Last week my school held its annual Field Day and served bananas as part of the mid-morning snack to the students. Guess how many teachers and staff have leftover bananas at home? My family does not eat that many bananas, so it was time to bake. I made a batch of Ina Garten’s Banana Crunch Muffins and bagged them up as little sirsees for my children’s teachers. We are close to the end of the year; we have testing next week, and teachers need a little appreciation gift when it gets close to the final weeks of school. (Alert: Teacher Appreciation Week is May 4-8 this year.)
These muffins taste the best fresh out of the oven, but they are still mighty delicious the next day. Ina Garten’s Recipe includes whole milk, granola, coconut, and walnuts. I used buttermilk in place of the whole milk and replaced the walnuts with pecans because it saved me a trip to the grocery store.
The muffins are baked in cupcake liners, but after the muffins cooled, I placed each muffin inside a Specialty Wilton Cupcake Liner that has tall, scalloped sides. The large liner protects the muffin inside the clear bag. I tied the bags with curly ribbon and added gift enclosure cards with a handwritten label. We arrived at school early and put the treats on each teacher’s desk for a breakfast surprise.
The first time I made chocolate sheet cake for TheRoomDad, I brought it with us to tailgate at a college football game. When TheRoomDad’s friend took his first bite, his knees got weak. Since that tasting, I have shared the cake at many group events. Last year, I brought the cake to the retirement party of the beloved receptionist at our school. I originally baked a glazed lemon cake for the event, but this happened.
So, I baked the chocolate sheet cake as a back up. People again had to grab onto something for support after the first bite hit their lips. It’s that good. There are many recipes available for chocolate sheet cake. I checked. The Pioneer Woman has a no-fail version that uses butter. My recipe uses margarine. You may also see versions of something called Texas sheet cake that are basically the same thing. I have not compared the recipe I currently use to the one my mom always used, but I am sure they would be close– fudgy cake, frosting that absorbs into the top layer while the cake is hot, a little pecan crunch to balance the moistness of the cake. Heaven. We had friends join us for Easter dinner last weekend, and I dusted off the recipe and served a slice of sheet cake to everyone with a scoop of vanilla or coffee ice cream. It did not disappoint.
2 c. flour
4 T. cocoa
1 t. baking soda
1 c. water
1 c. margarine (2 sticks)
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. buttermilk
2 c. granulated sugar
Sift together flour, sugar, and baking soda in a large mixing bowl.
Boil water, margarine, and cocoa until melted stirring to combine. Pour the liquid over the dry ingredients and mix well.
Add buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla. Mix well.
Place in a greased 10 x 15 in. sheet cake pan and bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes.
Prepare frosting while the cake is baking and pour the frosting over the cake while it is hot (important!).
1/2 c. margarine (1 stick)
6 T. buttermilk
4 T. cocoa
1 t. vanilla
1 c. chopped pecans
1 (1-lb) box powdered sugar
Bring margarine, buttermilk, and cocoa to a boil in a medium pan.
Add vanilla, nuts, and sifted powdered sugar. Mix well. It will seem to dry at first but keep mixing.
Pour over the hot cake. Gently spread close to the edges with a spatula. The heat of the cake will help the frosting spread to the edges.
Along with every other 4th grade student, I want to avoid “write the spelling words 3x each” spelling homework. I am actually not against that kind of homework (especially if the students are writing the words in cursive) since I think it builds a motor memory, but we all get bored with it. One new activity I am using is a Spelling Doodle. Students use every word on the weekly list to design a word doodle. The challenge is to think of various ways to group the spelling words. Students use a combination of phonics knowledge and word meanings to create word categories. Not only do students practice writing spelling words correctly, they are also activating their knowledge about the ways letters combine to create words, word usage, and definitions of the words.
Give the student a piece of white copy paper and some colored pencils or fun pens. Using all of the spelling words in a list, students create groups of words and label each group with a title. Kids write the words and then add doodles and illustrations to the page to make it colorful and appealing. Talk about the words by sharing the group types. We came up with all kinds of ways to group last week’s words.
Here are some suggestions to get you started:
Syllable Count (group by how many syllables a word has)
Same Root, Prefix, or Suffix (look for common word parts)
Same Spelling Pattern in the Beginning, Middle, or End (look for repeated letter groupings, my SPELLING LISTS are created around a spelling pattern or rule, so my students were not allowed to create one giant grouping for all words on the list)
Same Starting, Middle, or End Letter Sound
Common Situation (look for a way to group words based on an activity like words you might use at a construction site or while going to a movie– this reminded me of games like Taboo)
Common Topic (look for words that have a theme like baking or sports)
I told my students they should try to have 2-4 words per grouping, but if they ran out of options at the end, they could create a group that contained only one word as long as they provided a title. We used colored pencils at school, but I got out the Sharpies when I worked on my samples at home. Definitely add color. If you need an alternative to calling out words when studying for a weekly spelling test, give this spelling activity a try. It works in the classroom and at home.
Magical candy is kind of a draw in children’s literature. Mr. Star Wars recently read The Whizz Pop Chocolate Shop and let me borrow it when he finished. In the book, a family inherits a closed down chocolate shop with lots of magical secrets. It is my newest Charlie and the Chocolate Factory “read alike” book. Books that use food (particularly chocolate) as a central plot detail are a big hit with kids.
Mr. Star Wars and I tried to name all of the books we know that use food in some way. We came up with chapter books with candy, chapter books with non-traditional foods– like worms (!), picture books, an even some books that one food item steals a scene. I cut us off after we started on the picture book titles because there are just so many books we could list. What is your favorite book that will make your mouth water?
During the month of February, my students and I work on a poetry unit. A key piece to the POETRY UNIT is the novel, Hate That Cat, by Sharon Creech. I love this book. I cry in front of my students when I read this book. I want to be the character, Miss Stretchberry, in this book. Miss Stretchberry is that once-in-a-lifetime teacher who changes a child’s entire school career. She sees all of the hidden strengths in Jack, the narrator in the story, and spends time nurturing those qualities. She also sniffs out Jack’s worries or troubles and gently solves problems. In return, Jack rises to the occasion and is motivated to stretch his capabilities while he has Miss Stretchberry as a teacher.
Characters like Miss Stretchberry are some of my favorite, so I started building a list of books with inspirational teacher characters. I wish I had more book titles, but here is my first draft. I probably could expand the list into movie titles like Dead Poets Society or Stand and Deliver because movies with inspirational teachers get me too.
Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson
Hank Zipzer by Henry Winkler (pay attention to the music teacher)
Homesick by Kate Klise
Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech
No Talking by Andrew Clements
The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen, 7th grade+ (pay attention to the math teacher)
The Secret School by Avi
The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg
The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
Word after Word after Word by Patricia MacLachlan
The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
For adults (and particularly teacher adults), try the book Educating Esme by Esme Raji Codell.