Saturday, January 26, 2013

World Grains

My students are now expert at world grains. And hopefully our "travels" have also given some much needed review of the continents.

This week we cooked rye berries while reading a short article that hinted that rye was primarily farmed in Europe without actually saying so. A perfect opportunity to practice the reading skill of inferring!

I cracked up when kids described the cooked rye as looking like maggots. One student took a leap of faith, tried the cooked berries, and then exclaimed, "It tastes like insects crawling around in my mouth!" Needless to say, he did not finish his serving! Personally, I thought that they tasted like a more savory version of wheat berries, but I like that pop-and-smush texture under my teeth.
Exploring an uncooked grain
We also made polenta out of cornmeal, which made me feel Fagan-like again when serving the thin gruel. After a short discussion I convinced most everyone that people generally don't dry corn kernels and then cook the whole kernel after it's been dried, so it was okay for us to use cornmeal as a starting point.


This week's highlight, for me at least, was cooking t'eff, a tiny brown African grain. When kids saw the cooked product, many exclaimed, "It looks like brown amaranth!" I love that their horizons' have expanded so much that they are using a somewhat obscure grain like amaranth as a reference point for the newest weird grain.

T'eff was very popular with some but less appreciated overall. Considering its price and how difficult it is to access, it is also the least likely grain to eat on a regular basis. (I ordered a pound of it from an Amazon seller for a whopping $10.85, whereas every other grain was available locally.)

This week I've also been modeling the research process with a familiar continent: North America. Next week everyone will start researching a continent of choice, learning about its geography, climate, native peoples, immigrants, and staple foods. We'll put all our learning together on a website, which will be a new technological accomplishment for me.

Class display with a small bag of a representative grain connected to each continent, expanded below

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Back in the Saddle

Have you wondered what's been going on in my classroom? Until this past week, we took a short break from cooking to get back into the school routine after vacation and to give us time to do non-food focussed science experiments.

But I was thinking about cooking, making plans...

Our winter social studies unit is World Geography and we are using food, specifically grains, as an entry point to the topic. This past week I started off with a pre-test to make sure everyone knew their continents. Ruh-roh! Most kids clearly needed a refresher, so my plans to introduce one grain for every continent was a perfect activity on multiple levels.

We started with a Match The Grains activity that I didn't invent, but did adapt to the grains that we've identified as being indigenous to each continent. Did I say "we"? That would mean me, Emilyinthekitchen, and Kristen, an employee of the district food cooperative whose focus is on food education. We have grant funds supporting this unit and spent half a day in December cooking up plans for this unit.

The Match The Grain activity got kids looking at ziplog bags full of nine different grains, and then trying to figure out which typed description went with each baggie and what the name of the grain was. We had regular stuff, like brown rice, barley and quinoa (because barley and quinoa is "regular stuff" in our amazing hot lunch program). But we also had weirder stuff like rye berries, amaranth, and millet. Kids got into the exploration and it felt like a great kick off to the unit.

For the next three days we cooked up one grain per day and ate it at snack. At the same time, kids examined the uncooked grain up close and personal (meaning they got to touch and sniff it) and recorded the grain, the continent of origin and labelled the continent on a map. I've posted this information on the bulletin board as well.
Cuplets of amaranth, ready to be poked and prodded
On their personal charts kids are also writing down descriptors for each grain before and during cooking, as well as descriptors from eating it. Almost everyone's tried every grain, most kids liked them all, and many kids wanted seconds! Each grain has been cooked in salted water and served with a bit of butter, but we've also talked about how else they'd like to season each grain or what they'd recommend serving it with. They are all budding chefs...

Amaranth: gritty but tasty

As I served kids globs of barley on Thursday at snack, I heard an imaginary voice in my ear say,
"Please miss, can I have some more?"

Of course, not everything's gone perfectly. For instance:
- My children have been sick and I had to keep adapting plans each day as Plan A became Plan B became Plan C. There's only so much you can ask a substitute to do...
- I've been less than scientific about how much salt and butter has been dumped into the pot each day, so it's possible that barley got rave reviews because of the supporting role butter played.
- The display board is serving its purpose, but looks a little bit like a third grader put it together, no disrespected to third graders intended. This is because of staffing changes I no longer have the support of the fabulous Barb. This was the first bulletin board display I put together myself in over a decade, and it showed.

None of this is critically important, though. Kids are eating new grains, making connections with the continents, and hopefully getting interested in all that is to come. We'll finish the grain tour de continents at the beginning of next week and move on to the next phase of the unit.

I'll leave you with an opportunity to test your own grain knowledge. Do you know which grain originated on which continent? (For the purposed of this unit, originated can also mean cultivated, even if it originally grew wild elsewhere. Because if you look far enough back, almost everything came from Asia.)

amaranth                          quinoa
corn                                  rye
millet                               rice
oats                                  teff
wheat                               barley

Have fun!