August 2013 archive

appetite, instruction, and carrot cake

By Kristina

My fiance’s mom made a carrot cake for her wedding back in 1975, and to continue the tradition, she’ll make us a small carrot cake to use for our cake cutting (alongside the cupcake tower we are getting in lieu of a traditional cake). She made us a test version earlier this summer, but had to scale down the original recipe.

The Recipe

2 c. (white) flour, all-purpose
2 c.(white) sugar
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cinnamon
4 eggs
1 c. cooking oil
4 c. grated raw carrots
½ c. chopped pecans

Beat eggs ‘til frothy, beat in oil, add flour mixture, add carrots and pecans. Pour into 3 greased and floured (and waxed paper lined) eight-inch round cake pans. Bake in 350 degree oven for 25-30 min. or until done (when wooden toothpick inserted in center comes out cleanly). Cool in pans 10 min.; remove from pans and cool completely. Fill and frost with Cream Cheese Frosting.

4 tbs. butter (softened)
2 three-oz. pkg. cream cheese (softened)
4 and 1/3 c. sifted powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. maple flavoring (a bit more, if maple syrup)

Blend ingredients until fairly stiff, smooth, and satiny. Add tiny amounts of water as you blend, if needed.

The Math Problem: How do you adapt this recipe for one 6″ round pan (same height as the 8″ round pans)?

I would love to have students bake an actual cake and then grade them on how good it tasted. After all, if the cake turned out well they did the math right. Another factor to consider in addition to the recipe proportions is the time in the oven–can that be changed in proportion to the volume or surface area of the cake?

Bonus: the original recipe cards, with some math!


The cake was delicious.


the new teacher down the hall

By Kristina

I may be psychic.

Just kidding, I’m not turning in my teacher hat to become the next Miss Cleo.

I expressed yesterday how much I wished that BPS students would come back to teach in their communities. This would be so much more meaningful than recruiting more Teach for America folk, for reasons very well said in this article by Valerie Strauss. For one, “the organization’s facile circumvention of the grinding, difficult, but profoundly empowering work of teaching and administering schools has created the illusion that there are quick fixes, not only for failing schools but for deeply entrenched patterns of poverty and inequality.” Bringing bright young college graduates to urban public school systems can be quite informative and culturally eye-opening, but it’s a superficial fix akin to painting concealer on a zit and expecting it to go away. Furthermore, TFA often serves as a “pathway to wealth and power for those already privileged in the rapidly expanding educational-industrial complex, which already offers numerous careers for the ambitious and well-connected.” I hate when teaching in urban schools is treated like a stepping stone or “street cred” to collect before founding an educational technology startup or heading off to business school. What a terrible message to convey to our students, to other teachers, and to prospective teachers–that teaching isn’t enough.

Teaching proved to be enough for me today. Reading down the list of new staff, I came up on the name of a student who I had taught as a senior during my first year of teaching (2008-2009). He’s coming to the school to teach 8th grade math. So proud of him and of our school community.

Photo Credit:

admissions test prep book

By Kristina

E to the x!
E to the y!
E to the x to the y!
Tangent, secant, cosine, sine
3 point 1 4 1 5 9
Square root, cube root
Log of pi
Kick their axes TJ High!

I graduated from  TJHSST in 1998. It is an exam school that regularly earns the #1 spot in the U.S. News and World Report rankings. I will always cherish the friendships I made there. I’m looking forward to my 15 year reunion this fall and proudly sport the “We Came for the Sports” bumper sticker on the back of my car (a sticker that caused a ’94 alum to yell “I keep seeing your car and want to say hello!” into my car window as I drove down Prospect St). However, now that I’ve spent five years immersed in a community almost the complete opposite of the TJHSST one, I felt really disturbed when I heard that a company is making a $199 TJHSST admissions test prep book, ostensibly to help low-income, minority students make it in.

The “exam school for low-income, minority students” idea has bugged me since my first year teaching in Boston Public Schools. The three exam schools (Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the O’Bryant School for Math and Science) are generally regarded as the best education BPS has to offer. Students apply after the 6th grade. Many of my 6th-12th grade  school’s students strive for acceptance to one of the three. Most achieve it and leave after the 6th grade year.

My school is now International Baccalaureate (IB)–for all students. IB  is often implemented as a school-within-a-school that requires students to apply. I know that fully realizing “IB for all” will take years of (often rocky) transition, but could be amazing in the long run. Until then, we must weigh the tradeoff between helping marginalized people get ahead versus trying to change the system. If I were a parent of a 6th grader, would I push him/her to apply for the already-established exam schools or to take a chance on our new IB program? I would love to see the majority of our 6th grade students stay and progress through the Personal Project, internal assessments, Creativity, Action & Service, and finally the external exams–but will parents think the same way?

My parents encouraged me to apply for TJHSST, and I am grateful that they did. I learned so much there, and it opened many doors for me in the years to follow. However, I wonder how I would have fared had I been born six years later (and able to apply to the IB program at Washington-Lee High School). My younger brother participated in this program, and he received a very rigorous, challenging education. Both of us ended up as educators trying to help marginalized communities–he in D.C. Public Schools and I in Boston Public Schools.

This brings me back to that dilemma of how to help marginalized people. We could help more kids get into exam schools, but what does that mean for the other schools? I think that to truly fix our school system, it’ll have to happen from within–with BPS students becoming awesomely educated and coming back to teach in their communities rather than just funneling more effort into City Year and TFA.

To sum it up–would I support a prep book targeted at increasing acceptance rates for low-income, minority students? No. I’d rather have them understand the content behind the “kick your axes” cheer!

Toraya Sushi Moriawase

By Kristina

One perk of not yet being in school is the opportunity to explore new lunch places during the workweek. During the school year, if I didn’t bring lunch, I stuck to takeout within a half mile radius and never after 11:50 a.m. Flour (chopped Greek salad or BLT) and Berkeley Perk Cafe (California tuna melt) were my go-tos. I do love those places dearly, but I jumped at the chance to go to Toraya in Arlington this afternoon with my sister.

I also ventured out of my comfort zone to try the sushi moriawase (the chef’s selection of whatever is fresh that day). I’ve wondered about it at other sushi restaurants, but it was usually pricier and the “unknown” factor intimidated me a little. However, at Toraya during lunch, it was only $11.95 and came with a miso soup. Below are the tuna maki and nigiri from today. The mackerel, yellowtail, and salmon were particularly delicious.

2013-08-23 13.23.31

We also each had a yellowtail scallion handroll. These were excellent…and made me wish that sushi handroll trucks could drive around the way ice cream trucks do.

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Hoping to fit another Toraya outing in before school starts!

salad & thai curry

By Kristina

My sister and I went to the Alewife Whole Foods on our way back from the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum today. I was a little wary of going when slightly hungry and without a list, but we came away with lots of good produce and ideas for salad and curry.


I love making salads for groups of people and not having leftovers. if only the process could be scaled down, space-wise and equipment-wise, for school lunch. This salad includes a large yellow heirloom tomato cut up and sprinkled with Murray River sea salt, spring mix, fresh mozzarella, and balsamic vinaigrette.


Next I made green curry (loosely based on this recipe). Whole Foods had fresh lemongrass and Thai eggplants! I made the curry with Thai Taste green curry paste, a can of coconut milk, about a pound of chicken, Thai eggplants, mushrooms, baby corn, bamboo shoots, a serrano pepper, and basil. We put it over quinoa. This tastes even better the day after, and it reheats well. I’ll be making this a lot in the school year.

just do it

By Kristina

Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project has a “one minute rule” – she must do any task that can be finished in one minute. This morning I decided to start enacting that rule by organizing our spare bag cabinet. It felt good to have neatly arranged paper bags, reusable bags, and plastic bags instead of the overstuffed mess that had popped out at me when I went to get a bag for recycling.

I have also decided to do this with birthday cards. A friend recently pointed out that he received 99 Facebook messages and 1 paper birthday card. In general, I do not wish people happy birthday on Facebook, and I want to start a new habit of sending real birthday cards. However, by not keeping track of the birthdays (and Facebook would help tremendously with this) or preparing cards ahead of time, I often end up just sending a text or calling the person.

This will be the year of real cards. I started marking my collection of cards with post-its that say names and when to send, and affixing return address labels to their envelopes. Bam!

The next task: find the awesome cards I ordered from The Oatmeal because some would be great for my September birthday friends…they must be lurking somewhere in this house.

easy weeknight meal: peanut noodles

By Kristina

Getting back to the “appetite” portion of my blog and chronicling what works well as an easy weeknight meal. I dig meals that can be constructed with pantry ingredients and  still work with substitutions. If the directions need more planning than my next day’s lesson does and the ingredient list necessitates trips to Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, and C-Mart, then the recipe gets relegated to “differentiation challenge meal.”

I fell in love with the peanut noodles at the Citrus Club in San Francisco thirteen years ago and tried replicating them after collecting about 20 different recipes back in 2006. However, what I thought would combine the best of each recipe into Citrus Club-worthy goodness resulted in a gloppy mess. It’s like trying to craft a quadratics lesson plan with the best lessons that you’ve seen on every single math blog when you should have just gone with one idea and executed it well. After that experience, I vowed to leave the elusive peanut sauce alone.

During a recent hot summer day, I caught the Citrus craving once more. My favorite sushi restaurant offers various Thai and Asian fusion dishes as well, so I thought I’d go get takeout peanut noodles from them…but they were closed. A quick Google search yielded these peanut noodles from Smitten Kitchen. My older-and-wiser self paid much better attention to the ingredient amounts and directions, and I was very happy with the quickness and ease of preparation. My adjustments would be to add more noodles and vegetables next time. I realized after my fiance and I ate the entire pot that I’d used half a pound of noodles rather than 3/4, and I went lighter on the toppings because of not wanting to go out to the grocery store.

Peanut Sesame Noodles
Adapted from Gourmet, June 2002 and Smitten Kitchen

Servings: Makes 6 side-dish or 4 vegetarian main-course servings.

For peanut dressing
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, chopped [added a bit more]
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Asian toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes or a splash of the hot sauce or chili paste of your choice

For noodles
3/4 lb dried soba nooodles (dried linguine fini or spaghetti will work in a pinch)
4 scallions, thinly sliced
{1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips
1 yellow bell pepper, cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips
Half a seedless cucumber, thinly sliced
1 cup firm or extra-firm tofu, cubed
3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted} <– used sugar snap peas and cilantro instead

Puree dressing ingredients in a blender until smooth, about 2 minutes, then transfer to a large bowl.

Cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water until tender. Drain in a colander, then rinse well under cold water.

Add pasta, scallions, bell peppers, cucumber and tofu to dressing, tossing to combine. Garnish with toasted sesame seeds and serve immediately.

Next up on my peanut noodle journey will be the Chloe’s Kitchen ones!

One Good Thing

By Kristina

After one cool discovery on Facebook tonight, now there’s one on Twitter–the One Good Thing blog. I’m digging the positivity, and the idea that “every day may not be good, but there is one good thing in every day.” It’s inspiring for building good habits and becoming happier. Last September, I had every intention of blogging regularly, but didn’t do it because I felt that I needed “big” posts. I also wish I’d tracked more happy moments for the smile file. I feel like that builds up mental immunity against succumbing to the “misery loves company” attitude that can start to thrive in teachers’ lounges and around the hallways.

Though school doesn’t start until September 4, here’s my one good thing for August 21: a student who I had not expected to go to debate camp signed up for JV. At the beginning of the summer, only one of my debaters had signed up and the others didn’t show much interest or already had commitments. I had hoped for our students to get more involved in the debate league. Our school was one of the first five schools to join back in 2006, but I feel like we’ve gotten overshadowed by a lot of other school since in spite of our strong core of 10th graders. Seeing that the student had signed up was a nice surprise, especially because he started last year off as a shy, quiet novice. I hope that experiencing debate with other BPS students and tackling the evidence before the season starts will be really empowering for him!

Reddit Teacher Care Packages

By Kristina

I periodically quit Facebook or go on a newsfeed “diet” to improve my productivity and minimize my FOMO (fear of missing out). However, today Facebook offered up a classroom supplies opportunity via a friend’s status update. Reddit Gifts for the Teachers is underway! Sign up if you need supplies for your classrooms, and nice people sign up to send care packages. Hoping to find more gems amidst the baby pictures, Huffington Post articles, and Candy Crush requests!

revising for ’13-’14: websites

By Kristina

It feels really good to be heading into my sixth year of teaching. This summer, I fully accepted that I wouldn’t start planning anything until late August, so that made July and early to mid-August feel much more relaxing. Today I went to the Boston Public Library to get myself into school thinking mode…as much as I like my couch, I take three times longer to get things done than I do in a libraryish environment! I started updating my syllabus and reflecting on what went well with my routines and big picture ideas, and started with web sites–namely those that did not get used to their full potential.

ManageBac – Our school now has its third cohort of diploma and course candidates, and we’re still figuring out how to use ManageBac, a site created by former IB students who wanted to help manage IB-related tasks better. We started using it for Creativity, Action, and Service (CAS) and realized how much other functionality was available to support Diploma Programme (DP) classes, particularly class websites, registration for exams, and Extended Essay feedback. Last year, I started a class site and encouraged the 11th & 12th grade team to use it as well. We’d had so much trouble getting the previous cohort to use the site for CAS and also have not had a school website, so I thought it would be great. I, however, didn’t keep up with using the site. My biology colleague was the only one who successfully used it to post assignments, and I’m hoping that all DP teachers will use it this year.

Parents – I also want to incorporate the parents into ManageBac by adding them as users. I’ll investigate how this functionality works.

Assignments – There’s a feature to add assignments on the ManageBac calendar. I find it a bit clunky, but combined with the Files option and my own Dropbox to link larger files,

Class Correspondence – Instead of using Gmail, I’ll use the Messages feature in ManageBac. I do worry about my messages getting flagged by spam folders, but I hope that establishing a culture of “information lives on ManageBac” will keep students checking it.

Class Calendar – I will update in Google Calendar (way easier for me than using the ManageBac calendar) and subscribe to it in ManageBac. I will also send messages when quizzes and tests are coming at first–I don’t want to create more work for myself, but I want students to get used to checking that calendar.

Web Site – For those who aren’t on ManageBac, I will put up a class page on and move away from Google Sites. I’ve had a Google Site for years, but didn’t update it very much for my math classes. I did post after-school program information and signups, but this information can be hosted on the official school website now that we have one. Running Club doesn’t necessarily need a website–it was a good idea in theory but students rarely checked it and I lagged on updating it. Same thing with advisory.

ActiveGrade – get students checking it more to monitor their own progress. The progress sheets didn’t work for me either with SBG, and I found that students who regularly checked in about their grades did the best with SBG. However, I want to make it better for more students.

ASPEN – hoping that it will be operational for students this year. We started it last year, and even though online GradeQuick was not great, it still enabled us to post grades periodically.

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