Sunday, September 18, 2011

It All Started When...

Two weeks ago I brought in a huge bunch of kale to school. A co-worker had brought me to her community garden plot the afternoon, and in the moderately heavy rain, we'd cut about a dozen stalks from her massive kale patch. When I asked the fifth and sixth graders I teach what vegetable it was, only one guessed that it might be kale. The rest had never knowingly interacted with that vegetable.

All morning it sat in a big bouquet on the horseshoe table next to my desk. At reading time we read an article about kale as a whole group. Kids learned that kale is a powerful antioxidant (they also learned what an antioxidant is). They also were interested to find out that kale has over one thousand percent of the US RDA of Vitamin K, which, among other things, is an important factor in healthy blood clotting function. At the end of the lesson, anyone that wanted tried a small bit of raw kale. I suggested this so they could appreciate how much better it tasted after we turned it into kale chips, but to my surprise several kids enjoyed the taste of it raw!

In the afternoon everyone washed their hands and worked with a partner to tear the kale leaves off their stems and into small bits. Volunteers helped toss the kale with a bit of olive oil and salt and then an adult volunteer took a large cookie sheet of our mixture to the kitchen to bake it while the class gathered around for read aloud.

Twenty minutes later I finished the chapter and the finished kale chips arrived in the classroom. We munched them and kids shared their opinions. Some wanted more or less salt, but overall about two thirds of my students enjoyed what they'd eaten. Most came back for seconds.

Learning how to enjoy and prepare food for a healthy diet is as essential a skill as reading or knowing your multiplication facts. This year my students will be learning about the United States through regional cooking projects. We will explore US History by cooking dishes that were common during various eras. We'll learn about chemistry by baking bread, learning about fermentation, and other chemical processes that happen to food. And we'll finish the year off exploring environmental issues related to farming and agriculture.

Have I planned all these units yet? No. But I know I'll get there.

For now we are in the first six weeks of school, establishing routines and growing as a class community. Food is already a part of our class identity. Last Thursday we made pesto. (More on this in another post) I brought in some bread I'd baked at home to serve the pesto on, and everyone enjoyed it so much they convinced me we needed to bake bread in the coming week so we could finish off the pesto! So tomorrow we're baking bread and later this week we're making an eggplant dip recipe that I've been wanting to try. I hope there's some bread left over for us to spread it on...

I am passionate about cooking healthy food with local ingredients whenever possible. Bringing this energy into my teaching is by far the most gratifying new thing I've done as a teacher in many years, and I am constantly trying new things! I hope to post as regularly as I cook. I've set a goal to include at least one cooking project in each week throughout the year.

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