Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Tracy's Annual Summer Reading List

So, sometimes the kids get Summer Reading Lists. I certainly never had one growing up, but maybe my county didn’t do that. Or my teachers didn’t like it. I don’t know.

Every summer I bring home a pile of books on my own Summer Reading List. Every summer, I make it only halfway through. But I still try!

I like to have high expectations for myself, even if I don’t always complete my task lists...

Anyway, here’s this year’s Summer Self-Selected, Self-Paced PD for me.

  • 1491 By Charles C. Mann. I have somehow never gotten around to reading this book. As I look more at the Pre-Columbian Americas, I am amazed by both this book -- and by the fact that I have somehow missed it before now!
  • Building Students’ Historical Literacies: Learning to Read and Reason with Historical Texts and Evidence by Jeffery D. Nokes is a history professor at BYU. And his foreword is written by Sam Windburg, the #1 Top Dog in the field of History Education. I think I will really learn a lot with this one.
  • The Wrong Side of Right by Jean Marie Thorne. I am halfway through this teen fiction novel about a girl who discovers that the father she never knew -- is a US Senator running for President! It’s a teen-oriented look at fitting in  -- with a nice “side” of elections.
  • The Highly Engaged Classroom by THE Robert Marzano, the same Marzano who has designed the evaluation systems. I want to know what highly engaged students look like and how to make that happen.
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. I know that this came out a few years ago and that it is supposed to be a huge hit. 4,000 people on Amazon gave it 4.5 stars out of 5. It’s the story of a poor, black, tobacco farmer whose cells were taken -- without her knowledge -- and use to make amazing advances in medicine and science.

I know, I know. I’m behind. Some of those books came out quite a while ago. But, hey! Life gets busy and then summer comes and I get a chance to catch up.

What’s on your summer reading pile? Will you get to anything other than beach reads? As always, I love to hear from you! Email me at

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Big District Blobby Monster

So there is a hilarious blogger, Allie Brosh,who had a blog called “Hyperbole and a Half”. It sometimes uses the kinds of inappropriate words that middle and high school teachers are TOTALLY unfamiliar with (HA!), so I won’t link it here.

But in her blog, Allie once channeled her inner English teacher and freaked out once about the way some people write a lot as one word: alot, instead of the correct separation into two words: a lot.

Allie decided that the one-word version was a monster. An Alot Monster. Allie is a pretty funny woman who draws like a six year old. Here’s how she describes the Alot Monster:

The Alot is an imaginary creature that I made up to help me deal with my compulsive need to correct other people's grammar.  It kind of looks like a cross between a bear, a yak and a pug, and it has provided hours of entertainment for me in a situation where I'd normally be left feeling angry and disillusioned with the world.  

For example, when I read the sentence "I care about this alot," this is what I imagine:
Similarly, when someone says "alot of _______", I picture an Alot made out of whatever they are talking about.  

You can read her blog yourself -- and see the various versions of Alot monsters that the creative folks on the internet have created.

But I have to say, that I have an imaginary visual in my head, too. Only instead of seeing the mis-typed Alot Monster, my monster visual is when someone talks about The District.

For example, whenever someone says “The District” (pronounced with capital letters, of course) I imagine the Big District Blobby Monster.

He looks a lot like the Alot monster in my head

I mean, when they refer to the district in certain ways -- like “The District is making us do  _____” or “The District is looking at _____________” or “ The District has this new initiative of _________”-- it kinda sounds like the district isn’t made of real people. It’s like the district is a Big District Blobby Monster.

It’s particularly funny when they refer to Social Studies, because there are only 6 of us. If you need an introduction, here you go!
  • Linda Whitley is the K-8 Social Studies Specialist.
  • Matt Blum is the 9-12 Social Studies Specialist.
  • Cassie Slone is the Elementary SS staff developer.
  • Kim Jackson is the Social Studies secretary.
  • Cindy Flora is the Multicultural/PMAC/Character Ed Staff Developer.
  • I am the Middle School SS Staff Developer

That’s it. That’s all of us for aaalllll of K-12 Social Studies. We are so busy trying to do the work of a billion people, we don’t often even get us all in the same room together!

So, the next time you think of The District as a Big Blobby District Monster (that is the cousin of the Alot monster), think about the individuals behind that Big District Blobby Monster. Sometimes, it really does seem like a Big District Blobby Monster. But sometimes, it’s just one member of our little department :)

Has the Big District Blobby Monster been an image in your mind, too? As always, I leve to hear from you! Email me at

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Level Up!

When I was a kid, I had a neighbor who had a cool, new Nintendo game system. We had an old, knock-off Atari-wannabe at my house. 

But my neighbor, Laura, had a Nintendo – and had a Super Mario Brothers game! Every afternoon, I went to her house and waited patiently for my turn to save the princess.

This was the biggest deal in the neighborhood. At any given moment, all of my neighborhood buddies and I knew who had gotten to what level and who had discovered what secret passage and what secret point booster and every other “Easter egg” in the game.

There was nothing more satisfying than that musical beeps (de-de-de-da-da-DEE)  and the announcement “level up!” from the game.

I was thinking about the idea of students ending another year of school and thinking about as an academic (and social) “level up” in their lives. And I was wondering what skills a kid would need from this year for their next year. 
For example, I was wondering what two or three major things an 8th grade US History teacher would want his kid to remember from 7th grade or what skills an 11th grade US History teacher would want a kid to remember from 10th grade World History.

So, here’s my challenge to you, in these last few crazy weeks of school.

Have a conversation with a colleague who teaches kids the year after you and make sure you’ve covered or emphasized the skills and content they need for their “level up”. Then, try to have a conversation with a colleague that teaches kids the year before you and tell them the two or three major things you want their kids to retain for your upcoming class.

Then, make sure you review those skills, concepts, or content (one last time) before the year is out.

It’s a quick and easy way for us to do vertical teaming.  It’s a quick and easy way for us to prepare our kids for the next “level up” that comes with a new grade level.  It’s a quick and easy way to put a little “big picture” into your review season.

Do you do this? If so, I love to hear how you do it! Let me know! 

Wednesday, May 6, 2015


There are a lot of times when we, as teachers, don’t feel very inspiring. There are days when we feel like we don’t make much of a difference and we don’t do much to change the world.

I’m here to remind you that you’re wrong. On just this. :)

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week. I want to let you know how appreciated you are.

You are appreciated by your students, like I appreciate my former teachers

  • Ms. Vitti, my kindergarten teacher who taught me to read, and paint, and sing, and all those other life-changing kindergarten things.
  • Ms. McConnaughey, my fifth grade teacher who taught me to have better handwriting (I promise, the current handwriting IS an improvement) and organs of the body.
  • Ms. Stockman, my 6th and 8th grade Language Arts teacher who taught me to enjoy literature. And to understand grammar. And to write well.
  • Mr. Stocker and Coach Farrell, my high school AP Euro and AP US history teachers who taught me about the world and about how to learn & study and how to make content “stick”.

But you are also appreciated by your peers, like I appreciate my colleagues ...
  • Ms. Cooper, (now at BCHS) who taught me how to have quiet, one-on-one chats with students to improve my relationship with them and to improve their behavior.
  • Mr. Malinka, (still at MMS) who taught me how to read student work for National Boards -- and to figure out how much my students were learning.
  • Mrs. Kreger, (now at NEHS) who taught me how to plan for and set up PD, and how to think about art as a learning tools.
  • Mr. Bernard, (still at GHS) who taught me how to start a school year right and how to keep those kids in the palm of your hand for the rest of the year..
  • Ms. Salvesen, (still at AMS) who taught me how to manage a classroom of struggling students and make it look easy (I know it’s not)

There are a hundred other teachers in this district who have taught me wonderful things -- but I’m 
going to start sounding like a long-winded Oscar speech.

I don’t know all of your students, so I can’t remind them to show their appreciation this week, but I hope your students and administrators make a big fuss.

But I do know YOU.

I want to remind you that the power you have to change lives isn’t just isolated within your classroom.

You have the power to assist, empower, and enhance the teaching of your colleagues.

I see it all the time -- in a casual hallway conversation, when you do real common planning, when you problem-solve as a team, when you share ideas and advice, when you meet after school for “social time” and adult beverages and work out problems, when you fix each other’s projectors or share cool resources.

Teachers, I hope we all appreciate our colleagues. Please tell your colleagues this week how much you learn from them, how much help they are, and how much you appreciate them. When we appreciate each other, we strengthen each other.

What teachers do you appreciate? As always, I love to hear! Email me any time