Woodland Park Zoo!

Today, we had the opportunity to go to the Woodland Park Zoo! I’ll admit, I heard quite a few of my students say beforehand, “Uhhhhh, we go to the zoo evvvvvery yearrrrr.” But I’m pleased to say we had quite a fabulous time. We prefer the Woodland Park Zoo to the Point Defiance Zoo, and we also noticed that this zoo has a bunch of new exhibits that weren’t there a few years ago when some of us came as kindergarteners or first graders.

In addition to seeing all the fabulous animals, we also met up with Greg from the education department, who taught us about plant and animals and how they survive with each other. Here we are on our way to visit the komodo dragon.

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He also showed us the tapir, the orangutan, the lion-tail macaque, and the siamang.

My group observed the jaguar walking like it was modeling on a catwalk!

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My group of eight students (so well-behaved! Wheeee!) went to one of the aviaries where we saw birds less than three feet away from us.

 

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The weather was ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS, and whenever we got cold we were able to go to an indoor exhibit.

 

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Not all the animals were exotic. In fact, we all enjoyed hanging out with the enormous chubby squirrels.

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How old is too old?

I’ve had a copy of Byrd Baylor‘s If You are a Hunter of Fossils in my teacher tote bag for months, waiting for me to write CAFE lessons for it. It was originally a text included in kindergarten Kinderroots kits, but when we switched from Success for All, the books were introduced to general teacher circulation.

I put off posting lessons because I worried the book would be outdated, thus opening a huge can of worms in determining whose role it is to decide whether books are outdated. (It’s our librarian’s role, I’d argue. But we have a half-time librarian who is spending every second he’s in our school making up for the FOUR YEARS when we didn’t have a librarian at all. I don’t think weeding books are at the top of his list. He and our library assistant have added ELEVEN HUNDRED books to our school library this year.)

Despite my initial apprehension, I finally read the book and gave a few lesson suggestions. Hunter of Fossils has held up well to all the recent dinosaur discoveries and changes. But other books don’t hold up as well. And as a school with a teensy tiny library budget, at what point do we retire old books?

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/MsHoughton/status/153660132386017283″]

 

There are a bunch of other old books that are in the bookroom. I’m not too concerned about these texts, as they’re intended for teacher check-out, and I assume teachers know how to lead a rad anti-bias, these-were-the-times lesson.

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/donalynbooks/status/153657606077022208″]

 

Again, what is the line for “accurate,” though? For example, our school’s Ben Franklin biography is Jean Fritz’s 1975 book What’s the Big Idea, Ben Franklin? A large bulk of the information is pretty accurate, to my mind, but there are some pieces that have been disproven. We included the updated information in our class discussion. There’s an updated version of this book with illustrations by David Small, but I haven’t read it and don’t know if there are any changes.

But what about the books on the shelf available for general consumption? I’m not by any means looking to somehow censor outdated information, but I wonder how we can set students up for success in accessing accurate information.

 

[blackbirdpie url=”https://twitter.com/#!/cppotter/status/153660546456104961″]

 

As mentioned above, we are fortunate to have a 22-computer lab (Although it is tiny. And many of our classes have 25 students. And we use it to take state standardized tests in.), which many classes use to research information.

But access to information isn’t a cure-all. The nightmare scenario for my kids comes from my own cultural shock in China. I read at least a half dozen books on the country and the culture, but the most lasting impression I had was from Big Bird in China. I LOVED this movie when I was little. ADORED this movie. And as an adult, I knew that some things would be VERY different on my visit, but even the more recent texts I read didn’t prepare me for the changes I saw.

I thought people would be wearing neutral-colored Mao suits. I thought cities would be more run down. In retrospect, I guess there’s always more research I could have done, but I wonder what would have helped me sift out the most recent, relevant information, especially considering I went into the program knowing NOTHING about China. Except pandas and Mao.

Anyway. So I guess I’m still left with my initial question. At what point are old nonfiction books worse than no books at all? I’ll pester some librarians this week, and please leave any thoughts or ideas in the comments!

New Traditions

This year was the first Christmas I celebrated away from my Michigan family. Mom and dad, I missed you sooooo much! The hope was that my new husband Toby and I would be able to develop new traditions to make the holiday our own. Due to my mopiness and gross indecision, nothing earth-shattering was created, except lots of fires, tea, and reading. And mediocre Indian buffet food for Christmas dinner. And frankly, that’s just fine by me.

But now that I’m looking forward to returning to school today, I’ve been thinking about the traditions my students, colleagues, and I have been developing in the five years I’ve been teaching. Here are some things I’m looking forward to in the new year.

Mock Caldecotts. This started last year officially, although I’ve been holed up in front of a computer the morning of the ALA Midwinter Conference ever since Katherine Schlick Noe told me about the awards livestream when I was at Seattle U. My students come in early (if the conference is held on the East Coast) and enjoy breakfast snacks as the awards are announced. If it’s an award they’re not familiar with (last year I neglected to explain the Sibert award to them — MAJOR oversight on my part), they usually look to me to gauge what their reactions might be. This year, though, I think we’re pretty well-prepared to critique the official choices.

Preliminary voting on our classroom Mock Caldecotts, which were featured last year in the Federal Way Mirror, will begin the end of this week, with the final votes cast January 21 or 22. I haven’t yet decided.

Math Team S’Mores. Sometimes, traditions are started for no good reason. I can’t remember why we decided to microwave S’Mores for our math team members at the last meeting of the year, but this tradition is entering its fourth year. Our first math team competition is coming up this month at Green Gables Elementary. Whee!

Tour guide Ms. Houghton on field trips. I’m SO EXCITED to take the next step in this tradition. Every time we head up to Seattle, I put on my best newspaper reporter voice (which is also my best documentary voice-over voice) and point out relevant landmarks. Smith Tower, once the tallest building west of the Mississippi, Port of Seattle, Amazon headquarters, Starbucks Headquarters, the Convention Center that goes right over the freeway (and contributes to Seattle’s traffic woes), the U District, Space Needle, etc. My goal is for my students to take over this role on the remaining field trips we have this year. Wheeee!!!

Reading Challenges. I started my 50-book-a-year reading challenges when I was in college. You can see an early list here. This year I’ve committed to a few challenges, and created a new one. You know I love any excuse to pull out a new retro lady header.

Do you have an old iPod?

I’ve buried this as an old post because I don’t want my students to see it when they stop by our website. Look below for a sweet opportunity to help my fabulous students!

This year, I’m looking to expand our listening library. We are already fortunate enough to have three computers and a bunch of cassette players, but I think we’re ready to step into the digital age. I’d LOVE to unveil a brand-spanking new listening library as a holiday gift for them this year!

My students are honestly perplexed by tape players, and I can’t say that I blame them. For our highly visual kids, the idea of not knowing what track/chapter they’re on is crazy, and the idea of flipping over a cassette seems odd. I think we’re ready for iPods. Plus, we mostly use our listening library for picture books, and I think it’s time to provide chapter book listening opportunities as well.

I know a lot of charitable organizations are looking for your assistance this year. If you’re already feeling pulled in many directions, perhaps you could think of my request as one of environmental recycling rather than charity.

So do you have any old iPods? I know I’ll be chipping in three of my own, but I’d love for us to have a few more. I’m not aiming for a full class set of 25, but on the off chance that we receive extra, rest assured I’ll pass them along to my teammates.

I’ve done the math — if you send us your iPod in a small padded envelope, you won’t even need to go to the post office, just slap on $1.50 in stamps. (probably less for an iPod nano. I weighed my first-gen iPod touch using the sweet scale Scott Porad got us for our wedding.)

We don’t need fancy iPods. In fact, if you got us a new one, I’d probably actually be a little disappointed because that $100 would be better spent on books or saved for an iPad.

So why haven’t I asked before? Our district has just recently become more open to technology. Having non-school-purchased tools in the past was frowned upon. Now is the perfect time!

What will you get in return?

  • Personal thank yous on this site, in your inbox, and in your mailbox.
  • Recognition on a sweet, official plaque in the listening library.
  • The satisfaction of knowing that your iPod isn’t leeching chemicals in a landfill or sitting on a lonely Goodwill shelf.
  • My students’ eternal devotion (they really love and attach themselves to people who support our class)
I hope you’ll consider our classroom as a loving home for your out-dated iPod. If you’ve packed your device up, please send it here:
SHANNON HOUGHTON
WIldwood Elementary
2405 S. 300th Street
Federal Way, WA 98003
Thank you so much in advance.

Burke Museum!

 We went to the Burke Museum today, and it was fantastic! Not only was the lesson really interesting, but everything was perfectly appropriate and well-organized. The kids had a chance to touch First Nation artifacts, and everyone had great feedback. They adored the Carnaval exhibit, too.

Here are a few photos from our visit.

Learning about First Nation artifacts.
Students wearing carnival masks in front of giant puppets (people stand inside the puppets to hoist the giant people up on their shoulders)
RAWR. Red fox.
Listening to different Hawaiian instruments (look at everyone dressed appropriately in uniform!)
Mask and costume from Carnaval exhibit.
Stereotypical Seattle behavior — recycling and garbage separated outside at lunch.
Heading home. The weather held out all day!

A million and a half thanks to EVERYONE at the Burke Museum. Everyone we encountered, including the patient gift shop cashier, treated us with enthusiasm and kindness.

Huzzah! Next up: third grade field trip to Seattle Children’s Theatre’s production of Frog and Toad!

Why I think college football is (sort of) important

I don’t watch college sports much. Or any sports, really. I spent the bulk of high school alternately railing against and scoffing at meathead jock types. Sure, there were a few intelligent, well-rounded sporty types, but we didn’t talk much in class (and NEVER outside of class), so I considered them outliers. Rob LyonsRenee Pomaville, and Marybeth Knoth were always people I admired. I think it’s pretty awesome that each of them have much “brainier” jobs than I do now. I’d love to meet up with them.

Even though I went to a school in the Big 10, I never attended a football game. I didn’t go to any basketball games either (although that was mainly because I didn’t want to camp outside the Breslin Center to enter the student ticket lottery). The bulk of my animosity toward college sports began to fade, but I definitely wouldn’t call myself a sports fan.

But after college I realized that sports give us a large-scale way to stay connected that, like it or not, we can’t necessarily get from our college academic pursuits.

Look at my Twitter feed after last night’s Michigan State game. The tweets are written by, from top to bottom, a former SNewser who I never even worked with, former SNewser now at the Indy Star, former SNewser now at MLive, former SNewser who left a paper where she was treated like dirt to become a professional superstar, former SNewser who was more of a friend-of-a-friend, and one of my top three favorite MSU professors / physics mastermind. I’m sort of in touch with these people, yes, but there’s an emotional connection I feel with them after big college news like this is announced. EVEN IF I don’t talk with them right after seeing their post. EVEN IF I didn’t even watch the game.

Jane McGonigal would call this fiero, I guess. A more cynical person might call this mob mentality. I think it’s just another reminder that our choices define not only the path we take in life, but also who will be a part of our community.

When I chose to go to Michigan State, I knew I’d be a part of an enormous community, which was thrilling to me. I didn’t want to be a big fish in a little pond. But I also knew I wanted to be near lots of like-minded nerds, so I joined the Honors College and lived on an Honors floor.

My closest MSU friends happened to be in the Honors College too, but I love that on any given day in downtown Seattle I can shout “GO GREEN” and almost always someone knows how to respond. I wouldn’t be able to have that same connection if I said, “YO, Who got that last e-mail from Bess German talking about alumni events???” Cheering for sports has given us this common language, right? Sure, there were plenty of people who, in my view, may have squandered the academic portion of their college days, but for the most part, we know MSU is so much more than a basketball team or a football game.

I guess our school becoming an AVID elementary has got me thinking about college a bit more than usual. We had our first college day last week, and at first I was more than a bit miffed that many students’ college apparel celebrated the sports teams, not the academic programs, associated with the different schools.

Back in first grade, when I was mocked for wearing a MSU sweatshirt rather than a shirt from football powerhouse U of M, I protested, “Of COURSE I’m wearing MSU.” (I imagine you can hear the shrill tone my voice achieved as it reached into the stratosphere) “My Dad is a POLICE OFFICER, why would he go to U of M if MSU has the best POLICE program in the country???”

I’d like to think our kids, especially those who come from families where college isn’t a part of their legacy, understand that the sports spectacle is distinctly different from the learning that happens at college. But the truth remains that when you don’t have time to wax philosophical, the most effective way to express that belonging is with a battle cry or a round of the fight song.

Back to football. If you want to see the big play that everyone’s freaking out about, you can watch it here. But I think you should watch the video that I posted earlier in the season, which shows MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins is an absolute class act.

So I’m not going to start watching any football games (although I might catch a basketball championship game or two). I remain skeptical of the messages families send their students when they put together elaborate tailgate extravaganzas. But I’m definitely proud to be a Spartan.

 

UW Atmospheric Sciences Trip!

Our class had an amazing trip to the University of Washington Atmospheric Sciences center this Thursday!

“They taught us a lot of things — like how to make a cloud. They were good scientists, they were smart but they didn’t act like they know everything.” L said.

“We were able to sit in college seats rather than regular seats, I felt like I was in college,” T.E. said.

“I wanted to say thank you for letting us sit in their classrooms because they taught us what they were learning about and they took us on the roof and that was really fun and kind,” T.S. said.

“I liked it when we were on the roof and they showed us the rain collector and the instrument that measured how much light there was,” K.A. said.

“When were on the roof, it was nice of them to show us how the instruments worked, and the rain catcher, and the satellite dish,” J.C. said.

Several of us thought the roof was going to be flat or go right upto the edge like in the old silent movie “Safety Last.”

“I thought the exploding cloud was really cool and it was nice of them to show it to us and having a volunteer was nice — it was kind of nice to have X help us,” A.B. said.

On our way out, we saw Cliff Mass and two of his TA’s coming out of Weather 101. We recognized Dr. Mass from his YouTube videos and from his NPR podcasts. Many students noted that he seemed older in real life than in the videos, although it was mentioned to them that that might not be the most tactful thing to say.

“My favorite part was when we were on the roof and Chris told us about the little thing that spins and told us about which way the wind was blowing — the wind vane. My second favorite part was when we took the picture and made funny faces,” A.G. said.

The photo A is talking about can’t be posted to this website because this is a non-district website, BUT families, if you e-mail me I will send you a copy. I CAN show you this picture of us walking up the staircase to the

“I was afraid it was going to be flat and we were going to slip, but instead it had a large square around it so we couldn’t fall,” A. V-G. said.

Today’s Moment of Zen

Ms. Willard* and I spent quite a while roaming the streets of Laurelwood Gardens making home visits yesterday. We were excited to talk with a few more families, and honestly, we were both really impressed by the design of the complex. It was welcoming and bright, and we enjoyed walking around.

One of the neatest sights we saw was actually at a house where no one was home.

What an excellent use of limited space! Maybe they were out at the library getting more rad books when we stopped by! (you can see my welcome letter, gift book, and contact info magnet on the ground in front of the door)

This honestly made my day. I’m so tickled when we find families who ardently support reading.

*Ms. Willard just got married this summer and she will still be Ms. and she will still be Willard! She is my kindred spirit!