Pagliacci and #seattlestereotypes

If you follow me on Twitter (@MsHoughton) or Instagram (@beforetoday7), you may have seen me using the hashtag #seattlestereotypes both for positive and negative behaviors, comments, and practices I observe in the Emerald City. I found one today when I unearthed this Pagliacci ad. Pagliacci’s is one of our local pizza joints (We are fortunate that there are many! BTW, I need to give a shout out to two that just recently opened, Dino’s Tomato Pie and Meltdown Pizza Co).

Here’s the front of their ad, designed (IMHO) to resemble the Trader Joe’s Frequent Flyers that we often receive.


Cute, right? Comics and graphic novels are a pretty big deal around here. But here’s where it gets super-Seattle-y.


Bravo, Seattle.


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: 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 You can read more about the CSI curriculum here:

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.

Notable Books I Read In 2012

The BEST BOOKS of 2012 have already been covered extensively. Mr. Schu has a great roundup of Best of 2012 lists if you’d like to peruse the bulk of them. ERMAHGERD BERKS!!!

All I can really add to the conversation is to humbly provide recommendations for books I connected with this year. I’ve tried to filter out some of the great books you probably know about (Wonder, Green, etc.), unless they particularly resonated with me. Some months have more books than others, because some months I read more than others. You can tell when I was finishing my National Boards.

I didn’t consciously chose to include more nonfiction than most lists I’ve seen, but I do want to point out how important I think it is to highlight more traditional expository writing. YES, lyrical nonfiction books are fantastic, but we do a disservice to our kids when we aren’t seeking out good books of the type they’ll encounter when they’re doing research, even if they’re not as thrilling for us to read.

I owe a lot to the book recommendations from Nerdy Book Club folks who I’ve given shout-outs below.

I’ve included children’s books and adult books, and not all of them were published this year. Images were either created by me or swiped from GoodReads.





TRUTH TIME. I actually like the trailer for C. R. Mudgeon better than the book itself. Do yourself a favor and watch (or rewatch) Julian Hector’s work:





Watch me pimp out The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place on Mr. Sharp’s Nerdbery video:









Phew! What a year! I eagerly await your input on these selections.

What I do in my spare time. Sometimes.

The question has been asked if whether an overachiever like me finds time to have fun with friends and loved ones. Um, duh.

I adore many of the folks Toby has worked with at Cheezburger since its humble beginnings a few years ago, and last night we rebooted our steampunk tabletop adventure using a combination of Savage Worlds and Rippers. It’s great fun, especially because I’ve learned a bunch more about RPGs since beginning three years ago.

Here’s my newest character, Beryl Thomas. She’s an Indiana Jones style storyteller, and although she’s haunted by bad dreams and an opium habit, she’s persuasive and smart, particularly in folklore and customs.

She does not, in fact, have a backward hand, but she can, in fact, speak/understand all the languages listed above.

Our adventurers began in 1900s Hong Kong. Here’s the club we visited last night.

So why do I succumb to the ultimate in nerdy fun? BECAUSE IT’S AMAZING.

Also because it’s a safe place to challenge myself — when was the last time I drew a human being? YEARS.

Anyway. That’s what I’ve been up to, when I’m not busy freaking out about things.

Book of the Week: A is for America

Every Monday, I highlight a book from our school bookroom along with lesson plan suggestions. I hope you find this useful, and please leave a comment with any suggestions or additions!

A is for America, by Devin Scillian

I love pretty much anything published by Sleeping Bear Press, and the bazillions of alphabet books they’ve printed are, by and large, pretty wonderful. We have a mentor text copy of A is for America ready to go in the bookroom.

You can access an extensive activity guide for almost every Sleeping Bear Press book here.

The author of this book is also the nightly news anchor for Channel 4 in my beloved Detroit, and it’s pretty awesome to see a “celebrity” author who can write pretty darn well.

There is a CAFE menu included with this mentor text, and I’ve highlighted these as suggested lessons:

  • Back up and reread. This is a pretty dense text. I actually intended to post this lesson two weeks ago, but since then, *I* as a teacher have had to back up and reread the book several times. In the past, I’ve used Sleeping Bear Press alphabet books over several days, reading two letters (and reviewing each of the previous letters using call-and-response). Often, we talk about backing up and rereading if the text is CONFUSING, so it could be important to talk about backing up and rereading if the text is just plain DENSE.

  • Use dictionaries, thesauruses, and glossaries as tools. In my time away from teaching social studies, I forgot about the fabulous tool hidden in the back of our textbooks known as the Gazeteer. A “geographical dictionary,” isn’t that brilliant? I know I often tell students to not worry if they can’t pronounce a proper noun in text, but wouldn’t it be great to give each student a letter from the book and have them investigate each of the locations featured in their letter?

Please add any lessons or supplemental materials to the book bag so future teachers can utilize your good thinking!

Comments and constructive feedback are always welcomed. Please let me know if these lessons were useful in your class!


Continents and Oceans

Thanks for your patience — I’ve finally had a chance to post our sweet “Continents and Oceans” song!

I’m a little disappointed they only used Robinson projections in the video, though. You already know my favorite projection, the Dymaxion map.

Raleigh Edition Dymaxion Map

I’ve already discovered a pretty rad geography video to share with you next week! Wheee!

Creating Fancy Scanable Assessments!!!

Word on the street is that they’re going to permit us, the lowly elementary teachers, to make our own scannable assessments this fall!!! (Middle school and high school teachers have already been able to do this for a year.) In preparation for this, I’m starting to scan some social studies items so my students can be assessed on Document-Based Questions. But I really didn’t know what to do, step by step, and since I use a non-district-supported Mac, I couldn’t go to my IT department. I mean, I’m COMPLETELY AWARE you can just open the PDF then take a screen capture of the image you want, but I wanted to preserve the quality of the scan as much as possible.

So if you’re in the same boat as me, here’s a step by step guide to scanning your current hard-copy assessments in and getting them ready to be turned into a Pinnacle assessment.

1. Scan in each page of your current assessment. If you can scan them in as JPGs, then you’ll just be able to crop the image out of each page, then re-save. Mine were scanned in as PDFs, so there are a few extra steps.

2. Open the PDF in preview.

3. Use the selection tool to capture the image you want to save. Go to Edit, Copy.

4. In the File window, open “New from Clipboard.” This option won’t be available unless you copy your image!

5. Go to File, Save As.

6. Make sure you change the format of your document from PDF to JPG.

All done! Not too bad, if you didn’t have to spend 384925671254 minutes trying to figure out how to get a high-quality image. That’s what I’m here for friends, asking the stupid computer questions so you don’t have to.

Climate Posts & Resources!

Today in class we talked about the differences between weather and climate, as well as how climate affects regions and habitats. Here are some links and videos we found useful and interesting.

We’ve been having a great time.

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?


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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.


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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.


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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!