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.

calvin-hobbes-memorizing-is-boring

The common theme of memorizing is so frustrating.

calvin-hobbes-school-is-not-about-interest

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

calvin-and-hobbes-paying-attention-in-class

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.

zits-consume-hold-regurgitate

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.

foxtrot-learning-math-at-the-last-minute-b4-finals

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?

or

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.

calvin-and-hobbes-is-this-why-learners-are-unmotivated

Aug 242016
 

#BlAugust is going strong so far. I am digging the morning writing for sure.

MTBOSBlaugust2016

Yesterday I was taking a moment after work to look at my Twitter feed and I saw this hashtag #ObserveMe with a picture of a sign outside a classroom. It was this pic.  (you can click on any picture to make embiggen them if you want to see the details.)

observeme pic 1

I know it was this picture, because it is without a number in my folder. I got excited! How powerful is this one simple sign. It tells every person walking in the room that you WANT their feedback. You want them to come into your room. You want them to talk to learners, to watch their interaction, and to give you feedback.

How amazingly powerful.

I followed the hashtag, and found out it was started by Robert Kaplinsky. I am not surprised. It is a powerful statement of changing classroom culture.  Here are some more examples I thought were just amazing.

ObserveMe 3  ObserveMe 5  ObserveMe 7

Notice the statement of what classes are taught when. That way any teacher can chose what topic to watch, or they know what topic to expect as they walk in. I also love the QR code connected to a google form. I scanned them. They work. Finally, the third picture has both a QR code for electronic data collection as well as the forms right there next to the code for ease of use. There is no excuse not to give feedback in Ms. Rani’s classroom.

But how does this change culture?

You cannot be a teacher who shuts their door and ignores the world with this hanging outside your room. You are inviting the world in.

But you are not just inviting the world in, you are asking the world to look for specific things; questioning techniques, understanding, engagement, interaction, problem solving, and ‘teacher as facilitator’ are all things mentioned.

You are asking the world to talk to your learners. You are asking the world to thoughtfully think about the classroom environment, and to evaluate what is going on in your classroom.

How powerful.

But, flip this around. What does it tell the LEARNERS who are passing this sign on the way into your room?

The learners know that at anytime, anyone could be walking in to look for these things. It tells the learners that these are activities or behaviors that you think are important. It tells the learners that you value being a “facilitator” not a “lecturer” and that you are holding yourself accountable for those values. (Yes, Ms. Garner I am calling you out on that because I love it so much.)

We also should not be stagnant on what we look for. As the semester continues, the ‘look fors’ must change and adapt as well. The #ObserveMe flyer in the window below makes that explicit.

ObserveMe 6  ObserveMe 4

Okay, I am in love with this idea and am sharing it widely.

BUT, how can I apply this to my work at the University?

If I just talk about it in class, then who cares. With that in mind, I have put together draft 1 of my sign.

ObserveMeUNR

It will definitely get the QR code treatment. I will have to remember to put it up and take it down every class. Wouldn’t that really freak out some professor who didn’t see it there and someone walks into their room to observe them.

I also have two other Master Teachers in the program to sell in the idea who will be in the room with me. I don’t mind throwing myself under the bus, but I won’t throw them without their permission.

I just figure, if I am going to talk about this at the University level to my preservice teachers, I better be willing to walk the walk if I am going to talk the talk.

What do you think? Are my goals reasonable?

Aug 222016
 

A late in the day #BlAugust post.

MTBOSBlaugust2016

Yesterday Jennifer tweeted this at me, and I teared up a little.

And the tweet it refers to is this one:

You see, the High Fives post is one of the most popular posts I have ever written. It was a spur of the moment, almost didn’t do it speech (kind of like the TMC16 speech on overcoming your fears) that has resonated through so many people.

For a long time, I kept track of the people tweeting and blogging about High Fives. I know I missed some. I counted over 20 different individual who tried the High Fiving, and said it changed their classroom culture for the better.

Jennifer tweeted and wrote about it a full year! after I wrote about it. How often does that happen? To me at least, not very often.

To say I am embarrassed and honored by the mentions is an understatement.

To say I am overjoyed by the fact that learners in over 20 classrooms are experiencing something different because I spoke up is exciting and amazing. We need to spread the high five energy.

So, to help more teachers and to spread the power of the high five, I wanted to revisit the video:

My original post: http://blog.mrwaddell.net/archives/1431. The video is short, only 4 minutes. In fact the last 20 seconds can be ignored as it was an announcement for the conference.

You are doing something awesome. You are walking in my classroom. Be awesome. Connect with your learners. Give them energy, and receive the energy in return.

High five to you all!


Edits added:

After I posted this article Lisa Henry posts about All The Stuff I’ve Stolen From The MTBoS. High Fives are the first thing on her list, and she explains why in a different post.

 

Jul 282016
 

Yesterday I posted about deciding if teaching really was a dichotomy between agency or conformity, and I decided that yes, it really is a dichotomy. It is impossible to be a teacher and straddle the ideas of teaching to change the world or teaching to reinforce the world as it is.

And then Andy Pethan hits me with this:

I wonder if you can put student thinking and classroom behavior on independent axes. For example: you want to be a +10 on creating student agency in your classroom by encouraging thoughtful questioning and being approachable about nearly everything as the adult in the classroom. At the same time, you want a consistent environment that matches the reasonable expectations and rules of the entire school (potentially a -10 depending on the school). You can be open to discussing rules with students and offer a pathway that may lead to changing your rules or advocating for students who want to change a school rule (encouraging agency), but doing this while continuing to live within the rules (conformity). Over the past 5 years I have become both a more consistent school-rule and personal-rule enforcer while becoming better at encouraging students to question, wonder, and appropriately push back in the academic and rule-realms. I feel like this is the direction I want to keep moving in, but I’m curious to see where this discussion goes.

Because I am kind of a little mathy and like visuals, I turned that question into this graphic:

Axes of behavior

To which the question then becomes, does “rule following” end up on the x-axis (B position) or y-axis (A) position. And if rule following ends up on the B axis, then can a teacher be in the middle somewhere or only at the two ends. OR, if rule following ends up on the y-axis, can a teacher navigate the line in a positive sloped direction (whatever that slope may be).

Option A or Option B?

My personal take on this is that in this case, we are not talking about a dichotomy, but a continuum. It is clear to me that a teacher can be in the middle. A teacher could have some very strict rules of behavior (no bubble gum for example), but allow learners to sit on the floor or wherever is comfortable for them to learn. A continuum is possible in this case, where it wasn’t possible in the case yesterday.

Therefore, the first question is where does rule following land? Is it opposed to agency, or is it compatible with agency?

  1. Can a system  start off learners while they are young and teach them to be strict rule followers, and then as the learners age and develop more maturity teach them to be questioners? (This would be a negative sloped line from position A to the right instead of the positive I drew initially, OR it would be the blue dot moving from the left to the right each year.)
  2. Can a system start off with equal parts rule following and agency, and balance the two in the middle year after year while the learner is in school?
  3. Can a system stay fully in the rule following (okay, that is easy, of course. See North Korea, or some of the hyper-strict charter schools here in the US.) Do we want that? We are currently allowing it to occur here. Jose Vilson at TMC16 shared the fact that in New York, some of the charter schools are so strict that children have literally peed themselves while trying to learn math facts.
  4. Can a system stay fully in the agency mode from kindergarten through 12th grade? What would that look like? Maybe more like the High Tech High‘s or along the direction Chris Thinnes advocates for.
  5. Can a system have certain rules that are followed consistently, but then teach learners to question everything else?

Those are the five options I see. Honestly, I don’t see how the positive sloped line is possible. How can anyone teach simultaneously to be more of a rule follower and to be more of a questioner. That is ruled out.

I think this conversation is one that every single teacher has to have for themselves. I know for myself (and I speak only for myself on this) I fall into the #5. My personal graph looks like this:

Personal question v rules

I placed the line at 1 for a reason. I had 1 rule in my classroom that I enforced.

“Your behavior must contribute to the learning of every person in the room, including your own.”

That’s it.

I was pretty comfortable with pretty much anything else as long as everyone was learning and could show they were learning. My classroom was loud. It had learners sitting on the floor. It had learners looking at notes or Desmos on their cell phones (and yes, that means they occasionally did a little Facebook or texting).

This is how I personally balanced the two goals. Having a classroom that was conducive to everyone’s learning, AND teaching agency and allowing learners the freedom to make decisions for themselves.

I think I had lots of room for improvement. I think I made mistakes, but I think as teachers, this balance is crucial. Would this work at the Elementary level? I don’t know. Would it work in Middle School. Again, I have no clue. Did it work for me in high school? yes. Not always. It burned me. I had learners push it too far. But I was able to pull them back in the end.

I don’t know if that answered Andy’s challenge, but it does clarify his question for myself. I look forward to hearing from others on this issue as well.

Jul 272016
 

Brian Lawler posted this today:

This statement hit me in the feels, as it is intended.*** Then my brain took over. I realized I should question first whether or not it is really a dichotomy. Does it have to be one or the other? Can a teacher, no, stop. Let me be clear. I am not calling out anyone. I am not directing this question at anyone but myself.

Starting over. Can I teach with one foot in both camps? Is there a continuous line between “teaching conformity” and “teaching to change the world?” What would that look like?

Capture

Put another way, if this is our scale of -10 to +10,  is it possible to be at a neutral 0?

I know teachers like to tell themselves that they are at the +10 all the time. I did for the first few years of teaching. I was doing great things, I was teaching math dog-gone-it!

But was I really? Was my practice and my vision aligned? I don’t think so. I think I told myself I was at +10, but was really down around -10. What changed? When did it change? When did I realize that the vision and the reality were not aligned? And back to the original question, is it a dichotomy, or is it a continuum?

No feels here. No emotional response. My heart says “go positive, all the way.” But this is a brain question. What would a zero look like in the classroom?

I would be punishing non-compliance sometimes? So on some days I expected compliance, but other days not? Or is it on some subjects compliance, and other subjects not? That just seems to me to be a recipe for disaster in the classroom. Learners have no idea what to expect every day when they walk in.

The idea of memory and memorization is interesting. Do I reinforce memorization of some topics, but not others? So you have to understand and be able to explain how to transform quadratics into all 3 forms (standard, intercept, and vertex form) but you have to memorize the translation rules and just spit the rules back to me with no conceptual understanding.

Huh?

I think a lot of topics are presented as dichotomous when there are gradiations between the two sides. Politically this is very true. Very few people are actually Democrat or Republican, but in truth some version of purple in between. We stereotype the “other” into the two camps, and yet sit down and have conversations with friends and family (well usually we do.)

But is there a middle ground here?

I don’t think so.

I think we have to choose one or the other. As math educators we especially must chose. Mathematics is too often a gatekeeper that reinforces social stereotypes and serves as the barrier to higher education. Read the works of Danny Martin or other educators, or follow the #Educolor hashtag if you need evidence for this statement.

I don’t see any cogent arguments from the “recreating what is” side. The status quo is broken, and it is breaking a large segment of our population. I am part of the status quo, or I am part of the agency that transforms the status quo into something new.

So to answer my question, “Is it really a dichotomy?” I have to answer with a yes. It is one, or the other. I don’t understand how there can be a continuum on this issue.

I am fully open to discussing it. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I haven’t been reading the right articles. If there is evidence to the contrary, please let me know. In the mean time, as a teacher educator, a teacher of teachers, this quote will be front and center in my thoughts.

[As an aside, I am building the reading list and teaching the ed theory class in my program this semester. Yes, this will be an issue brought up in the theory of education for math and science teachers. It is too important not to discuss.]

 

*** Brian sent me the link he was paraphrasing from. The original article is: https://bctf.ca/publications/NewsmagArticle.aspx?id=21678

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 http://www.nevadareportcard.com 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 http://www.mathedleadership.org/member/docs/resources/positionpapers/NCSMPositionPaper16.pdf

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 http://nevadareportcard.com

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.”

planecrash

Boom.

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.

Feb 202016
 

As I have been examining my practice through the lens of Critical Theory, I asked myself how would I teach differently now than I did even a year ago? Great question.

If-you-change-the-way__quotes-by-Wayne-Dyer-40  It is time for me to look at AP Stats differently.

The last year I taught AP Statistics, I created great connections through the entire year on each topic, how each piece fit together, and how the end results started from the beginning topics. I carefully planned it so that every element of the year connected. And then, after the AP Exam, we had 4 weeks where I challenged the learners to come up with a question, do the research, and answer the question. Topics ranged from bullying, treatment of gays in stores, to trash on the side of the road. A huge, broad range of topics.

But, we did not do anything about those topics. We didn’t share them with the community. We didn’t have time. We collected great information, but we did not ACT on it.

If I teach it again, the first week is answering the following questions.

  1. What problem in our community do you wish to solve?
  2. Is this problem something on which we can we collect data?
  3. What data do we need to collect before we can formulate a solution?
  4. Share with class.
  5. Are there any similarities in problems?
  6. Can we consolidate any of the ideas?
  7. Discuss.
  8. Revisit 1 – 7 until we can not do 6 any further.
  9. List the topics for the class.
  10. Form groups for each topic based on your own interest and your own passion.

After that first week process is over I would think we have between 2 and 7 different projects in each section. I would have to be flexible and let the class drive the number and type of projects. The only thing I can think of why to reject a project is if we would have to deal with FERPA violations, incredibly sensitive topics like rape or incest, or other legally sensitive issues.

This is the truly difficult part of the teacher’s role, is playing the gatekeeper. I would want the learners to make decisions on what they want to study, but I know that there are some topics that are not researchable by high school learners. We don’t have an IRB to do experiments on people, for example. But we want some groups to do experiments. So I would need a committee of people at the school willing to be the final Yes / No on some topics. This is actually true to the real practice of research.

After we have decided on the specific topics, then we start into the process of answering the following questions:

  1. What types of data are there in your question?
  2. How do we display those types of data?
  3. How do we collect the data in the most scientific manner?
  4. etc, etc, etc.

These are questions that come out of the AP curriculum word for word. The only difference is that I, as the teacher, will be phrasing the lessons in the context of their projects. We will be learning from the different groups why we need to know about categorical and quantitative data. We will be learning from the different groups why bar graphs work for one type, but not for another type, and we will have to dive deeply into cluster, stratified and every other type of sampling in order to come up with the BEST way of collecting data for each project.

The goal now is to dive into the AP Stats curriculum deeply. We won’t need to come up for air because we will be inhaling the vapors of our excitement for our project. (wow, that metaphor was tortured, wasn’t it?)

  • What if a learner wants to switch? I don’t think there is a problem with that. Let them choose their enthusiasm.
  • What if an entire group decides they are more passionate about different other projects? Great, then we dissolve that research group and form a new one.
  • What if they decide to start over with a new question 1/2 way through the year? If they really want to go backwards, and redo all the work they have done on experimental design, research design, question creating, data analysis, and all of the rest of the topics then why stop them from relearning the material in a different context? Granted it is a ton of work, but they are learning, relearning, and taking charge of their education on a topic they are interested in. Why block them artificially?

Second semester is about finishing probability so the learners can moving into confidence intervals and tests. This is where the decision making comes into play, and as the learners become confident in this area, they will be making decisions on their topics.

Those last four weeks of school when I used to do projects would now be turned into “Action.”

  • Meet with the administration or counselors of the school about the data collected and share the statistics and conclusions. Work with the them to come up with a plan to solve problems, or at least come up with a plan to work on solving problems.
  • Write letters to the newspapers and media.
  • Write letters and meet with politicians.

The end goal is to allow the learners to drive the content of the class. They would be much more engaged in their own questions than any question I could come up with.

They would still be learning 100% of the AP Statistics curriculum, but now they would be more engaged and see the purpose for each “module” of the curriculum in a more solid, substantial way. This should help with AP scores (but I have no data to support this).

And in the end, hopefully it would make the community (however the learners bounded this) better.

What it would take from me is a huge willingness to give the learners power over their own education. They would have the ability to make decisions, and be allowed to follow through on those decisions. Some of those decisions will not turn out with positive (statistically speaking) results. They will get negative results. That is real life.

It would take time to plan, to organize content around their projects, and to think deeper about the connections. It would take time to connect with admin and parents to explain why I am doing this. It would require the admin of the school to be willing to allow learners to have the power.

It would absolutely weaken the oppression of the learners done by curriculum designers.

I want to do this. I am not in a classroom any more to do it.

Is anyone willing to partner? I will help. I will support. I will do everything in my power to make your life easier while doing this.

I think it is worth doing.

Feb 192016
 

Learning is funny. There is an entire realm of things to know out there in the real world. Yet until you start looking, it is so easy to gloss over all of those things.  I started looking with a more  critical eye at the world and at my own practices, and realized that I was not meeting my own objectives of inclusiveness and change. This post is an extension of my last post: My Critical Pedagogy / Theory Journey.

Early this week, Adisa Banjoko and Arash Daneshzadeh posted an article named: Why Don’t The Black Kids Like Math and Science?: Easy Answers. I was intrigued. They promised easy answers, and I doubted there were any such things. I suggest everyone read the article. I will have my learning pre-service teachers read it this semester as well.

easy-button

Have you read their article? Go do it. It is worth it. Just promise you will come back.

There are two paragraphs that explained  teaching pedagogy I want to point out.

I explained to one of the math teachers, a White female, how crucial this was. “If your students are mostly Latino then you need to tell them about how the Mayans invented the concept of the zero several hundred years before the people of India and they had no contact.” I talked about how Aztec and Mayan architecture is something that should be used to as a cultural bridge for them to understand their legacy in math and science.

Her vacant eyes she blinked in hollow despair “But I don’t know all that stuff.” Her unwillingness to pursue new racial and cultural paths to math told me she was not interested. She still struggles to keep her students engaged to this day. via (Emphasis mine.)

Ms. Banjoko and Mr. Daneshzadeh give resources that will take any teacher from zero to … well, not a hero but at least a sidekick, pretty quickly. There are so many resources offered in the post that it will take me hours to read them all, but I am in the process of doing just that.

But, think about the teacher in the quote above. “Her unwillingness to pursue a new racial and cultural path…” Ouch. How many teachers are willing to take on the task of teaching content AND teaching culture? That is the problem the White female teacher in the post had. This teacher defined her job as only teaching math.

Her job, my job, is not to teach math, it is to teach PEOPLE. What is the best way to teach people? Well, it depends upon the person, really. That is the point.

The New Teacher Center created this meme several weeks ago. I saved it because it spoke to me.

3 habits

Why? Because of the statements embedded in it. “Seek growth opportunities, take responsibility for learning.” Hmm, the White teacher above did neither. They had an opportunity to grow AND take the responsibility for learning by learning themselves. That is a no brainer.

“Take risks and try new strategies.” Holy Hell Batman, the authors of the article handed the teacher a new strategy laid out in detail. The White teacher above walked away.

Ms. Banjoko and Mr. Daneshzadeh promised easy answers in their post. I am not confident the answers are easy. I think it takes a lot of work to learn about the individuals who are in my classroom. I think that work is mandatory, however. It is part of teaching people. It is part of leading while following, to paraphrase Freire.

If we want to have classroom where we are not subjugating the learners, where we are not oppressing them and holding them back from learning, we need to start celebrating them and giving them back the power that has been stripped away from them.

Reading the multitude of links provided by Ms. Banjoko and Mr. Daneshzadeh is a first step. Learning how that applies to the learners in the room with you? That is a great second.

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.

quote-we-cannot-all-succeed-when-half-of-us-are-held-back-malala-yousafzai-59-1-0176
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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