I’ve been following the news in Ferguson as closely as I can manage, and I just wanted to be upfront and honest in sharing I anticipate conversation around it will come up in class.

I know this is an emotional situation and that events are still unfolding, and although I know half of you have not had students in our class before, I hope you will discover our class prides itself on being a community of respect and trust. Potentially intense conversations happen in an age-appropriate, respectful manner.

I’ve facilitated our students’ difficult conversations about tragedies such as the Sandy Hook shooting, the September 11 terror attacks, Trayvon Martin’s shooting, and the SPU shooting. I’m always available and eager to engage in conversations with our families too (Ms. Stock and I have started planning our home visits so we can find out your preferred style of communication). You can also drop by our daily class meetings, which are usually from 9:00-9:20 AM.

I know that every family reacts differently based on their personal history, so let me give you a bit of my background. I’m a former newspaper reporter. My father is a retired police lieutenant who defied every possible cop stereotype (I do mean EVERY one — he liked bagels). I grew up in Metro Detroit and didn’t feel equipped to learn more about or understand the racial tensions around me.

I want my students to feel empowered to grapple with the important issues of their time in an age-appropriate way, regardless of the individual position they arrive at. Our yearlong guiding theme is Systems, Cycles, and Relationships. The protests in Ferguson highlight that our theme is timely indeed.

Our work with Junior Great Books gives students the chance to learn Socratic tools to discuss folklore and legends that have multiple perspectives. The protests in Ferguson are a real-life application of this work.

I’m always growing and learning, and if I realize I’ve misspoken, I always explore how my views have changed. Please help keep me honest through productive feedback.

Thank you for your continued support, and I look forward to seeing you at our barbecue this Sunday!

Math Goals for 2014

I just discovered this post in my drafts, but I think August is a good time to look back at these initial ideas about 2014, as the new school year swiftly approaches.


As I’m frantically reading books to meet my yearly #bookaday goal of 365, I’ve been looking ahead to 2014. I realized I have set reading goals for myself since 2003 or so, but I’ve never had a math goal. Then my longtime friend (and fellow UCMST grad) Katie got me thinking on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 4.08.09 PM

Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 4.08.20 PMWhat would a math goal look like? Well, I can certainly share with you what’s been rolling around in my mind, although I haven’t arrived on anything definite yet. And I’ll also offer some more general math-related goals.

My goals this year are pretty audacious, and I’m okay with that. There are all sorts of teacher-y math goals that I have, but I’ve shared ones that are light on educational jargon.

Math Goals I’m Considering in 2014

  • Read the History of Math textbook I borrowed from (also a fellow MST grad) John Novak.
  • See if these History of Math books are relevant to my interests, and if so, read them.
  • Track down contacts for kids’ publications to submit nonfiction, sciencey articles:
    • Synesthesia
    • Buckminster Fuller’s Geoscope
    • Alexander Graham Bell’s tetrahedronal kites
  • Apply to speak at the National NCTM conference
  • Visit Stanford, contact Jo Boaler, and apply to the Math Education PhD program
  • Grade math projects within a week to provide students with timely feedback.

So what might you do if you’re not a teacher or you’re still grappling with a damaging math past? What about these:

Mathy Goals You Might Consider

  • Make 1 in 5 (or another relevant percentage) of the books you read nonfiction.
  • Participate in the Hour of Code.
  • Keep going and take 28 more hours of code.
  • Sponsor a kid’s tuition to attend summer camp at DigiPen.
  • Take an introductory online math class through MIT or Stanford.
  • Talk with your kid’s teacher about the nature and length of your child’s math homework.
  • Play games once a month (analog or digital, your social group’s preference)
  • Create your own recipe for baked goods.
  • Pick up (or re-pick up) an instrument.
  • Take a dance class.

What are some math goals you might be willing to undertake? Share in the comments or use the hashtag #mathyresolutions in your favorite social media platform.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?


Trying to get back on track with writing. I’ve been making excuses and getting sucked into my depression, but here we go.

Currently Reading:

I’m reading this with some of my students. I think I’ve finally figured out how to make small group instruction work during my literacy block. It involves using a rubric where I take notes during group meetings, so I can then input all my anecdotal notes into my gradebook. That’s been my biggest challenge — getting my classroom evidence to be reflected in my students’ grades. My students also have a shared Google Doc where they can ask each others questions and seek clarification.

Chomp, Carl Hiassen

I was originally planning on having this as our last read aloud of the year because it’s on next year’s Battle of the Books list, but after reading the first hundred pages, I decided to make a different pick. Actually, my students made the pick and they chose:

The Twenty-One Balloons, William Pene du Bois

I love this book, and we attempted to read it aloud last year, but we ran out of time before the year ended. Hopefully we’ll be successful this year.

I’m 45% of the way through the Bible. I had always thought of Luke as just being the gospel with the Christmas story, but I’m really enjoying JC’s parables in this translation.

Here we go!

Notable Books of 2013

This was the year of the series. When I was younger, I had a span of time where THE ONLY thing I read were books from The Boxcar Children, The Baby-Sitters Club, and Sweet Valley High. This year, I discovered some new series that set me off on reading marathons. I’ll be including usually only the first books in series that I read.

I was kind of underwhelmed with picture book this year.

If you want to see everything I read, my GoodReads list is here.




























(I also read this in December with my students.)

**SERIES** In 2013, I read every single Shannon Hale book ever written for children.


**SERIES** I also read every single book written by Jessica Day George this year.



Actually, I don’t love this series, but I am COMPLETELY addicted to it.





**SERIES** Again, didn’t love this series, but I was addicted.




You might laugh, but this book is EXACTLY what brief, simple, high-interest biographies should be.









Diego Rivera Read Aloud/Homework

Monday’s homework was to play around with the interactive Diego Rivera exhibit that is explained in the biography read aloud we’re currently enjoying. We discussed that some portions of the mural do include some depictions of topless women.

Interactive Site.

Here’s the official DIA site for the murals.

And here’s the Chrysler commercial I showed to give students a sense of Detroit’s industrial path. It does contain the phrase “A city that’s been to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks and back.”

Thanks for your support!


On calling my students “my babies.”

I wrote this the week before school started this fall.

If you’ve spent any time reading my tweets or hearing me talk about my students in person, you may have picked up on the fact that I often refer to them as “my babies.”

Upon reflection, I’ve realized that to an outside observer, this may seem like I’m being condescending or reductive in my views on students’ abilities. And although I know #haterswillhate and such, I figured it behooved me to articulate why I say this, and why it’s a conscious choice.

I don’t like to collectively call my students “friends” or “boys and girls.” And despite the rigorous academics and future preparation students find in my classroom, “scholars” sounds a little too stuffy even for my overly formal patterns of speech. When I’m speaking to my class, I usually call them “ladies and gentlemen.”

My kids are brilliant. They absolutely blow my mind. The director of the HCP program said my room has the feel of a college course, and that’s a huge compliment to my students’ dedication and understanding. However, in casual conversations, I began noticing I call my kids my kids “my babies.”

So there’s the obvious connection that I have no children of my own, ergo I really do view these kids as my progeny. But I think there’s something more to it as well.

Many people think gifted kids can just take care of themselves, that they can self-direct their learning even when the class is painfully boring, that they’re independent, that they are little adults in tiny bodies. Reminding myself that these tiny humans are CHILDREN, despite their stunning knowledge of Norse mythology and their ability to design elaborate electrical systems, is imperative.

My sensitivity to the needs of gifted kids to be treated in a developmentally respectful way alongside nurturing their accelerated talents was brought to light when I read Alice Miller’s The Drama of the Gifted Child.

These children are often academically brilliant, and they’re frequently insanely savvy about the emotions of those around them. But just because they can mimic our speech and mannerisms doesn’t mean we can let them fend for themselves. They deserve a developmentally appropriate, rigorous education.

I love my babies, and I can’t wait to begin learning with them on Wednesday.


Here’s a copy of an e-mail I just sent my students’ families.

Hi there, and happy Thanksgiving week!

A few updates for you! (Just kidding, there are kind of a lot of updates. This is super long. I’m sorry.)

First, your students DID NOT bring home their superbright folder today, which they normally do on most Mondays. That’s because this is a short week, so they’ll bring them home on Wednesday. The folders should be blue or purple.

Speaking of Wednesday, we have early dismissal on Wednesday at 1:20 PM. Students have lunch at 11:00 AM, so they will eat breakfast and lunch at school.

Secondly, some of my 3rd grade families know I spent last year working on my National Board portfolio. After submitting my portfolio in May of this year, I FINALLY heard back this weekend, and I’m glad to report that I am now a National Board Certified Teacher in middle childhood! You can learn more about the process and about my SWEET new credentials here: http://www.nbpts.org. Other NBCTs at Wildwood are Mrs. Stock, Ms. Willard, Mrs. Gray, and Mrs. Choi.

Thirdly, I imagine your students have mentioned CSI Wildwood to you. We have finished our first unit in social studies, so we are starting our first unit in science. This unit is Changes, and it usually focuses on the states of matter water can have. Borrrrrrring.

In addition to states of matter, we’re going to talk about the chemical and physical changes that happen when detectives and scientists investigate a crime, and we’ve enlisted the help of MANY teachers and staff members! This week and next week, students are detectives investigating an arson in the library. They interview teachers as the suspects and witnesses, take notes, examine evidence, and determine whodunnit.

We’re integrating this project into social studies (timelines), math (attend to precision) and English Language Arts (writing, communicating clearly and accurately). You can follow our updates on Twitter by using the hashtag #CSIwildwood, and all our tweets are posted on our class website at www.mshoughtonsclass.com. You can read more about the CSI curriculum here: http://www.prufrock.com/Crime-Scene-Detective-Arson-Using-Science-and-Critical-Thinking-to-Solve-Crimes-P278.aspx

Also, I spoke at Ignite Seattle last Wednesday, and I had a chance to talk with many people about the impact of their elementary school math instruction on their math identity as adults. Many people shared painful, embarrassing math experiences with me, and for a lot of these folks, the turning point was 3rd or 4th grade. I know this is a critical time for your students, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to work with them to support them. My talk will be posted online in the next month or so, and I’ll share the link when it’s available.

Phew. I know that was long. Thank you so much for reading (or skimming) all the way through this. Thank you as always for giving me the privilege of learning with your students every day. They are remarkable young people, and I’m honored to help them grow.


Sent from the desk of Shannon Houghton
2nd & 3rd Grade HCP
Currently Reading: The Wig in the Window, Kristen Kittscher
Just Finished: The Dead Boys, Royce Buckingham
I believe all students have the right to a rigorous and relevant
education that prepares them to follow their passions.

Where I’m From & Timeline

I’m posting my reflection to our UW Tacoma activity having our students make personal timelines as a way of facilitating biography-driven instruction.

I began the year with the Where I’m From activity that I found through the National Writing Project, although I know a lot of other folks have modified it. Students brainstormed experiences in their lives that might either be monumental and life-changing, or small but still having a long-reaching effect.

Then, we read It’s About Me-ow, a book that includes a non-linear timeline of the history of cats. Students used the example as an anchor for creating their own timelines. One student, for example, chose to have her timeline shaped as a heart. The timelines will be compiled with students’ Where I’m From poems as a classroom book that they will share with their families at student-led conferences.

In reflecting on the impact of this activity in our class, I noticed that the activity fit in well with our first social studies unit looking at geography and timelines. It also supported our beginning of the year community-building activities. Students also enjoyed comparing their timelines with traditional timelines created by students in other classes.

Explore MTBoS Mission 1

I’m grateful as ever to the inspiring Siobhan Chan for encouraging me to participate in exploring the MTBoS. Every educator should be so fortunate to have an academic kindred spirit in their building the way I do. It’s just an extra bonus that she’s a rad human being as well.

This week I’m pondering ONE THING that happens in my classroom that sets it apart from others. As I’ve been reflecting on my own experience in a gifted/talented magnet high school, I’ve decided to write about this:

I teach students in our district’s highly capable program without breeding the elitism that’s the albatross of gifted/talented programs everywhere.

Me with some of the kids who made up the 60-student Class of 2001 at the Utica Center for Math, Science, and Technology.

I’m fortunate that our district has a strong commitment to making sure our HCP represents our student body at large, so I don’t have to deal with a class that unfairly skews toward higher SES families and Asian/Caucasian families. That DOES NOT MEAN that my class rejects qualified white students. But it does mean that our selection committee looks deeper than just for kids who are good at playing school.

I briefly pondered whether claiming my class has a lack of elitism was elitist of me, and I decided it might be, but if so, I guess it’s at least admirable that we’re tackling things head on.

Some classes discourage using the word “smart,” and although I’m not on that page, I DO come down pretty hard on “stupid” and “I can’t.” When the shooting happened at Sandy Hook, one of my students said during our class meeting, “The guy who did it must have been really dumb.” My immediate response was, “Absolutely not. He was brilliant. He would have been in this classroom. He was smart like one of you. That’s why it’s critical that we use our mental faculties for good, not evil, in this world.”

This relates directly to math and the idea that even as 2nd and 3rd graders, some of my kids already think of themselves as being inherently good or bad at math. I try to impart on my students the idea that if we can think, we can do math. Math is thinking, math is communicating, math is a language. Which is why this piece from Neil Tyson is brilliant and amazing:

If I’m not into elitism, you may be wondering, then why do I still support gifted education? I take a line from James Borland’s philosophy (or at least my interpretation of his philosophy): Ultimately, in an ideal world, teachers would truly be able to differentiate their instruction for all learners. Until then, it’s critical that we continue to challenge and support our highest achieving students.

My children have already suffered too long as “peer teachers” for their classmates and participated in “self-guided instruction” that was really just having them sit in a corner and read. They deserve a rigorous and relevant education that prepares them for a life pursuing their passions.

My goal is to help my students develop their talents while providing a bridge to the neuronormative world. This bridge is the key to avoiding elitism. And beyond our classroom, my goal is to provide an entry point to other teachers who are looking to increase the level of discourse in their math instruction but are nervous or insecure about doing so.

I have much to learn. The sign on our classroom door reads, “There’s so much left to know, and I’m on the road to find out.” Time to head further down the road.