all out to make sure her young students connected with her lesson about the Underground Railroad. Because biscuits had been a staple food of slaves, the teacher supplied her students with flour and water and all the rest so they could make biscuits themselves.

You know those kids remembered that lesson!

Well, in truth, Willingham says, what those students remembered was not the lesson content – life during the time of the Underground Railroad. No, what they remembered was how to make biscuits – because that’s what they were focussed on. That’s what they were thinking about.

Of course. Of course.

Obviously, there’s more to chapter three than that. Willingham talks about how to construct lessons around narrative structure and he makes a pretty good case that it doesn’t matter what subject we teach. We can use the four Cs of story – causality, conflict, complications and character – to script any lesson.

Interesting stuff. But, frankly, since I swallowed Willingham’s pearl about the difference between memorable and engaging lessons, I’ve been busy revisiting and reconstructing lessons according to what I should have focussed student attention on. So that’s the section of the chapter I remember best.

And, that just makes his point, doesn’t it?

Chapter 3 recommendation: D. L. Schacter’s “The seven sins of memory: How the mind forgets and remembers”

In two weeks: Chapter 4 – Why is it so hard for students to understand abstract ideas?

See you then!

DianeDiane Duff, B. Ed., is a literacy consultant who works with families, schools, and literacy coaches/tutors.  Diane conducts assessments for reading/writing skills and dyslexia; provides workshops for parent groups; leads reading and language curriculum review for private schools, Montessori schools and homeschooling parents; and conducts teacher training in language and literacy development.    Email Diane at  or telephone her at 613-730-7096.  For more information, visit

Nutrition Guides

Let it be known, I am not a nutritionist by any means. I have gained my knowledge of healthy menu choices at restaurants, because I simply take the time to read nutritional guides, and ask the questions that need to be asked. “Is that cooked in oil or water?” “Is the grilled chicken basted with any sauce before it’s grilled?”

So that being said, (and I’m doing this in my best game show voice) it’s time for a multiple choice questiooonnnn!

Does your favorite restaurant have a nutritional guide for their menu available at your discretion?

a) Yes! They do, I have read it.

b) No, and I’m bummed about that.

c) I have absolutely no idea, I’ve never bothered asking.


There is absolutely nothing wrong with asking to see the nutritional guide at your favorite restaurant. If you want your family to be eating healthy on the go, that means that someone (probably you, Mom) being knowledgeable about calories, fats, sugars, sodium, carbohydrates, protein intake, and much more.

Legally, every menu item that is listed on the menu, is supposed to be available for viewing on the nutritional guide. This way, restaurants are covering their own tooshies, from the sometimes “too-regular-guest-who-eats-pasta-smothered-in-cheese-and-cream-sauce-5-days-a-week-and-drink-4-pop-at-the-same-time”, who may realize that their pants don’t fit anymore. Kids are in the same boat. They are creatures of habit and want what they have every time they go to that restaurant, because they associate good times with their food.

So, be smart Mom & Dad, and next time you’re in your favorite restaurant, and you see that smiling face across the table, take the extra 5 minutes and skim over the restaurant’s nutritional guide. It may save you years of reversing poor eating habits!

Happy & healthy eating!


Follow @leslielscott on Twitter and visit her personal blog entitled “The Life of Leslie” for adventures of a 20-something woman aspiring to be something amazing

Keep ‘em Eating Asian Noodles

Versatile Asian Noodles

Next to pizza, Asian food is an absolute slam dunk with my boys. Dim Sum was their first restaurant experience and a no-brainer for me because the food comes fast; they love it and their louder than “inside” voices are barely noticed in the large chatter filled dining room. In the past year they have become such fans of sushi, my restaurant budget is groaning and I have to eat my maki quickly before they devour it.

I like to work an advantage, especially with my kids so it just made sense to include Asian flavours in their school lunches. As fussy as kids can be, they get umami. If soy and Hoisen can get their little taste receptors firing and their mouths chewing without my pleading voice, I am all for that. Asian flavours are also a favourite of mine and make for fast and tasty weekday food.

There are a multitude of recipes for Asian noodles with countless dressing recipes and a multitude of noodles to use. I like the following recipe because it incorporates the salty and sweet flavours kids love so much. The Hoisen in the recipe thickens the dressing nicely and adds a touch of sweetness that brings together the other ingredients. Another healthy advantage is the smaller quantity of soy sauce compared to other recipes I have encountered. You can make this dressing well in advance, in batches and use it in both hot and cold preparations. You can use your favourite noodles plus add any vegetable or protein garnishes you like.

Noodle Salad 1

Asian Noodle Dressing

(makes 2/3 cup. Dresses ½ lb dry noodles)

1 tsp sesame oil

2 TB seasoned rice vinegar (salt and sugar already added)

3 TB soy sauce or tamari

5 TB oil (olive oil, canola etc)

1 TB Hoisen sauce

1 tsp chili garlic sauce (don’t worry – its not spicy)

1 tsp freshly grated ginger

Simply stir the ingredients and add to cold (rinsed and drained) pasta. You can also use this dressing as a marinade for chicken, fish, beef or tofu. Serve plain or add garnishes your children like. Serve cold or incorporate into a stir fry. If using in a stir fry you can reduce or omit the vinegar and canola oil.

Noodle Salad prep 2

Prep Strategy

-Make dressing in advance in batches stored in the fridge or make dressing while you are waiting for pasta water to boil

-quickly julienne vegetable garnish while the pasta cooks

-immediately drain and rinse pasta with cold water once it is cooked

-If making a day ahead, keep garnish separate or place on top of noodles so they stay crunchy

Suggested noodles:

Whole wheat spaghettini, soba, udon, egg noodles, somen, rice vermicelli, chow mein


Celery, peppers, green onions, cabbage, carrots

Sesame seeds, peanuts, cashews

Mint, cilantro, basil and parsley

Orange, lemon or lime juice

Shrimp, chicken, grilled flank steak, BBQ pork or duck, tofu or omelet

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

Precious Memories

With Family Day just having past, many will uploading & deleting photos from your camera card to make room for the March Break festive moments.

My word to the wise is don’t delete the photos from your camera card.  Sure you can go ahead & erase the ones where you thumb got in the way or when you someone got you with the “Hey look over here shot”, but keep the rest.

Remember that even though you’ve uploaded them to your computer, it’s not going to be there forever.  Hard drives crash. I understand in this age of technology that you can back up photos on CDs or upload them to social sites as back up, but give it some thought.  Do you really want to go through all your facebook albums to find each shot & have to save it to your new computer?  CDs are great for sending to people, but they are bigger to store than a camera card.

With the prices of camera cards today.  It’s easier to just buy a new card after you’ve filled your 2GB, 10GB, 14GB etc cards.
Just keep them cards in a safe place if you ever need to reload them on to your computer.
I suggest in a recipe box near your hard drive.  In the event of a power surge or virus, your precious photos are still safe & sound.
Camera cards are also great to take to friends’ & relatives’ homes that have digital frames.
It’s much more relaxing to show them your photos (& share your stories) while relaxing on the couch instead of all being huddled around a computer desk.

Lisa McDonald is mother to one son, works full time and part time, is an organizer of women’s group, & Co-Host of MeFest – so you know time management is TRULY important to her.

You can always find Lisa on Twitter at @those2girls

A Cool Kid’s Field Guide

As soon as my kids learned to talk the questions started: who’s that? what’s this? why is that over there? when will be be over there? Now that they’re bigger, though not much bigger, the questions haven’t stopped but now they’re harder ones for me to answer. I love that my kids ask questions, it shows they’re curious and that’s something I want to encourage. But sometimes I don’t have the time or knowledge to answer all their questions.

Well Hammond, those folks who have produced many a world atlas and other reference books, have produced a new series called A Cool Kid’s Field Guide (age 9-12). Kristel from Hammond sent along a copy of A Cool Kid’s Field Guide to Weather as well as A Cool Kid’s Field Guide to Space for my cool kids to try out.


The guides have hard covers and are coil bound at the top, similar to that of a note pad. The actual pages are a heavy card stock versus standard paper you find in books. This ensures the pages don’t rip as kids turn them. Each guide contains a table of contents up front as well as an index in the back, making it easy for you inquisitive kids to find the answers they’re looking for easily.

A Cool Kid’s Field Guide To Weather covers general things about weather (why it’s important, where it happens, how are forecasts made), plus it talks about specific weather conditions like thunderstorms, wind, and global warming to name a few. My kids love that the pages fold out to provide more information on an area they’re interested in. For example, when talking about wind, little flaps fold out, each talking about the different degrees of force wind blows (based on how it’s measured). Each image talks about the wind speed and then uses examples kids can relate to: Force 6 (25-31 mph/40-50 km/hr, large branches move). Based on this new knowledge, my kids now try to guess the wind’s force when we’re out walking.

A Cool Kid’s Field Guide to Space covers general things about space (what is it, what can we see, what’s in space), plus it talks about specific things like people going into space and living there and the solar system to name a few. My kids enjoyed the list of space words at the back. My son also loved the pages that talked about astronauts and space travel. He now wants to be an astronaut (along with a race car designer and knight).

The Cool Kid’s Field Guides are compact and great to take out on walks. The illustrations used keep the pages fun to read. The content is also written with kids in mind; they will learn something new and won’t be bogged down by high-tech or scientific words that will be lost on them. Although the books are aimed at kids 9-12, my 7-year-old enjoyed reading them and my 5-year-old enjoyed the facts learned from them.

The Cool Kid’s Field Guides series also includes titles covering Dinosaurs and Global Warming.

The Cool Kid’s Field Guide to Weather

written by Lisa Regan/illustrated by Tim Hutchinson

age 9-12

26 pages

spiral bound


The Cool Kid’s Field Guide to Space

written by Lisa Regan/illustrated by Peter Bull

age 9-12

26 pages

spiral bound


Traveling the obstacle course known as my life, with kids, work, writing and all.

Another day. Another thought…or two

Managing Editor & Review Editor at

Apple Slices

I try to eat healthy, but sometimes those golden arches just call my name, as if heaven opens up, angels are singing Hallelujah, and I find myself smelling the sweet, sweet aroma of a Big Mac.

I’ve been trying to order kids meals at fast food restaurants like McDonalds, so that when my fast food craving strikes, I’m satisfied with fewer calories.

My latest interest though, was seeing that Happy Meals now have the option of Apple Slices.


I love that there is the option of having Apple Slices as the “treat” in the Happy Meal for kids. But you know that old saying “Looks can be deceiving?” Yeah. So normally, one medium apple with skin contains 0.47 grams of protein, 95 calories, and 4.4 grams of dietary fiber. McDonalds Apple Slices with Caramel Dipping Sauce (which really defeats the purpose of a healthy apple) registers at a whopping 17 grams of sugar, 100 calories, 40mg of Sodium and only 2 grams of dietary fiber.

Never mind the preservatives in the apple slices that are present to keep them from turning brown. (Home experiment time: cut an apple into slices and see how long it takes to turn brown, then figure out how McDonalds keeps their slices looking so crisp & white…)

In all honesty, your little one would be just as satisfied and content with the toy, and have your own apple in the car or at home after your McDonalds stop! At least you know your apple is going to be worth it!

Don’t forget to let them run around the Playland to work off the cheeseburger & fries while you’re at it ☺

Happy & healthy eating!


Follow @leslielscott on Twitter and visit her personal blog entitled “The Life of Leslie” for adventures of a 20-something woman aspiring to be something amazing

Balloon Breathing

Now that you have created your yoga space and are eager to begin a yoga practice with your child from last week’s post “Bringing the OM into your Child’s Life” I will continue to sprinkle your life with all things YOGA!

This week we will look at a breathing technique (pranayama) that will assist in calming, rejuvenating and relaxing your child (and yourself!) and can be used sitting at a desk at school, while trying to fall asleep at night in bed, or before an event that may bring feelings of anticipation or nervousness.  Prana= life force or energy and yama= control / restraint. Therefore when practicing pranayama with your child you are both able to gain control over your breath and the energy directed within the body.

Get comfy with your child by lying on the floor, sitting tall in a chair with both feet on the floor or any comfortable position you may be able to find with your little yogi.

Place both of your hands on your belly, spreading your fingers fully to cover as much surface area as possible.  Relax your arms and gently close your eyes.   Inhale deeply through your nose and visualize the breath travelling deep down to your belly. Feel your belly begin to expand and grow, like a balloon, and let your hands experience the belly moving as it fills with fresh oxygen.  Slowly begin to exhale and visualize the breath leaving the belly, travelling up to the ribs, then the chest and slowly leaving through the nose.  Continue breathing deeply, fully and completely in and out of the nose as your belly fills like a balloon, then let all the air slowly leave the body.  Don’t force the breath, but invite it to flow naturally in and out of the body.

Have a toddler or preschooler you want to try it out with? You may place a toy on top of their belly and watch as the toy rises up with their belly and then travels back down. Instead of asking them to “exhale through their nose” they may wish to “make wind” with their nose as they gently blow out.  Toddler & preschool yogis also enjoy holding a balloon on top of their belly and watching it dance up and down as their belly moves with the breath.

Take time out as a family to enjoy each other’s company, relax the mind and body and practice some balloon breathing!

Amanda DeGrace

Accelerate your career and be empowered by Amanda DeGrace, respected fitness professional & yoga teacher. Energy, charisma and an amazing passion for life are qualities displayed by Amanda in both her everyday life and her yoga and wellness classes. Amanda is CEO of DeGrace Energetics, and creator of the innovative Little Lotus Yoga program. Amanda currently teaches in the Ottawa area and presents at educational events and trainings across Canada.  Be inspired and empowered as Amanda shares her enthusiasm to keep moving, keep fit and keep it fun!

DeGrace Energetics & Little Lotus Yoga programs may be found at

Follow @littlelotusyoga on twitter for up to date information, recommended resources and to continue enjoying yoga with your children.

Join our “Little Lotus Yoga” fan page on Facebook to access pictures of postures, yoga sequences, guided meditations and recommended resources.

Why don’t students like school? – by Daniel Willingham

Summary Review of Chapter 2 – How can I teach students the skills they need when standardized tests require only facts?

When you set out to debunk a statement made not only by a dead man, but by arguably the smartest man ever to have lived, you certainly get your reader’s attention. In chapter 2, Willingham argues that Einstein was wrong when he said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Willingham thinks that knowledge is pretty darned important – and that we should not abandon the teaching of knowledge in our zeal to teach skills such as critical thinking. In fact, he says we can’t teach critical thinking without teaching facts – because students need to have something to think about.

I’m not sure many would argue with him about this. I don’t think I’ve heard even the staunchest education reformer say we should stop teaching students about things; I seem to recall, rather, that words like meaningless, decontexutalized, and rote were peppered in statements decrying the teaching of facts in isolation.

Willingham spends a lot of time explaining the relationship between factual knowledge and the ability to think critically – a little too many words for my needs or taste, but he does eventually move on to the subject near and dear to my heart – reading.

In this section, Willingham argues that knowledge is essential to reading comprehension – and by knowledge he means background knowledge. He says that we need background knowledge in order to make connections between and among ideas. To do that well, he argues, we must be able to chunk information. Why? Because to think we need to recall information from long term memory and place it into working memory, and we can only hold about seven packages of information in working memory. So, the better we can chunk information into packages, the more we can hold in working memory and bring to bear in critical thinking. The more background knowledge we have, according to Willingham, the better we are at chunking.

Willingham says children as young as preschool need factual information in order to read better, and he refers to the well known study by Chall and Jacobs about the decline in reading scores at grade 4 when more emphasis is put on comprehension skills than decoding skills. Further, he writes about the importance of early acquisition of knowledge and alludes to Stanovich’s “Mathew Effect” when he talks about how those rich with knowledge get richer because they can remember more (they have a frame of reference upon which to hang new information).

So, I was surprised when I got to the section about implications for the classroom. Instead of addressing what the very young ought to be reading and learning – in order to lay the foundation for reading comprehension and for a richer knowledge life – Willingham provides a recommendation suitable for senior students: a daily newspaper and books written for the intelligent laymen. And what books are those? The canon of science and politics written by dead white men. Willingham says that as long as society relies on these texts, these are the ones we need to teach our students. (That statement should provoke a chapter of debate, in a whole different sort of text, methinks.)

Perhaps Willingham was too busy thinking critically about thinking to think imaginatively about how to fill our students with information. From my perspective (without thinking very hard – or very critically- or even very imaginatively), here are a few places to begin:

• expose students as young as SK to as much non-fiction reading as story reading

• preview vocabulary and concepts in non-fiction reading

• include a course in how to teach content area reading in all pre-service training

• teach students content-area reading skills from grade 4 on

Why not leave a comment with your suggestions?

Chapter 2 article recommendations:

1. Chall and Jacob’s “Poor Children’s fourth-grade slump” (originally published in American Educator, 2003) available at

2. Stanovich and Cunninghams’ “Where does knowledge come from? Specific associations between print exposure and information acquisition” (originally published in Journal of Educational Psychology, Volume 85) available at

In two weeks: Chapter 3 – Why do students remember everything that’s on television and forget everything I say?

See you then!


Diane Duff, B. Ed., M. A., has been working with students and families for almost twenty years.   Her areas of expertise are literacy development, special education, reading disability/dyslexia, and teacher training.   At Aldridge-Duff, the private education business she founded ten years ago, Diane coordinates a highly experienced team of certified teachers  who provide in-home tutoring and academic support to students (all ages/grades/abilities) in both Ottawa and Toronto.
Contact Diane directly at

Saving Money

Use Price Matching & Points to save on Purchases!

Here’s a great plan to help it all work out? Don’t worry it doesn’t involve signing up for online offers or filling out those long consumer surveys. Who has time for that?

You have all this power right in your wallet!

Follow along & see how to save!

First off Zellers will price match anything that you have a flyer for (including online flyers as long as they are Canadian). Wal-Mart will do the same thing, but Zellers will give you HBC points. Trade those in for HBC gift cards. Plus if the item is not on sale at Zellers that week, there’s a good chance it’s in stock there.

Next is Shopper’s Drug Mart. About once a month they have a 20 Times the Optimum Points Day! It’s usually requires a minimum $50 purchase, but don’t feel you have to go buy expensive face creams & perfumes to get to that number. Instead head out to one that carries groceries as well. Buy my cereal, milk, bread, eggs etc. & I stock up on items like toilet paper, paper towels & laundry soap. That gets to $50 very quickly. Once you have accumulated several Optimum points is trade them in for electronics. Nintendo games & accessories, camera cards & DVDs can all be bought with your points. It makes gift shopping much easier on the savings account.

Another next top choice card is Sunoco points card. After one year of driving to all the activities in town, most can earn a $50 gift card, which equals a week of free gas. Who can argue that one?

Sobey’s now offers points as well & they can easily redeemed them for treats & beverages when your kids have friends over.

Finally a FAVORITE card is the Scotiabank Scene Debit card. If you pay for all the purchases above with it (points credit cards will work as well, but there is always a fear of the dreaded missed payment & then have to start on the “Interest Train”). Stopping a lot of online banking & using a Scene Debit card to pay bills onsite can be helpful as well. Take your bill directly to Rogers, Gas Company, Hydro Company etc & pay with Scene debit card there. You have to pay those bills anyway, so you might as well get something for it. That something is FREE MOVIES at Cineplex theatres. Most families love going to the movies & parents love to say they went FOR FREE!

So don’t be afraid to bring in your Price Matching flyers & pull out those Points Cards. They might get you a perk too!

Lisa McDonald is mother to one son, works full time and part time, is an organizer of women’s group, & Co-Host of MeFest – so you know time management is TRULY important to her.

You can always find Lisa on Twitter at @those2girls

The Option of Multigrain

For many years, our parents, their parents, and grandparents knew one kind of bread – white.  Then somewhere along the line, whole wheat bread was introduced.

At some point in the new millennium, nutritionists and Health Canada starting promoting healthier options with multigrain breads, creating this brand-new awareness of eating healthier.

Since then, restaurants have been making multigrain options very convenient when dining out so that they can stay in check with the health concerns and perhaps inch their way over their competitors, who may not offer the same options.


I think I’ve only ever met 3 kids my entire life that did not like pizza.  It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s delicious, and it really, really, really hits the spot.

Your favorite pizza based restaurants are taking their dough to the next level with a Multigrain dough option.  A small change from original dough can mean that your child is now receiving close to 6 more grams of fibre, essential for preventing heart disease, cancer, diabetes & obesity.  A child aged 1-3years old, is recommended to have 19g of fibre in the diet every day, where a child 4-8 years old is recommended to have 25g.

Fibre at any age is important for promoting healthy regularity, and when dining out this can be extremely important when add-ons such as cheese, can block their tiny intestinal track, making it very painful, and hard on both child and parents. So this simple switch (and believe me, they won’t notice the difference) for your child’s pizza dough can make a huge difference when you’re dining out – and there is no cost for a dough switch!  Talk about a win-win!

Happy & healthy eating!


Follow @leslielscott on Twitter and visit her personal blog entitled “The Life of Leslie” for adventures of a 20-something woman aspiring to be something amazing

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