Nov 062016

In my last post, Why I won’t use Direct Instruction, I was provocative and challenged some of the typical thinking about math instruction. The post generated some terrific conversation, both here and on Twitter, and although I have not changed my mind for my own classroom use, I do admit there may be times when DI has a function and purpose.

The grad class I am in has moved on, which is how classes work, and we are discussion Cooperative teaching this week. The textbook is very focused on English and Social Studies, which leaves the math and science people out a bit, but it does discuss the Jigsaw lesson plan at some length. The Jigsaw is a good strategy, and it is useful in math class for sure, but there are so many others!

To create a better list, I asked the #MTBoS for their favorites. I won’t embed all the tweets, but will give attribution to every person who submitted and idea or link in the idea. I want to feature the lesson plan ideas and the links to them. I have not used all of these. Heck, I don’t think I have used half of these! But the collection is amazing, and although some of the ideas don’t have details, you can figure out the idea from the names of some.

The really nice thing is that these are all cooperative lesson strategies from math teachers for math teachers. If you want some ideas on how to incorporate these well tested strategies, here you go:

  1. Speed dating: Me! @gwaddellnvhs, Mary-Ellen @MathSparkles; This was one of the two I suggested. I really like this method of getting learners collaborating with a purpose.
  2. Add it up or Placemats or 4Sum or Add ’em up: Me! @gwaddellnvhs; Heather Kohn @heather_kohn; S @reilly1041; Kate Nowak@k8nowak; This is another strategy I offered in my original question. I think I got it from Kate originally, forgot the name, and then called it Placemats because of a way to set it up using butcher paper. Same idea, different names.
  3. Participation Quiz or Partner Quizzes: Martin Joyce @martinsean; Rachel @Seestur ; Used these often. Very engaging way to get everyone focused. The tricky part is creating the teams for the quiz, but that is achievable.
  4. Clipboard of quotes & actions that support each other. Update whiteboard, then go over: Martin Joyce @martinsean
  5. Whiteboard Game: Lisa Bejarano @lisabej_manitou
  6. Problems around the room: Lisa Bejarano @lisabej_manitou
  7. Also a big fan of whiteboards where students keep answers secret and then they All “flash” at the same time: Mary-Ellen @MathSparkles
  8. Pass the Pen: Madelyne Bettis @Mrs_Bettis
  9. Work on the Wall: Madelyne Bettis @Mrs_Bettis
  10. Ss work prob on board while 2nd Ss “calls” it like a baseball announcer: Mary Williams @merryfwilliams, The boys get into it with the Bob Costas enthusiastic voice, “and he is STRIKING OUT LADIES AND GENTLEMAN!!” Most of the time they are really positive though – all the sports enthusiasts enjoy announcing 🙂
  11. Ghosts in the Graveyard: Mary Williams @merryfwilliams
  12. Sage and Scribe: Briana Guzman @brianalguzman
  13. Quiz Quiz Trade: Briana Guzman @brianalguzman
  14. There can be only one (marker): Nathaniel Highstein @nhighstein
  15. Having round tables in the classroom: Rachel @Seestur Rachel really enjoys having the round tables so learners have to look at each other while working. It makes total sense to me!
  16. Tarsia Puzzles: Sheri Walker @SheriWalker72; Paula Torres @Lohstorres1; In case you don’t know what Tarsia puzzles are, Tarsia is a FREE software package to make puzzles out of sets of problems. They are really cool, and when you require them to be worked in partners, can be a great way to incorporate cooperative learning in a different way.
  17. Card Sorts: Beth Ferguson @algebrasfriend; Card sorts have been around a while, and they are highly effective. I used them in AP Stats as well as algebra. Desmos recently incorporated card sorts into the Activity builder, so you can get awesome electronic card sorts now too!
  18. Row Games: Kate Nowak  @k8nowak; Beth Ferguson @algebrasfriend; I have used Row Games too. The best part is the link takes you to a folder owned by Kate that has 3 pages of mostly word docs of teacher created games. This means you can edit and change them to make them better for your class! Also, it would be awesome if you shared back your creations to help others.

Additionally, David Wees tweeted out the following people, but didn’t give more info. I suggest contacting them directly for more information.

David later did followup with this link to TEDD (Teacher Education by Design). I poked around their site. Looks promising!

Amy Lucenta also was kind enough to let us know her ideas are found in her book from Heinemann Publishers.

I hope this helps, and if you have any other cooperative learning ideas, drop them in the comments please!

Oct 162016

This post is born out of a PhD class I am taking called “Models of Teaching.” It is a great class, but one of the requirements early in the semester was to write how I would use direct instruction in my classroom. I refused. I wrote a lengthy screed against DI. I attacked it, aggressively. What you have here is an edited, cleaned up, and less aggressive post born out of that assignment.


As a first year teacher, I was explicitly told by a principal to use direct instruction. He very carefully outlined what he expected any class to look like, and what the learners should be doing at every stage, every minute.

When that year was over, I left that school without a second thought. To deprofessionalize teaching to such a degree that someone could outline any class, any day, any lesson to the minute is reprehensible and borders on educational malpractice.

If you get the sense from this that I do not value direct instruction very highly; good.

I mean, really. Look at the way people think about education and specifically math ed. I think using comics as indicators is a great idea, because comics take a shared experience and pokes fun at it. Comics make us laugh through the pain, and there is a lot of pain in education.

Baldo, I cant believe school starts tomorrow

At the younger grades, we definitely see excitement for learning, but at some point, we beat that excitement out of kids. Why? This is a question I have asked repeatedly here, but I think DI has a lot to do with it. I mean, DI is a common way to teach math, as well as other subjects. Can we blame learners if they are bored, frustrated, and unexcited about classrooms that are taught through DI? And they are all 3.

math class is like a 40 foot long colon

Really? The punch line in this Baby Blues makes me cry. Literally. This is what the general public finds funny about math class?! But it isn’t just these comics. It goes on. And on.


The common theme of memorizing is so frustrating.


I am not advocating for “learn what you want” or unschooling, but certainly we can figure out ways to build in learner interests, right?


And DI just take us to the point repeatedly. “Oh, you weren’t paying attention while I was sharing what you were supposed to be learning? That is your problem, not mine.”

dennis-the-menace-back-to-the-salt-mines  dennis-the-menace-principal-not-warden

Yea, nothing more needs to be said here. Sigh. These were published in October. Of 2016. These are current. It makes it just that much more sad.


This Zits comic pretty much sums up the idea of Direct Instruction for me. It is clear that Jeremy (the teenager) has teachers who use DI pretty much the entire day. He is just consuming the knowledge of the teacher, puking it back for the test, and starting over each day.


And this focus on memorizing, and storing the teacher’s knowledge leaves learners doing what Paige Fox is doing here. Focus on the test, not learning. As long as the test comes out okay at the end, then all is good. Same issue Calvin had above.

But my objection to DI goes beyond the fact that it creates a horrible perception of classrooms. The philosophical underpinnings of direct instruction follow from Behaviorism and the work of B.F. Skinner.  Skinner, in his book “The Technology of Teaching” introduced wonderful machines that replaced teachers. In the behaviorist world, teaching is only necessary to introduce proper conditioning, and you do not need professionals to create those behaviors. Machines, called appropriately enough, “Teaching Machines” can replace teachers wholesale.

teaching machines by skinnerJust read the question, mark the response, check the response to the key, move a lever left if correct and right if wrong. Finish the lesson and repeat until they are all correct. This is the legitimate end result of behaviorism and the deprofessionalization of teaching. We see it in such sites as Con, er, Khan Academy, where the boring and mistake prone  lectures are used to give a false impression of learning. This kind of approach to teaching and learning is why at least one US Senator has suggested doing away with college professors and just have students watch Ken Burns videos to learn about the Civil War. Not joking. This is real. This is the direct benefactor of behaviorism.

In short, there is not enough alcohol to burn this chapter from my memory. [I leave this sentence in here from the assignment for a reason. Yes, I really did turn this sentence in, but also because it shows just how strongly I feel about this issue.]

These are harsh words. I freely admit that. I have very few, if any, kind things to say about direct instruction. I stopped teaching this way after my second year in the mathematics classroom. I would never go back, nor would I ever try to teach this way again.

It is painfully boring for the learners, and it is equally painful for the teacher. The fact it is completely ineffective to teach or learn higher order processes and skills makes it doubly not worth using.

Direct Instruction is the worst of all teaching methods, and continuing to use it just reinforces the boring nature of what learning can be. It doesn’t have to be that way! It really doesn’t.

When I write lessons, whether it was for high school or for the college classes I am teaching now, I start each lesson with these questions (replacing math with teaching now):

Am I:

–Assisting learners in creating THEIR own math understanding?


Forcing learners to curate and consume MY math understanding?

My goal is clear. I want every learner to move beyond my understanding quickly and efficiently. That can’t happen with DI. DI is a way to force learners to store my knowledge and understanding.

And, we need to figure out ways to stop asking learners to store our knowledge and instead celebrate their own. There are many constructivist teaching models. We need to use them. Find two or three that resonate with you and practice them. And then, celebrate the accomplishments of learning for more than 2 seconds.

Calvin is sad for a reason.


May 302016

I chose to examine my district’s math results for my final project in my Critical Pedagogy class. It made me seriously depressed and angry. It is one thing being told that we have “gaps” in our math outcomes, it is something completely different to do the research yourself and find just how large, systemic, and blatant the gaps are. Doing this project affected me greatly. I realize that I was in a funk for about three weeks afterwards.

With that in mind, I think it is important for me to share it out. I need to get the information out there, and challenge myself to make an impact on these issues.

Critical TheoryA look at the values of my math community.

I want to preface this discussion with the statement that I don’t believe any of the math leaders in my district actually believe any of the things written below. I know them. I respect them. I hope they respect me.

BUT, the things written below end up not very favorable to them. This is unfortunate, because I know and believe they are just as passionate about the problems and solutions as I am. It makes writing this all that much more difficult, and it also contributed to the malaise I felt about the topic. But it is an important topic, and one that is rarely discussed.

I started with going to and looking up the results for the Mathematics High School Proficiency Exam (HSPEM) for the most recent year on file, which was 2015. After doing several different reports, several different combinations of “and” and “or” tables, and lots of copying and pasting into excel, I create the following table:

2015 math data

I won’t try to address why we are under serving the learners who aren’t White. The reasons for that gap are wide, varied, and far beyond this little blog.

However, the question of what do math leaders and educators claim to believe about mathematics in my district can be easily found. Every math document the district produces has the following six “core beliefs.”

  1. All students will learn and be successful.
  2. The achievement gap will be eliminated by ensuring every student is challenged to learn at, or above grade level.
  3. Effective teachers and principals, dedicated support staff, rigorous curriculum, measurable outcomes, ongoing monitoring and assessment, collaboration, professional development and a culture of continuous improvement will ensure classroom success for all students.
  4. Superior performance will be achieved through clear goals that set high expectations and standards for all students and employees.
  5. Family, school and community engagement will be required for student academic success.
  6. Leadership and passion, together with accountability and transparency, will be the keys to reform and success. (“Curriculum & Instruction / Math 9-12 Course Guides,” n.d.)

The fact that the first belief is about “all students” and not ‘each student’ is important to recognize. This wording suggest that the “all students” are being considered successful from the dominant culture’s perspective, not the individual culture of each student (McLaren, 2009).

Reinforcing the dominant culture is the vision found in the second belief as well. The focus on grade levels and stating that each learner must be at or above their grade level is a hegemonic act of domination (McLaren, 2009, p. 67). No teacher or parent would argue with the goal or belief that learners should be at or above his or her grade level, but the implementation of the grade level curriculum based on the dominant White, middle class culture makes it an impossible argument. Algebra 1 in the first year, geometry in the sophomore, and algebra 2 in the junior year is the standard progression, regardless of the learner’s previous educational opportunities or struggles. By defining this progression as the culture and standard of mathematics education, we have created a situation where a parent or teacher who argues against it needs to take on the entire mathematics establishment. In addition, it means the parent or teacher is openly advocating FOR the achievement gap and unsuccessful learners. Challenging the hegemony of the mathematics curriculum cannot be done without simultaneously shouldering the burden of arguing for failure.

The fifth core belief sounds like a very positive value, from the position as a member of the dominant culture. However, reading the belief not as an attainable goal but as a statement of fact, it becomes a way to dismiss subordinate cultures. All three elements, family, school, and community engagement will be required for success. The lack of the family to engage with the school or community will automatically create failure for the learner. This is a convenient way for the district mathematics department to absolve themselves of responsibility if the family is not able to, unwilling to, or incapable of engagement with the school. As long as it is a family failure to engage, the school has met its condition of the belief, and the lack of success becomes the responsibility of the learner and family.

Finally, it is disheartening to that Equity is not a key to reform and success in the district mathematics documents. Equity could be an element of leadership belief given the inclusion of ‘reform’ in the statement. However, the lack of explicit identification, the emphasis on “all students” instead of “each student,” and the dismissive use of family points to a department that is not aligned with the Access and Equity Principle of the NCTM or the Social Justice principle of the NCSM (National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics & TODOS: Mathematics for ALL, 2016; National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2014).

I stress again, that the leaders in my district have never made the arguments I made above. I think they would find these arguments as reprehensible as I do. However, I don’t think we, as a community, are addressing these arguments. Without openly discussing them, and changing our behaviors, curriculum maps, and values based on that discussion, all we are doing is agreeing implicitly that the results in the table above are okay.

I don’t think anyone is willing to do that.


McLaren, P. (2009). Critical pedagogy: A look at the major concepts. In A. Darder, M. Baltodano, & R. D. Torres (Eds.), The critical pedagogy reader (2nd ed, pp. 61–83). New York, NY: Routledge.

National Council of Supervisors of Mathematics, & TODOS: Mathematics for ALL. (2016, Spring). Mathematics education through the lens of social justice: Acknowledgement, actions, and accountability. Retrieved April 16, 2016, from

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2014). Principles to actions: Ensuring mathematical success for all. Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Nevada Department of Education. (n.d.). Nevada annual reports of accountability. Retrieved from

May 282016

I have been searching for a bulletproof, simple, and efficient backup solution for my PC for about two years now. I have tried several different tools, online versions, software versions, and nothing really worked for me. Maybe I was too picky. More like too lazy, really.

image of safe

First off, my requirements:

I have read repeatedly about the 3-2-1 policy of backups. Backblaze has a good explanation of it. 3 copies, 2 onsite in different devices, 1 offsite for security.

I believe this is a minimum backup requirement, and everything I do is to attain it. However, attaining it is a pain in the rear, which is why so few people really do it, I believe. It has taken me about two years before I found something really simple and easy that allows me to reach this goal.

I have two networked hard drives on my desk. One is a 4 terabyte drive, and the other is an older 500 GB drive. The 4 TB is the main drive, and the older one is a redundant backup.

I also have a 128 GB micro SD card in my Surface Pro. Finally, I have two 80 GB iPod Classics.

I require the software to be single purchase, and less than $30.00. That is the limit I placed on the purchasing. I do not want to pay monthly for backups, because I believe it will be a continuous expense over the PhD process and beyond. I also use Dropbox, (and have 76 GB of free storage on it) so I do not need a cloud service backup.

After using CrashPlan, and about 10 other softwares for a couple of months at a time, I have finally found a backup solution that works for my lazy self.

I purchased BVCKUP 2.  Cost for home use is $19.95. Here is why I purchased it.

It’s backups are not encrypted, just simply backed up. The software is TINY! I mean really small. It sits in the system tray, monitoring the computer, and does incremental (delta) backups on my schedule. Currently I have it backing up every 2 hours to the 4 TB drive.

It saves deleted files in a “deleted files” folder. This way, when a file is deleted, it removes it from the folder on the backup, but does not delete it.

Once a week (currently Saturday mornings) it backs up from the 4 TB drive to the 500GB drive.

Finally, the 128 GB micro SD card in the computer has second by second backups. The reason I am not relying on it at all, is that this chip is with my computer. It is encrypted, with my computer. If my Surface is stolen, the chip and the computer are useless because my password is brutal. If my computer breaks, I have it as a backup. However, the category of “stolen” negates this as a reliable backup system.

Last but not least, I have the two 80 GB iPods. These work fabulously as external hard drives. I reformatted them, and use them as backups. I backup to them and take it to work with me. One is always at work, one is in my bag. I swap them out at work.

Finally, I do nothing once this is set up. BVCKUP monitors the computer looking for the drives and the time. Bvckup recognizes when one of the iPods is plugged in and does the backup then and there. It is fast and small enough that there is virtually no hit to using the computer. I don’t notice it at all.

All I have to do is plug in the iPod, and Bvckup does its thing.

I turn on the 500 GB hard drive once a week. Bvckup recognizes it is on, and backups the 4 TB drive immediately.

I spent 15 minutes setting up the program, and now I do nothing but plug the drives in. I have complete peace of mind for all of my PhD files, my teaching files, my program’s files, the grants I am writing, the articles I am writing, etc.

I can break my computer over my knee, it could be stolen tomorrow, and I can have 100% of my files replaced on a new computer in less than an hour after getting home.

This is pretty powerful, and I thought that peace of mind is worth writing about. After two years of working on coursework for the PhD and knowing all along that I could lose everything if I wasn’t careful, I no longer have to worry.

Try it. I think you will like it too. It is completely free for two weeks, no strings attached. That is what sold me, to be honest. After two weeks with dead simple backups, I realized that one little worry was taken off my shoulders.

That is worth $19.95.

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Apr 062016

Someone in my critical pedagogy class made a very astute comment the last class. We were discussing professionalism, the fact that there are many attempts at deprofessionalizing teaching going on today, and we were having a great conversation about who is benefiting from these acts. Who is pushing the process, who is benefiting, who does not benefit? These questions are all worth pursuing, and then the classmate drops a thought bomb on the class. It has stuck with me for a week now, and I still am not sure how to answer it it.

Here it is:  Aren’t we, as teachers, partially to blame for the deprofessionalizing of education? After all, we admit the first year or two of teaching are “throw-away” years where the teacher just has to learn what the need on their own. You don’t ever hear flight controllers say, “It’s okay if you crashed those planes together, it is your first year,” or “It’s okay that building you designed fell down, it’s your first year of architecturing.”



Drop that right on us, as teachers. As teacher leaders. As teacher educators.

Yup, we have to own that one. Professionals don’t let that kind of thing happen. Professionals support the pre and new service teacher. Professionals don’t allow for this type of failure, and let’s not mince words. A child whose education is harmed because a new teacher fails is just as bad OR WORSE than the plane crashing.

How do we stop it?

Mentoring came up repeatedly in the conversation. We must mentor pre-service teachers closely and support them completely. We must mentor new teachers with the same vigor.

Social and Emotional Learning came up in the conversation. Getting teachers right from day one to realize they teach PEOPLE, not content.

Critical Theory / Social Justice came up (duh, it is that class after all). But it came up not because we were in the class, but because this is how teachers, new teachers, beginning teachers can learn how to engage with their learners and start problem-posing instead of banking. Freire’s approach to education turns the classroom away from teacher centered to learner and learning centered. In this type of environment, the teacher gets to know their learners better, so they don’t inadvertently cause harm.

All in all, it is a very small thought-bomb that was dropped, but the implications are far reaching.

Are we professionals?

If the answer is yes, then we can not, ever, accept a “throw away year” in teaching. Every single day counts, and we have to help, support, and develop every single teacher in that focus.

Mar 102016

I am still thinking of my critical theory journey and how it is and will continue affect my teaching. I don’t think I can ever stop thinking about it now, to be honest. In observing classrooms and teaching teachers, the idea of “authority” has come multiple times. Which led me to this topic. We have a problem about questioning authority. A very important part of critical pedagogy is the willingness, the desire, and / or the ability to question authority and stand up for yourself or others.


In our case, the quote would read “Question Authority, but not your Teacher.” But is that really what we want to be teaching? And is that what I did? (if you want to skip the following section, the tl;dr is hell no.) But to think about what I want message I want to teach, I need to examine what I learned as a learner in school.  Honestly, I have written and rewritten this post about 12 times. I have deleted it in its entirety twice, and as I go back in the revision history, I realize I started it on 25 February. It is now 2 weeks later, and I just have to hit publish on it and call it good enough. This is a post that will never be perfect.

Where I started (a personal story)

I don’t remember a lot, but I do remember two things about my ES education. I remember I was tested and placed in the gifted and talented program at some point. I remember them pulling me out of class and doing ‘fun’ activities. I remember thinking these were stupid. I remember looking at the teachers and telling them the activities were boring and uninteresting. I told my parents I thought they were stupid. I clearly remember having a meeting and the teachers agreeing to put be back into the classroom because, “these activities are stupid, why can’t I go back to class where I can learn something?”

I also remember taking the workbook home in 5th grade and completing the entire year’s worth of social studies worksheets in two or three nights. I got in trouble from the teacher. I didn’t care. I learned stuff. I was not a very inquiry based learner, was I?

In middle and high school in Montana, I remember every single interaction with a Counselor ended with the statement, “You will take the hardest classes you can handle now, so that it is easier later.” I never fought back against that. I also remember (and my Mom loves to tell the story, bless her heart) that I came home one day and said,

“Mom, I am the class comedian.”

She asked, “Don’t you mean the class clown?”

“No, the comedian.”

“What’s the difference?”

I replied, “The clown is the idiot streaking across the football field naked. The comedian is the guy who put him up to it.”

I was that kid. My friends and I celebrated elaborate pranks on each other and others, but we never damaged property. I also carried around a copy of Einstein’s Special and General Theory of Relativity my junior year and taught myself the math and physics to understand it. Sentence by sentence. I would get in trouble in study hall (we actually had a class called study hall) because I would not do homework, I would spend the entire hour every day with Einstein. I still have the book.

Yea, I was jerk. It didn’t get better. I transferred to Westwood High School in Mesa AZ 3 weeks into my senior year. So, take a smart, physics oriented kid, force him to move across country (as far as I was concerned) during my senior year. Exponential jerk. My first interaction at the school was with the high school counselor. I told him the classes I was in and showed him my transcript. My Montana high school did not do AP classes. AZ did. And they tracked. I was not allowed to take AP as a senior, because I was not in AP as a junior. The counselor finally allowed me to take AP Calculus because I threw a fit, and then handed me my schedule. I went to the book depository to get my books. There was no physics text book in the pile.

No. Physics. Textbook.

My head exploded. I walked back to the counselors office and literally forced the person in the office out. Can you imagine? As an educator now, I am shocked that I was allowed to do this. I walked in and said, “You, get out” to the student in his office. I then said, “You, fix my schedule. I told I was taking physics.” The counselor eventually fixed my schedule, and then arranged for me to take chemistry at the local community college (I think just so he didn’t have to deal with me any more) to replace the organic chem class I was planning on taking in Montana. I graduated from a high school in Arizona. I don’t admit that very often.

I do not know one single person I graduated with. Not one. No wonder. I was a raging jerk. I questioned authority, I made demands upon them, and I won. Honestly, there is not one single encounter I can remember in my K-12 schooling where I did not get what I wanted. I never got in trouble (but should have repeatedly).

I learned to challenge authority and more importantly, HOW to challenge authority. Have a plan. Know your rights. More importantly, know the rules and use them to your advantage. I refused to allow those authority figures to hold me back from what I wanted. And, what I wanted was education.

I remember being told repeatedly growing up that I should never plan on attending college. We could not afford it. I should put it out of my head, not think about it, not plan on it, not try for it. It was too expensive. Not once. Not twice, but repeatedly. It was, really, the only fight I had with my parents, but it was a regular battle.

I showed them, however. I attended a community college on a full ride scholarship, and refused to earn a diploma. An AA wasn’t good enough. I transferred to a nationally ranked, private college, Knox College, for three years and paid for less than one year of school by working the rules of financial aid to my benefit. I took out student loans to do a M.A. in Philosophy from University of Iowa, and don’t regret a single penny. I paid cash for a M.Ed. from the University of Nevada, Reno. And currently have a full ride private grant that is paying for my Ph.D.

I love my parents, but I realize that much of what I did after high school was to give them a giant finger.

As I look back, I fought authority often. I usually won. But there were very few consequences for failure in school.

Question authority-BF

Where I am at now

Now, I am now teaching teachers. That scares me, a little. Think about the fact that I questioned authority consistently in my educational journey. I did the same thing as a teacher. I advocated throwing away my textbooks in 2012 (and I did stop using them that year). I was thoroughly willing to re-think how lines are taught, and challenge every other teacher to do the same. That post ended with the statement:

After all, if we are going to be arbitrary, at least let us be arbitrary consistently.

Challenging authority and being subversive is kind of what I did on my blog for the last 4 years.

And now I am teaching teachers. That is scary.

I observe classrooms where the teacher is leading 4th graders through amazing math and science discussion. The learners in the classroom blow my mind with how ahead of the game they are. They also respond instantly to “Class Class” with “Yes Yes,” stop talking, and give 100% of their attention to the teacher.

I have seen a class that was doing high school level mathematics (again a 4th grade classroom). This teacher is amazing. A Title 1 school where every learner is engaged and learning. They stand up, push in their chair, speak to the class, pull out their chair, and sit down. Every time they have something to say. In this class, if they are called on and don’t know an answer, they remain standing and ‘phone a friend’. That learner stands up, pushes in their chair and helps.

Question authority.

Are these learners being taught to question authority? They are being taught, for sure. They are learning math, science, English, etc at an amazing high level. They are learning content. But are they learning that “First Reponsibility” of Franklin’s?

Question authority.

The most common question I am asked by my future teachers is, “How do we handle a learner that won’t do what we ask?” They have clearly bought into the idea of “Question Authority, but not your teacher.” My responses are: make lessons that are engaging and interesting. Get learners up and moving. Allow for exploration (one of the steps of inquiry learning). Stop lecturing at them. “Telling isn’t teaching, Listening isn’t learning.” Etc.

Question authority.

As an educator, I encourage teachers on Twitter and my blog to stand up to admins who make unreasonable demands. I know I stood up to my admins repeatedly. I was called into the principals office and asked to stop several times. I said no. I never lost my job. I was still rated Highly Effective. Teachers have power, but often are afraid to use it.

Not every teacher does exercises their power. Not every teacher can exercise their power. Some teachers can’t or won’t because they fear repercussions. Some teachers will absolutely lose their job, status, or ability to teach if they question authority. That is horrible, but it does happen.

Question authority.

So I really end up where I started. Questioning authority is standing up for yourself or others. My future teachers need to unlearn the idea of “Question authority, but not your teachers.” They also need to be supported when they start teaching and question authority when they stand up for their learners.

The process of unlearning this message is vital, and it is my job now to guide them towards that goal. But how? How can I effectively teach new teachers, freshmen through seniors in college, to challenge authority in education?

They already have cognitive dissonance because they are being taught effective teaching techniques. Math and science ed is being grounded in inquiry based methods, activities, and engagement. ANNNND then they walk into the lecture hall of 200 students and are talked at for 50 minutes.  Do I want them questioning authority when a grade is on the line and it could cost them hundreds of dollars and to retake a class? No. I don’t.

Do I want them questioning a principal when they are a provisional teacher their first years out when they can be fired at will? Not really, but at the same time, yea, I do. When the questioning is because it is in the best interest of their learners, I do want them to question authority. I know I would. Even during those first years. But would I have really done that during the first years? Probably not.

The reality of questioning authority is hard.

The calculus of questioning authority takes into account the repercussions. But honestly, the catch phrase “Pragmatically Question Authority” loses a lot of value.

I think in the end, for my future teachers, I have settled on this for now. I would like them to practice “Thoughtful respect for authority.” That at least encourages them to think hard about whether the authority is making decisions in the best interest of learners.



Feb 142016

This is a class assignment. Not to blog about it, but to write a paper about it.  The “it” is critical pedagogy/theory. Do you know what that means? I didn’t (and probably still don’t) either. I realize that I acted in ways that inched towards critical pedagogy, but I didn’t understand the theory. When I say, “I inched towards,” I mean it. I think I was heading in a direction that was taking me towards being a critical educator. I was not there.

When I first read this quote, I thought “Females are the half being held back. Right, I have to teach to all learners, not just the male learners.” But, as I developed ideas of critical pedagogy (again, before I knew what it was) I thought about my learners who didn’t like math. Was I holding them back? What about my Hispanic learners? Or the gay learners? Or what if they are gay, Hispanic, and female!

The next question I started asking myself is, “If I am not teaching to Hispanics or females, am I holding them back? After all, If I am teaching ‘neutrally’ then isn’t their problem to learn, not mine?” I have heard a version of that question from many teachers: I teach, learners learn, that is the way it goes. I once told a teacher, “A teacher who says I taught it, but they didn’t learn it is the same as a salesperson who says I sold it, but they didn’t buy it.” (No, really, I told that to the teacher’s face. They were … not happy with me.)

If I am not teaching TO the female learners, or TO the Hispanic learners or TO the low SES learners, than I AM holding them back. Purposefully, with foreknowledge, and now with malicious intent. I am using my power as an educator to purposefully hold back some learners over others.

I can’t do that. I will not be that teacher who doesn’t teach to ALL my learners, to get ALL of the learners to their maximum potential. I will not be the teacher who abuses their power.

But does that mean I am a critical educator?

The short answer is No.

The long answer is also No.

Because I didn’t create a classroom environment where I challenged the learners to engage and change the world. I changed my classroom for them, but what did I encourage them to change?

That is the difference between being an aware, a reflective, educator and a Critical Educator. And the more I learn, the more I believe every teacher SHOULD be involved in critical theory / pedagogy. It should not be an option to opt out. Being neutral on this topic does harm to learners.

Being neutral on the topic of power is wrong There is no such thing as being neutral. Yes, those are pretty strong words. I believe them. I will act on them.

I will put the rest of this “paper” below the fold, so it is not taking up tons of space. However, I encourage you to read on. I am going to try to become explicit in understanding what critical pedagogy is. I won’t apologize for that. It will be technical. And yet, I don’t see what I write below as optional practice in the classroom.

Critical Pedagogy / Theory: as I see it today, February 2016

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Oct 292015

I am in year two of my PhD program, and am enjoying the process, learning, and exploration so far. Yes, I am only a little over half way with the coursework, but that is a great place. I was thinking, however, about what advice I would give to someone just starting his / her PhD. What books/resources would I recommend?

I came the realization that I would not recommend any books of content at this point, but two books on process. The first book is one that I have used heavily and it has saved me hours (literally, not figuratively) on formatting APA papers. The book is, “Doing your dissertation with Microsoft Word.


Why do I recommend this book to anyone starting a PhD? Because it walks you through step by step on how to create a template in Word that will contain every single element of APA formatting. Have a Header 1? Write the text and click the style for Header 1. It is that easy. It took me several hours and much tweaking to get it finally right, but when I go to write a paper now, I load the template, and BOOM! I am ready to write. I have all the APA formatting done in Styles, I have a page (that I delete before printing) that has definitions of the Styles, and all settings are done. All I worry about is text. This book has saved me so much time over the last three semesters.

The next book I would recommend is “Stylish academic writing” by Helen Sword.


This is a quantitative and qualitative (a mixed methods design) study of good and very bad academic writing made me take a hard look at my own writing, but also not fall into the trap of jargon and technical writing. Write with style, write with intent, and write so other people will want to read your writing.

Finally, I offer one piece of software to use: Zotero.


You can use Mendeley, or Endnote, or any one of the other packages, but use a citation manager ASAP in your studies. I started using Zotero right away, and it has made such a difference in the ease of writing, the ease of citations, and the management of my PDF’s and notes. Best of all, installing and using Zotero is free (unless you use the online storage option and exceed 300 megs of storage. More on that below.)

You can have folders and subfolders for your citations and PDF’s, and a citation can be in many folders at once, or in no folder. It can be tagged, categorized, searched, and using the Word add-in inserted into the inline and bibliographic citation with one click.

zotero2 (click to see full size)

The PDF’s are attached, notes are kept together with the citation (and the notes are searchable as well) and it takes one click to add most citations to the database.

This little piece of software has saved me hours as well. It is not perfect, you have to double check to make sure the Sentence case vs. Title case was done correctly. You have to double check to make sure the PDF was downloaded (sometimes it doesn’t download and you need to save and drag and drop it to be included.)

I ended up paying for the the 2 gig option. This was $20 for 1 year. 6 gigs is $60 and unlimited storage is $120. To give you some idea, I had 330ish citations in my database, probably 300 of them with PDF’s attached when I ran out of room on the free account. I end up hoarding the PDF’s and the citations, so if you are not a digital hoarder, you could probably go longer before needing to pay.

These three items have made being a PhD student enjoyable, fun, and much less work than the first or second time I was a grad student. I don’t stress over citations, I just double check them. I don’t stress over formatting, because I know the Styles I created are correct to the APA version I need.

I DO stress over writing. But isn’t that what I am supposed to stress over?