Lessons Learned: First Day Streaming Hearthstone

I suffer from craaaazy summertime depression after school gets out. This past summer, I committed to “Operation Just Get Dressed,” which helped ensure I at least put real clothing on instead of hanging out in pajamas all day. Part of the reason I was motivated to actually get dressed was because I was streaming Crypt of the Necrodancer for about an hour almost every day. (I definitely try to keep my stream age-appropriate, but a few salty comments made it through, if you watch any of my past broadcast videos.)

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Streaming Necrodancer.

(for more information on what streaming is, start here)

Streaming Necrodancer was great. I met rad people, got a manageable amount of tips from watchers, and learned a lot about the world of streaming. Also, despite my deep concern regarding treatment of women online, I encountered genuinely friendly folks who were looking to talk about a shared interest.

So now school’s back in session. I’ve felt the pull of my depression pretty strongly in the past week or so, so I decided to head back onto Twitch. But I’d recently started playing Hearthstone, a collectable card game (think Pokeman or Magic: The Gathering) set in the World of Warcraft universe.

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I spoke earlier this year at the Nerdy Book Club blog about how learning video games has given me a lot to think about as a teacher, and starting to stream Hearthstone has expanded my thinking even more. Here are a few initial meditations:

Stick to one teaching point. THIS was my biggest takeaway from last night’s stream. I’m new to Hearthstone, and although I’m not totally opposed to backseat gaming (receiving suggestions on gameplay from folks in your Twitch chat), it quickly became VERY overwhelming when even a half dozen folks began offering tips. Even more confusing (and this was CRITICAL for me to realize as a teacher), some of their suggestions made absolutely no sense. I didn’t have enough knowledge of the basic game itself to be able to apply their nuanced ideas.

Some knowledge transfers. I quickly understood the mechanics of Hearthstone because of my experience casually playing Magic on and off for the past decade or so.

But some of it doesn’t. Strategies I’d often use in Magic (such as getting low-cost creatures out on the board early in the game) would totally blow up in my face in Hearthstone.

And that can be okay! I rarely play blue decks in Magic because there are often a lot of spells and counterspells (instead of creatures). But in Hearthstone, I’m comfortable playing either creature-heavy decks or spell-focused decks.

Background knowledge is essential, not just a smart instructional add-on… The information I transferred over from my experience playing Magic only took me so far. It was time for me to start running searches for how to build basic decks. (I had been using the default decks up to this point)

…But limit your resources. This is why webquests can be so powerful in classrooms. If you run a search for “basic Mage Hearthstone deck,” you get 1.5 million results.

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That’s insane. But I then asked my chatroom how reliable the website Icy Veins was. Upon learning that it wouldn’t lead me too far astray, I began looking through their resources. Am I going to build the best deck EVER? No way, but it’s a lot easier for me to manage that information using one website instead of getting totally overwhelmed on a forum.

Bragging isn’t helpful. Yup, just like we tell our kids when they start comparing test scores. It was thoroughly unproductive when a lad in chat pointed out he could kill my opponent in two turns. It didn’t help me at all. It didn’t inspire me to do better. It didn’t make me want to improve my knowledge of the game so I’d be more equipped to win in the future. It was in NO WAY motivating. But it DID make me stressed out. Even though I knew it was unreasonable stress and this was something I was doing by choice and who the heck did this guy think he is anyway? That cortisol started coursing through my veins. (my icy veins?)

Let it goooooooo. Luckily, I was able to let go of that stress pretty quickly, but I imagine that was because I had mentally prepared myself to receive some snarky/sexist/unhelpful comments. Hearthstone is a much more popular game than Necrodancer is, so it stands to reason that I’d encounter more trolls and unsavory folks overall. We’ll see how things go in subsequent streams, because if people wind up being persistently jerks, I’ll just stick to indie streaming.

Lots more on my mind, but if I kept going, this would never get posted. Thanks for reading, and see you on Twitch!

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:

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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.


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.

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.

Tacoma Art Museum

Planning field trips over the summer is THE BEST. It’s easy to take care of a few e-mails and phone calls in July, and then POOF LIKE MAGIC suddenly it’s October and you’ve got everything squared away for a rawkin trip.

Today both of Wildwood’s HCP classes headed down to the The Shape of Things tour at the Tacoma Art Museum. It’s awesome going on field trips with Ms. Stock because we get to nerd out with all of our baby nerds. I also love seeing my former students now that they’re all grown up. And our trip was double-great because we had a TON of family members join us.

You know what else was fantastic? Everything and everyone at the Tacoma Art Museum. Their pre-and post-trip curriculum is SOLID. My favorite museum-going tip was to use “game show hands” to gesture toward artwork, rather than pointing. Yesssss.

We had a chance to explore geometric and organic shapes with watercolors, and then we headed into the gallery.

Our first stop was Richard Rhodes’ “stone wave.” It was suuuuuuper mathy. It made me think of Vi Hart’s work with hyperbolic dried fruit. Man, do I love Vi Hart.

My other favorite part of the trip was stepping into a portrait exhibit and BAM seeing a Chuck Close painting (Lucas, 1991). I’m a HUGE fan of last year’s Face Book, and it was amazing to see one of his pieces in person. My third graders kept saying, “He’s the guy whose book we saw in Seattle Public Library last year!”

The education coordinators were able to give us half off for our tickets. We would not have been able to go had they not made this funding possible, so we are VERY grateful for their support.

My only regret is that we weren’t able to time our visit with a children’s book illustrator exhibit. I’ve had the chance to see an Eric Carle show and a David Macaulay exhibit, and they blew my mind. BLEW MY MIND. Maybe next time, though.

Because we will absolutely be coming back.

Exit Post-Its for Calculator Mini-Lesson

mathlessonsI try very hard to make my supply list clear, concise, and simple. But I still wind up with kids bringing in calculators and protractors and compasses. I don’t mind students using calculators on many classroom projects, but I do like to have a mini-lesson for appropriate calculator usage before I wind up with students trying to spell out BOOBS on their screens.

I usually answer questions about what the different buttons mean. This year I explained that calculators are often used for finances, so we don’t usually use the percentage key, the square root key, or any of the memory keys. I also clarified that fractions are expressed as decimals on most four-function and scientific calculators.

This year, I had my students jot their learning on a post-it note before we left for lunch. Here are some of their insights, annotated with my responses.

Probably the biggest surprise for me was how many kids had their minds blown by the fact that calculators don’t represent fractions the way we’re used to seeing them in class.

photo 3Some students realized the limitations of calculators.

photo 1 photo 5 photo 1I’m pretty good at deciphering what students are trying to communicate, but if I really can’t understand, I let them know.

photo 4Some students focused on the practical expectations we discussed, such as appropriate calculator usage.

photo 3And then there were the notes that alerted me that I’d need to follow up with a few students.


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The following two students are in their second year with me, so I felt comfortable pushing their thinking further, as well as admitting a lack of mathematical clarity of my use of the word “random.”

photo 2I originally taped the post-its to notebook paper so I wouldn’t have random sticky notes floating around my tote bag, but then I took the opportunity to give my kids feedback. What forms do you find useful for exit slips and reflections?








Brush of the Gods Math Lesson Plan



Our unofficial-but-kind-of-official district math module recommends starting the year off with understanding multiplying by 0, 1, 2, 5, and 10. It aligns with an Engage NY module and a Georgia module, but I wanted to start our unit off with a problem-based activity to gauge their understanding and to give us an anchor for future learning.

Last week, I read Lenore Look’s magnificent Brush of the Gods, and my kids adored it. Math specialist Siobhan and I plotted a pretty rad activity based on the main character’s huge fresco murals. I’m excerpting some of our lesson in the text of this post, and the whole activity is available for download at the end of the post.

I am posting this activity on a Sunday and I plan on launching this in class tomorrow. So check back in later this week and see what modifications I needed to make on the fly!

NOT an image of Wu Daozi! This is his portrait of Confucius.

Wu Daozi was a legendary muralist and painter who worked in Xian during the Tang Dynasty. I shared these photos from my 2009 trip to Xian (the first two photos in that post are actually from the Forbidden City in Beijing) to provide a sense of scale for the city walls. Then I’ll share this task with my students (it’s explained using the GRASP model for classroom-based assessments / problem-based learning activities).

Wu Daozi Memorial Fresco


  • Your task is to create a mural in the fanciful calligraphic style of Wu Daozi. Your mural will be a fresco, using plaster, along with any colored pigments you choose.


  • You are an artist inspired by Wu Daozi visiting the Chinese city of Xian.


  • Your artwork will be seen by all who travel into, out of, or around the city of Xian. 32.9 million tourists visit Xian every year (http://www.chinatouronline.com/, 2008). The tourism board of Xian needs to know how much your mural will cost in Yuan, the national currency of China.


  • The challenge involves designing a mural on a grid. You have one week to submit your design to the tourism board.

Product, Performance, and Purpose

  • You will create a mural design, and you will also present a cost analysis of your design. The tourism board of Xian needs to know how much money to budget for the mural, as well as the amount of supplies you will need.

Standards and Criteria for Success

  • A successful mural and budget need to include:
    • The total cost of your plaster, pigment, and other supplies.
    • A breakdown of your costs.
    • A mathematical justification of your costs.
    • Your mural, designed on grid paper.
    • A reflection sharing budget suggestions with aspiring artists.
  • Your presentation might include:
    • A budget planning sheet.
    • Photographs of your budget calculations.

We designed a price sheet that would encourage students to perform repeated addition on numbers they have experience skip counting with.

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We also included some items students would need only one of (like the brush), to gauge how they choose to add that toward their total budget.

Siobhan helped me plan a 2nd and 3rd grade rubric with standards from both Common Core mathematical practices and content. Feel free to use these plans however you see fit, but comments are always appreciated so we know how successful things have been in your class!

I acknowledge that there are many other directions I could have taken this activity. I plan on revisiting it later in the year for an area/perimeter situation that BLESSEDLY DOES NOT INVOLVE GARDENS, but for now, my main goal is for students to explore repeated addition and patterns with 0, 1, 2, 5, and 10.

Goodies here! Click click click! Brush of the Gods lesson plans & rubrics.

Depth of Understanding in Math

mathlessons commoncoreThe first few days of school in September are precious. You’re setting the tone of your community, establishing expectations and routines, and keeping your fingers crossed that you’ll be able to squeak some content in along the way.

I’ve noticed that a lot of beginning-of-the-year activities center around literacy. In a sense, that’s fantastic, because high-quality children’s literature has an incredible power to bring people together. But I can’t shake the niggling feeling that yet again, math receives the short end of the stick.

After years of gentle coaxing from colleague Siobhan Chan (you’ll hear plenty about her in the year to come, I assure you), last fall I committed to starting my year using The Art of Problem Solving from Teacher to Teacher. The Teacher to Teacher curriculum has its flaws, and it hasn’t been aligned to our district and state standards in a bajillion years, but I have yet to find a better way to kick off math than with The Art of Problem Solving (I refer to it as AoPS in my lesson plans, but I don’t know if that’s an official acronym).

Last year, I launched AoPS at the same time as Math Minutes (again, a practice not without its flaws, but my students ADORE it, so I’m willing to concede the three minutes of class time it takes, start to finish, including transitions). I struggled with a way to share with my students that although Math Minutes DID place a focus on speed, they couldn’t let it hamper the work they were doing to deeply understand problems. So I came up with this visual:


While explaining it, I used hand motions to indicate that understanding was the biggest, most vital piece of our work in math, then we assure accuracy, then we strive for fluency. It guided our practice throughout the year, and they emerged the most successful class of mathematicians I’ve had in six years.

So this year, based on the success I saw in taking the Gallon Man activity to the next level, I decided to give more ownership to my kids with these three levels of understanding in math. I redid my introduction lesson, providing this as a metaphor:


Understanding: This is the whole ocean. Nothing further can happen until we get here. If we’re not there yet, that’s fine, because at least we know what we’re striving for — our understanding is the most critical piece.
Accuracy: Kelp and other seaweed will die if it’s out of the water. Our accuracy is meaningless unless it is grounded in our understanding.
Fluency: If we work on our accuracy in a dedicated way, fish and other critters will come to live among the seaweed. It often happens naturally, but we can use strategies that improve conditions for fluency to flourish.

Then, students created their own representation of the three levels of understanding in their math notebooks. They provided remarkable metaphors, and also gave me insight into their thinking. I’m not really permitted to post student work on a non-district site, but you can view the work of everyone whose parents signed a release at our Artsonia site. So I’ve cropped a lot of these and removed student names, etc.

Many kids drew something very close to my example, which was totally fine.

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And some started with my basic example, but took it a step in a different direction. Behold, two representations that take place on the savannah and on a farm, respectively.

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And then, some of my students blew my mind. I didn’t have them write their explanations, as this was our first activity of the year and I wasn’t ready for that piece. I did record some of their comments, though.

“Understanding is the garden, the accuracy is a sturdy tree, and the flowers are fluency because it’s hard to get them to grow right.”
“The longer banners are the more important ones, and they get smaller.”
“You need sun or your won’t have plants and flowers, and the bees won’t come unless you have plants and flowers.”
“You have to stop and make sure you understand first before you go any further. And then when you get to fluency, you’re going fast but you’re still safe.”
“In the city is where all the action happens, so that’s understanding. Then you go to the neighborhoods in the suburbs for accuracy, and eventually you get to fluency that’s far away.”
“In Minecraft, your character is the most important, then you get a chest, then you get items to put in the chest. But you can’t do any of that without your character.”

Although I’m all for partner collaboration and I don’t mind if students’ work is similar, I was concerned that my CLD student (CLD, or Culturally & Linguistically Diverse, is the new, politically correct way to refer to ELL or ESL students) couldn’t explain his picture, while the person sitting next to him had an extremely similar representation and could explain his. This was a signal that I need to follow up with my CLD gentleman.


I’m excited to see what comes up next week in math! I always love comments and suggestions!