Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Summer Reads

Ok, friends and colleagues! We are down to SINGLE DIGITS in our countdown to the end of another crazy school year!!  Six or seven days after today. Woo!!!

As always, I love to share my summer reading list. I usually feel like I have more brain power to spend on more challenging books in the summer. Sometimes, the school year is so crazy, I can’t read anything really intellectual. But summer is when I don’t wear out my brain all day so I have brain power left to read the “good stuff”.

I hope you find ways to  learn something new and challenge your brain while you have more brain power available to you without those pesky kids around all day!

You certainly don’t have to read the same books as I will but I hope you’re starting to compile your summer reading list too. And if we DO read the same book, I’d love to talk about it in the fall!

So here goes! Tracy’s summer reading 2018. Cue the summer jams!   

  1. Barracoon  by Zora Neale Hurston. Yes, Zora has a new book out despite being dead for 60 years. But what a subject -- this book is the product of her extended interviews with the last survivor of the middle passage. Yes, in the 20th century, there was an 80-year old man who had been brought over from his native west Africa at the age of 19. He remembered Africa and the journey clearly and told Hurston all about it. Rumor has it that the dialect may be a challenge, but for Zora and the topic I’m willing to work through it. It has languished unpublished in legal confusion until now and I’m pretty psyched about what this WPA-era anthropologist can tell about the horrors of slavery.

  1. The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack Davis.  The 2018 Pulitzer prize winner for history is all about THAT gulf -- the one we will all be visiting this summer with our sunscreen. I may have to get meta and read about the Gulf while sitting along the Gulf with my toes in the Gulf. It’s supposed to be a huge-scale environmental history cover everything from continental formations to vacations and Hollywood. I can’t wait!

  1. Origin Story by David Christianson.  I also love Big History -- the idea that science and history go together to explain the history of everything from the Big Bang through globalization. Now comes a new one-volume book to explain it all. It brings out my inner adolescent who wants to know “what all these classes have to do with each other”. Origin Story should help me put it all together.

  1. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond. Another Big History book to help me get my brain World-History-ready for next year! This is Jared Diamond of Guns, Germs, and Steel. He’s really interesting in his emphasis of the link between geography and history. This is not a new book, but I never got around to it.

  1. Never Work Harder than Your Students by Robyn Jackson. I have been poking through this one for a couple of months, but it deserves a sit-down, focused-read. It’s brilliant about how to make teaching great (again?) and how to have your kids work harder than you do. She takes some unexpected paths to get there, but that’s what I like about it. Hint -- it’s a lot about relationships, but not just “getting along”. I have been finding this book powerfully spot on and could be a fabulous way to get your kids to work harder while you reduce your own exhaustion level.
  2. Building Executive Function: The Missing Link to Student  Achievement by Nancy Sulla. I am fascinated by what I have been learning about executive functioning. Do your kids struggle to START their work? Do they not remember ANYTHING about last week or even yesterday? Do they lose everything? Do they struggle to get/stay focused? Do they struggle to solve a problem (math or real-life)? They’re not just lazy, slackers, or “low”. They might struggle with Executive Functioning. What is it and how can we help them build these skills?

Ok -- your turn! What’s on YOUR summer reading list? How can you enjoy your summer and learn new stuff? As always, I love to hear from you! EMail me at and share your summer reading list!


Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Beach Ball Docs

Where are we in the summer countdown? Eleven student-days of school left, right? It sure is hard to get kids to review for exams when it feels like beach weather outside!!

Lets see if we can throw a bone (or a ball) to the beachy wanna-bes (um, me included!). Let’s play our next review game with a beach ball, to combine the two. And for fun. And learning.

So, for me, one of the hardest parts of review is getting past the lower-level thinking. Getting past the review guide or review packet or review game that involves a list of terms or concepts.

So, here’s a way to do review with DOCUMENTS!!!

Because, depending on your exam, the EOC/FSA/district final will include roughly about 50% stimulus-based questions (and most of those stimuli are documents).

So how can we review using primary and secondary source documents? Here goes...

Higher Order Review: Beach Ball Docs
1.      Select a series of documents such as quotes, passages, images, political cartoons, maps, charts or graphs within a unit or across multiple units.
2.      Print out one set of documents for each group OR prepare a slideshow to project the documents for the students.
3.      In clear writing, write one of the following questions on each colored section of the beach ball (adapt as necessary). Pro tip: deflate the beach ball a little AFTER you write on it, so it lands with less bounce.
a.   When and/or Where?
b.   Causes and/or effects?
c.    Why was it written?
d.   What is the main idea?
e.   Make a connection to another topic in this course.
f.        What perspective does this document represent?
4.   Break students into small groups and give each group a beach ball and a printed set of documents OR project the documents whole class one-by-one.
5.      Explain to student that they will examine documents based on a variety of document analysis questions/prompts on their beach ball.
6.      Use a timer and select an appropriate amount of time students have to discuss each document.
7.      Instruct groups to roll the beach ball and analyze the document based on the question/prompt rolled. Student should discuss and come up with a group answer.
8.      Groups will record their answer and points on the tracking sheet based on a point system.
                    1 point- When?, Why?                                                                    
                    2 points- Cause(s)?, Effects(s)?                                                      
                    3 points- connection, main idea, perspective
9.      Students will repeat steps for each document.      
10.  The group with the most points based on accurate answers at the end of the allotted time wins!
Benefits of Beach Ball Docs:
  • Student collaboration and discussion.  
  • Students practice document analysis skills and higher order thinking.
  • Students examine documents with a different purpose each time.
  • Students have to connect documents with related concepts and terms.
Watch out for:
  • Kids getting off task. Circulate and “play” along to keep them on task.
  • Kids don’t discuss answers as a group. Encourage teams to come to a consensus before writing their answer on the tracking sheet.
  • There isn’t just one right answer. Tell students that it’s OK to have varying answers to each question/prompt on the beach ball for the same document. The idea is to get kids TALKING about the documents!

BTW, I have found beach balls at Walmart, Target, and Party City, and the dollar store. Generally for a dollar per beach ball, so you can buy one and play whole class, or you can buy several and have the kids play in smaller groups.

What do you think? Can you organize kids and documents and a beach ball or two and create meaningful, higher-order review? As always, I love to hear from you! Email me at

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Taboo Review

So, my absolutely favorite board game is Taboo. There was a period of time when I was in college that my roommate and I played it.  All. The Time. At one point, one of us could give the clue “green” and the other would know that the answer was “Indiana Jones”.

If you’re not familiar with the board game Taboo, you play it in teams. One member of each team gets a card that his or her teammates cannot see. That person tries to give clues to get the members of his or her team to say the top word on the card -- but the clue-giver cannot say the top word OR any of the words listed below on the card. Those words are “taboo”. You can’t say them.

So we recently adapted this game for use as a Higher Order Review game... and discovered that half the internet has made versions for their content areas. Particularly, biology teachers seem to have made a bunch of cards, but I have seen some SS ones. Or, you can make your own.

But if you want to adapt this for your classroom, here you go!

Higher Order Review: Taboo
1.      Create/compile a list of vocab terms – AND the words most associated with those terms. (ex. Enlightenment: Locke, Montesquieu, social contract). Make a card for each with the MAIN word at the top and the hints below. You can even have that one class that you have for three hours today make the cards for the other classes.
2.      Print and cut  several decks of those cards so you can have several Taboo games going at once.
3.      Divide your class into 2 or 3 main groups and divide each group into two teams.

4.   Explain that each team will get one minute on the clock/watch/phone timer. During that minute, one member of the team will be the “Delegate” and will try to get his team to say the TOP term, WITHOUT using any of the hint terms below it. If he or she uses the word, a variation of the word, or one of the hint words, that card must pass and no one can get the point.  The Delegate must try to get his own teammates to guess the top word.
5.   When his team guesses one word, he may move on to the next card and continue until time is up.
6.   A member of the opposite team will be the “Checker and Balancer” and will look over the delegate’s shoulder to make sure he or she does not use the word, the hint words, or any variations. If the Checker and Balancer catches the Delegate using a “Taboo” word, that card is discarded
7.   Teams take one-minute turns until one team reaches a specified goal (10 points, for example)
8.   Discarded cards may be used again or not, depending on teacher preference.
Benefits of Taboo Game:
  • Students examine multiple facets of a concept or vocab term.
  • Students are listening to usage and application of their vocab terms and practicing using and applying those terms.
  • Active and engaging activity.
Watch Out For:
  • Kids struggling to remember terms. Maybe let them use their notes? Or a Word Wall?
  • Kids cheating. That’s why we have a Checker and Balancer.
  • Kids off task. Be sure to circulate and monitor both behavior and understanding.
  • Kids arguing over “you said the word/no I didn’t”. Please be a careful monitor to make sure kids are playing fairly. You might strategically group kids so kids who tend to NOT get along are not playing directly against each other.

So, are you up for it? Or is it too taboo for you? (Pun points!) Can you play Taboo with your students to help them use higher order thinking for review?

Let me know how it goes! As always, I love to hear from you!


Monday, April 23, 2018


So, It’s that time of year...  Time for review games!

A reminder -- none of our kids (NOT A SINGLE ONE!!) are going to take a low-level, facts-only, memorization EOC or exam. I can only speak for Social Studies, but I suspect we are not alone on this...

Our EOC and final exams are written on the rough guidelines of 20-60-20. Meaning, ROUGHLY 20% of the test is Level 1 thinking, 60% of the test is Level 2 thinking, and 20% of the test is Level 3 thinking.

Which means 80% (!!) of the test is NOT recall-level content.

So, if most of the test is higher order thinking, how can I use review games -- WITHOUT dumbing the review games down to lower level?

Well, I have a couple for you. Let’s start with the rowdiest one, just for fun.

And, ummmm, you’re going to need two flyswatters and some masking tape.

Higher Order Review: Swat Teams
1.      Create/compile a list of vocab terms – and examples or non-examples of each. These examples could be much like the stimuli on their assessment, quotes, excerpts, images, etc. (I wouldn’t use straight definitions because students will memorize them and it won’t be higher order thinking and it won’t help them much on their EOC or final)
2.      Post the words on a wall/bulletin board that kids can access.  (not your SMARTBOARD!). A hallway might be a good option if your room is too small.
3.      Put a tape line on your floor that The Swatters need to be behind, a foot or two away from the wall.
4.      Divide class into two equal groups and line them up behind each other and sit or stand in order.
5.   Explain to the class that each team will have the first student in line “play” at a time. When they have completed their turn, out of the two teams, the first student to “swat” the correct answer gets the point for his or her team. When the student is done with his or her turn, that student goes to the end of the line.  
6.   All students in line need to listen to the example since they might get a different example for the same word. They will listen better if they know they’re hearing “clues” about a word they might get.
7.   Read the example or non-example to the group. (Be clear if it is a NOT example). The two students with the fly swatters listen to the example.
8.   The first student to swat the correct term gets the point for his or her team.
9.   The team with the most points wins.
Benefits of Swatter Game:
  • Students examine multiple facets of a concept or vocab term.
  • Students are listening to usage and application of their vocab terms and practicing using and applying those terms.
  • Active and engaging activity.
  • Fun can increase serotonin, which can improve memory, pride in work well done, and confidence.
Watch Out For:
  • Kids struggling to remember terms. Maybe let them use their notes?  
  • Kids acting up in line.  Maybe take away points for teams not listening? Or remind students that if the Swatter can’t hear the hint he or she can’t get the point.
  • Kids swatting each other.  The child who uses a flyswatter on another child is instantly removed from the game, his team loses points, and you use the discipline consequence for that kid that you would normally use. Please DO NOT punish the entire class for one kid who acts like a fool.

If it were me, I think I might use Civics 3.1 & 3.2 and post the various forms and systems of government and then give examples, descriptions, or connections for the kids to swat.

Are you brave enough to give two kids fly swatters -- and let LEARNING and REVIEW happen? Can you write a few examples and descriptions that use higher-order thinking? Are you BRAVE enough to try this game?

If so, email me and let me know how it goes. You’re welcome to send pix of  the game if it’s as hilarious as it was at a PCSB middle school this week with the Three Branches Tree.... Email me at