Wednesday, August 31, 2016

This Election. Ugh.

Elections are one of my favorite things to teach, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about teaching them this year. It’s awfully hard to say the name “Clinton” or “Trump” without it feeling like a verbal bomb went off in the room.

I know that yesterday was the primaries -- and, at least on MY ballot, there were no Clintons or Trumps. But there were a few state legislators, some judges, and some school board candidates.

Primaries are a great way to talk about a lot of different parts of government - and with a little less, um, craziness. Their parents have probably taught them a lot about Clinton or Trump, but probably not so much about  Jolly or Murphy. You may find that easier to teach about since it will ignite a little less passion.

As social studies teacher, it is our job to teach this elections and other elections. It’s possible that no one else in our students’ lives is going to do it.

This particular election seems to have a few more memes and a few more verbal landmines. And maybe a little more name-calling? (or is that just some people?)

I know we talked at DWT about teaching this election and historical elections. I’d like to share a treasure trove of resources for teaching this election.

Check out my favorite Social Studies blogger, Glenn Wiebe and and his huge list of links for teaching this election -- including fact-checking, lesson plans, campaign finance, polling, and campaign ads.

I could keep writing, but you don’t need to hear from me. You need awesome resources to help you teach this. Go, check out the resources. And good luck teaching this particular election. It’s unique. And important.

Any more great resources not included in this list? Send ‘em to me at

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

It's Called Multitasking

Anecdote #1: Actual conversation I had with my husband this week.
Husband: Honey, what are you working on over there?
Me: Nothing. Why?
Husband: Because you are on your phone with one hand and your tablet with the other. It looks like you’re working hard.

Me: Nope. My tablet is slow, so I like to shop on my phone while my tablet is loading

Husband: You need two devices at the same time?  

Me: I guess? Is that weird?

Husband: I think you have a problem.

Anecdote #2: Actual conversation I had with my six year old this week.

Me: Sweetie, stop talking! I can’t concentrate on doing your hair while you’re talking about the Odd Squad TV show and acting it out.

My daughter: (with newly learned sassiness) MOM! It’s called multitasking. And I can DO it!

*Disclaimer. I have no idea where my first grader learned this.

Seriously, y’all. We may have a multitasking problem in my house. (ummm... It MIGHT be me. Just sayin'.).

I thought I was doing my daughter’s hair, only to discover that I was actually part of an audience-participation show on an imaginary TV show that I haven’t really paid attention to.

I thought I was doing online shopping, only to discover that I was really browsing social media at the same time.

Part of that comes from being a teacher. We’re supposed to teach lessons while we monitor behavior while we informally assess the learning while we mentor while we notice the signs of health issues, bullying, mental health, and more.....

Teachers HAVE to be multitaskers. It’s in our job descriptions.

Sometimes, multitasking is a bad thing. Texting while driving (or while teaching or while out to dinner or while in a meeting)  -- is not a good choice.

Taking attendance while checking homework while managing behavior all at once -- IS a good choice!

If we step back a little from our day-to-day into our “big picture”, we can see other ways that multitasking can be beneficial.

We think we were hired to teach “history” or “civics” or “economics”. But really we are tasked with multitasking -- teaching historical thinking skills, geography skills, reading, logic, primary sources, study skills, thesis writing, civic engagement, cooperation, speaking and listening skills and more.

We are the SOCIAL sciences. We teach SOCIAL-related skills of communicating, listening, thinking.

Our benchmarks include content as well as those skills. Some skills are explicitly listed. Some are parts of other skills or are necessary to master certian benchmarks.

I encourage you to think of yourself as a multitasker when you plan your lessons. Ask yourself what skills you are teaching WITH your content and be intentional about the teaching of those skills as well as that content.

When you multitask your skills in with your content, you’ll find that your students are better prepared for tests -- and for life.

How do you multitask your teaching of skills with your content? How do you plan for your multitasking in this area? As always, I love to hear from you! Email me

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Simone Biles and Growth

Have you been watching the Olympics? If you follow gymnastics outside of the Olympics you already knew what a rockstar she was. But the rest of us who only watch gymnastics during the Olympics have just learned this: Simone Biles is incredible.

At 19 years old, she is already the most decorated gymnast in US history.  She is also the first American gymnast ever to win the grand slam of all-around titles: U.S. National Championships, World Championships, World Cup (American Cup), and Olympics. Yesterday, she won her 4th gold medal, the first time a gymnast has won 4 gold medals in over thirty years. She is being called “arguably the best female gymnast in the world”.

She’s amazing. She is tiny, she’s strong, and she makes everything look easy. Seriously, y’all. She makes being an Olympian look easy.

But how did she get there? She didn’t come from a family of Olympians (actually she came from a non-traditional family) She didn’t start training while she was in diapers (actually she didn’t even see a gym until she was 6 on a field trip). She didn’t even have the most experienced coach!

Now, I know, I know. Simone Biles has an incredible natural talent. This is indisputable.

But she has something else. You can call it grit. You can call it perseverance or determinism. This kid -- a public-school kid who was raised by her grandparents who didn’t start or even try gymnastics until after the age of most Olympians -- worked her butt off. She went from “new” to “ok” to “decent” to “great” to “most decorated gymnast in US history”.

She didn’t get there overnight. And she didn’t get there because everything came easy to her.

And she didn’t get there because someone looked at her six-year-old-self and said “there’s an Olympian”.

She got there because she had a growth mindset.

Students’ mindsets -- how they perceived their abilities -- are powerful factors. They might be one of the MOST powerful factors in a student’s success.

Students who believed that their intelligence could be developed (growth mindset) were a whole lot more successful in school (and in other areas, like gymnastics, for example) than those who believed that their intelligence was fixed (fixed mindset).A LOT more successful.

Did you catch that? Kids who believe their intelligence can INCREASE are WAY more successful than kids who believe their intelligence is “stuck”. Even more successful than “smart” kids who know they’re smart!

Guess what? Teachers who believe that their students’ intelligence is fixed (“She’s one of my smart kids” or “He shouldn’t even be in this class”) find that their students are LESS successful than those of teachers who believe that their kids intelligence can be grown (“She worked hard to get there” or “He improved a lot from then to now”)

Simone Biles has a growth mindset. She didn’t just assume that she could get “this far”. She believed that she could improve more. And improve even more on top of that. Her coach believed that she could improve. Her coach believed that Simone could improve even more and more.

Now, this isn’t just about effort. Growth mindset is about believing that intelligence is not a fixed thing. That a person’s intelligence can grow and expand -- in kids’ minds and in their teachers’ minds.

I challenge you to examine your beliefs in mindset. Do you believe that your --and your students’-- intelligence is FIXED? Or is it elastic and flexible? Can people -- and students -- get smarter?

If you believe yes (and I challenge you to at least consider it), check out these awesome resources  about Growth Mindset for teachers

Maybe the next Simone Biles is in your class. Or the next Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton!), John Hanke, or Simone Manuel. Someone getting smarter and more skilled all the time.

As always, I love to hear from you! Email me at

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Eric The Eel

I am not much of a sports fan, but I do love the Olympics. It’s something about all the countries coming together for sport and not for more somber matters. I love the opening ceremonies, the pomp of the parade of nations, fascinating back stories, and the surprising fun of learning about new sports (Understand the rules of steeplechase, anyone?) and lesser-known countries (Do you know where Kirabati is?). I must have watched the Jamaican bobsled movie a hundred times when I was a kid.

So, when I read about Eric the Eel, it hit all my Olympic buttons. In the late 90s, the Olympic committees decided to bring the spirit of the Olympics to more developing nations and allowed competitors from those nations to enter, without having passed qualifying rounds. 

In 2000, Eric Moussambani, from Equatorial Guinea, had only started swimming 8 months before -- on weekends in a river. He had never been in a pool at all until a month or two before the Olympics -- and had never been in an Olympic-sized swimming pool until his actual race. During his heat, the other two Wild Card swimmers were disqualified and so Eric swam alone -- dog-paddling and floundering and stalling out in the huge pool. Spectators cheered him along to the finish -- which he completed at more than double the time of the previous heat. Despite his long time, he was incredibly proud of his finishing his first 100-meter race.

He became an Olympic celebrity for his perseverance and character. And then, he learned even more and became the swim coach of Equatorial Guinea.

Eric the Eel got to compete in the Olympics despite most people thinking he couldn’t -- because he had high expectations for himself. Despite his lack of preparation, he busted his behind and not only competed in the Olympics, but learned the sport even better to become a coach!

I hope you have high expectations for your students this year, regardless of their preparation or lack of preparation. I hope you believe in your students and cheer them on, even when you’re not sure they will even complete the task, let alone excel in it. I hope you don’t give up on even the longest long-shot. I hope that you have some Eric the Eels in your classes -- and that you treat all struggling students like Eric. Maybe they haven’t gotten there -- YET -- but they will.

And I hope those kids take what they learn from you and use it to help others down the line.
Have a great first day of school!

Tracy Newman
Reading-in-Social Studies Coach