Critical Pedagogy in Practice (Not a word cloud)

A blog from Amy, Yan, Shadi, Kadie, Sevda, and Chris, with contributions from Dr. Nelson

I feel it is appropriate to tell the story of this wonderful drawing. As we were discussing what to do for our artifact, we heard the term word cloud thrown around by the other tables. We knew we could make the best word cloud out of any table, but we weren’t that competitive of a table.  How it came up, I don’t know, but we learned about why you shouldn’t buy berries when visiting Ukraine. Going down that rabbit hole helped us to realize that anything we do, there can be more to the story as to why. At this juncture we realized our artifact for critical pedagogy was going to be an example that shows how we all can engage with common thing/idea from our respective disciplines. So with that, we settled on this dwelling as a representation of how everyone can engage with an idea or object. Even the picture itself is a reflection on critical pedagogy, as we are only seeing it from the south side. Maybe we need to hear the perspectives of the people on the north side to know that there is a door into the building and a spacious patio for the community to gather on. Below the picture each group member will explain how they were able to engage with this idea from their discipline.

You might be thinking this about our picture.

I’m with Han. It may not look like much, but it’s got it where it counts. Although, it doesn’t do 0.5 past lightspeed nor can it make the Kessel run in under a parsec.

Engineering impact (Amy H): In the renovation of the building and the development of the rooftop garden, it is important to consider the broader impacts of this project. Where is this building located? Why is it being renovated? What are the requirements, constraints, criteria, considerations in such a project? Who has access? Who does not have access? What is the broader impact on the local community?

Horticulture impact (Chris): In the creation of the rooftop garden, needs of the plants need to be considered such as sunlight, temperature, and precipitation. Likewise, if any from of cross pollination is needed, will the location of this garden inhibit that? Could we promote insect pollinators by using certain plant species. We also must consider the need for a rooftop garden in the first place. Is there a reason the residents need to be growing their own produce? Finally, we can say that the use of plants makes the building more aesthetically pleasing. While we can focus on the production value of our plants, there is a value to the greenery that is created.

Landscape Architecture impact (Sevda): To create more equal environment for local community, we renovated a building and installed a rooftop garden on the top of this building. Because there are so many international people in that neighborhood and they have an access problem to their traditional food and also fresh and healthy food. This situation is called as food desert. Since this building is in an urban area and the soil is not suitable for most of the plant which we planted here, we installed rooftop farm even if we have enough garden space around the building. In terms of creating a better support for trees and shrubs, which we planted here, we installed intensive green roof system. To provide equality, whoever needs those plants in this community has a card to enter this rooftop farm. And the product is divided to each person equally. Local community can use this farm as an education opportunity as well. There is a small space in the farm, which people can come and plant themselves and learn how to plant and grow plants, how to maintain them. This application provides an education opportunity to everybody in the community. Instead of teaching sustainability, plants, and ecology, people have an opportunity to observe, have an experience, and learn by themselves. It can be seen as a part of critical pedagogy.


Physics (Shadi): We used solar panel to move one step forward to a sustainable lifestyle. Our sun is a generous source of energy which sends us 1000 W/m2 for free! The solar panels are designed to convert this energy to electricity through photovoltaic effect. Solar cells are made of silicon, which is a semiconductor. They are constructed with a positive layer and a negative layer, which together create an electric field, just like in a battery.

When the light photons from the sun hit the solar cell it makes the electron loose and as a result they start moving due to the electric field provided by our semiconductor. The motion of electron is what we call the electric current.


Entomology Impact (Kadie): We captured the true essence of critical pedagogy and all worked together to create a project that incorporated all of our backgrounds. My background is in entomology. We decided to add a rooftop food garden to our renovated apartment building. This garden will help supply food into the community and is an optimization of space since this building is located in a city. As these plants grow and produce fruit/vegetables, they will become more attractive to insect pests. My background knowledge of working with agricultural pest management will be needed to keep pests away from our food. In addition, we have decided to make our rooftop garden a pollinator-friendly area and plan to include bee boxes. Our rooftop garden will be a model for future renovated structures to follow.


If the stormtroopers weren’t all white

Well, I thought the title was funny. In a bit of Star Wars lore, the original army was of clones from a single person. After an uprising within the clones, they included more genetic diversity within the ranks to prevent future insurrections. Even the Empire came to appreciate a more diverse group of stormtroopers.

Following the Phillips’ article, I read one called “Three myths plus a few best practices for achieving diversity”. The article focuses on STEM fields, but it has a few points that I really like. When attempting to achieve a more diverse group, we succumb to the belief that there is prescription or a method for achieving this. I get where that notion may come from. In these types of fields, we seem to approach things very logically. If I do A, then B should happen. Or, there are procedures galore on how to do things. If that is how we approach trying to foster a more diverse workplace, are we truly seeking to do that or just doing it for the sake of numbers? I appreciate the approaches suggested.

The article suggests that rather than looking for a prescription for diversity, we should adopt certain practices that promote diversity. The three practices are to forget colorblindness, enhance belonging, and continue action. The one that resonates with me the best is forgetting color blindness. They suggest that we acknowledge the differences between people rather than pretending like they don’t exist. I appreciate that; but, this idea needs to be fleshed out more. I think there is a tension that needs to be held there. We need to appreciate the differences among each other, yet find a way to see everyone as equal. That sense of if we focus too much on our uniqueness, we forget the common things that bind us together. Yet, we don’t want to rob people of their identities. It is easy to say, but doing is harder. It will require lots of work, and there is no simple 5-step guide to achieving that balance. Much like it was suggested that to overcome our biases, we have to stop and think about things more.

Speaking of bias, I feel tricked by the bias test. However, it shows that even how unbiased we believe ourselves to be there exists some level of bias. I don’t feel we should beat ourselves up over that. These are things we have learned from a young age. I like the suggestion that we should think more about our biases, and why we have that association. It may sound a bit lame, but stopping and thinking seems to improve a lot of things. Maybe we just need to stop and think, what would others say about this? Even the “threat” of a more diverse group makes us better thinkers.

Admiral Ackbar Says


I’m going to try and mix attending the CIDER conference this past week with the blog topic for this week. They might mix like oil and water, but like one of the presenters said, “We use prompts to focus discussion; but, if someone wants to speak what is on their mind, they will have no problem ignoring the prompt to do so.”

I was happy to see the readings were mentioning Parker Palmer. As part of another class, we read Palmer’s The Courage to Teach. He talks about being an authentic teacher and showing your passion for the subject. After all, it is the subject that we are teaching that we are truly passionate about. It is how we express that passion to our students that matters. Not everyone can be that super energetic and charismatic in front of a class. It is important to find a teaching style that maximizes how one expresses that passion. If you can carry the attention of a class through a lecture, have at it. If you’re more of a reserved person, then finding a student centered style of teaching is perfect. It creates less of a focus on you, and more of one the subject. When looking for a new pedagogy to use, it is easy to get caught up in how cool they are.

This past week I was at the CIDER and there were a lot of really cool pedagogies presented there. The most engaging one that I experienced was reacting to the past. It is a role playing game using specific events in the past. You are given character sheets with information on your position and objectives for you to be successful. There are reading associated with event that help to explain the context of the event and the significance it had. You’re going to have to trust me it was fun trying to get people to believe that cholera was being spread through the water in 19th century London, and that it wasn’t literally falling from the sky. It was easy to want to do everything presented, just for the sake of being cool. That’s where I had to stop myself and ask, “Is this appropriate for this class?” I am all in on gamification, but the reality is that it isn’t a fit for the class I teach. What makes it even harder is knowing that I could make my own version of a game that would work for what I need. However, that takes time, and time not dedicated to my research is precious. I get the trap that is set by wanting to take the easy way out and just give students the information to have them spit it back.

This isn’t the blog post you’re looking for

It’s time for some wise words from Yoda.

The wisdom of Yoda is so true. He says the dark side is quicker, easier, and more seductive. For the sake of this blog post, that means giving out grades. It is quicker and easier to do. Here is a rubric and here is a score. That can be really seducing to do if you are a tenure track professor with a million other things to do. Take your grade and move on. Why did you get that grade? Please consult the rubric. We could probably figure out how to do everything on ScanTron bubble sheets so assignments practically grade themselves. I was skeptical when I saw the titles of the readings about doing away with grades. How else are we supposed to assess student performance? It is how I was assessed, and I turned out fine (That’s a favorite argument of mine for things). Besides, isn’t it important to have quantitative measures of assessment in this metric obsessed world we live in? That way we can prove we are good teachers, and students have a way to measure their growth? If we want to try not giving grades in earnest, we need to truly buy into it. This means we have to give up our biggest student motivator, the fear of a bad grade.

As I have recently been informed by those couple of videos that carrot and stick motivators only work for mostly mechanical tasks, then we would continue to operate this way? In the class I was a TA for last semester, there were lots of writing assignments and a final presentation. There were no tests or quizzes, which are, in my opinion, the primary motivator to look at the information. However, with everything they turned it was easy to tell they were writing to regurgitate information to get their grade. I am open to believing that if there weren’t grades on these assignments, they might have been more thoughtful in their responses. It would also make me feel better because I provided a lot of feedback on those assignments to help them to that end, which apparently is largely ignored. It makes me believe that to truly move away from information regurgitation learning, we have to go all in and not have a mix of. Unlike many of the other things, I think going gradeless is an all-or-nothing affair. So get your grading gum and patches, because it is time to go cold turkey on grades.


Is there really a dark side?

Here is your weekly dose of Star Wars related content for a blog.

It hurts my pride to agree with Langer so much on mindful learning ideas, because I despise her examples so much. I can get around her wad of gum example by saying it depends on who you ask and how they determine what a wads of is. It is to the point that facts are context dependent. One of my favorite subjects as a kid was history, and I was an eager pupil. Many years later, I started reading different perspectives on the history of the United States. It makes me sad to realize how distorted the narrative that I learned was, and probably still is. I know full well that I believed what I read was fact. It was in the textbook, it was on the worksheets, I wrote reports on it, and it was on the tests. I always got those answers right, always. I appreciate having read other perspectives of U.S. history, as it has reengaged me in a topic that I once loved. For me personally, it has helped me realize that other perspectives need to be listened to.

With that said though, I have difficulty in listening to everyone’s perspective. The class I was a TA for in the fall involved a lot of reading papers and having discussions in class. We would be sailing along smoothly then, inevitably, one particular student would say something that could have only made sense to him. We could ask follow-up questions, but I don’t think they helped us better understand where he was coming from. For me, my internal reaction was always why would you say that, and what are we supposed to do with this nonsense now? It was very difficult to ever offer any validity to the things he said, but we couldn’t ignore him. He was making an effort to be part of the conversation, and you can’t be mad at him for trying. We never really figured out what to do in responding to him. We waited out the semester, and were done with it.

New aged learning, the death of a master

Obi wan says “strike me down and I’ll become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”  I might be playing around with the context and the full delivery of the line, but maybe that is what we need. We need to be struck down, metaphorically, to allow our pupils to grow and flourish.

The crux of every reason why we should like lecture revolves around the lecturer themselves. The person has all this knowledge, wisdom, and insight into the topic at hand. Because of these things, they know how to transmit that knowledge to eager learners in a way that makes sense. I do believe there are times when lecturing is appropriate. However,  as we strive to change the way we teach, we have to let go or minimize the need to lecture. I don’t think that is easy to do as it is say. I can feel the offense that Douglas Thomas took when his class largely phased him out of lecturing. He spent years studying this stuff, and now they should listen to his wisdom on it. Or another scenario being, hey everyone I have this really great lesson. Oh never mind, y’all want to about your experiences in the game. I can also sense the uncertainty he may have in letting go of control of the classroom. It seemed that he had failed since nobody wanted to receive his thoughts in lecture. Lo and behold it worked.

I think letting go of that control and experiencing some uncertainty are the biggest challenges in trying to become a more student centered teacher. Not every case will be as instantly successful as this one. Thomas had a unique mechanism to work with by using Star Wars Galaxies. I do worry that instructors would have to go through multiple iterations of a class before they are able to find something that works. In this age of accountability, that may not be a luxury instructors are afforded. I don’t believe it needs to as dramatic as Thomas’ class, where he was nearly phased out of his own classroom, but it needs to be better than a straight lecture. Borrowing an idea from Parker Palmer, I think we need to hold the tension between the two to make it work. Maybe death of a master was a bit dramatic, but it worked well for the video.

The Last Gedi

The timing of everything is too perfect to not include this short bootlegged video. Basically sums up blogging for me. Maybe I will also change like Luke did in the movie.  Anyway, the real thought provoking content begins below. Please push play on the video though, it might give you a good chuckle.


If you are curious as to what Kuh’s high-impact practices are, please follow this link. I like the ideas presented. It seems like it would make for an undergraduate experience that would actually feel like you did something, rather than simply getting a degree to check a box on applications. The one idea I want to focus on is collaborative assignments/projects. The class I TA for, ecological agriculture, could benefit greatly if we practiced that more. There are many writing prompts to be completed, but everyone does them on their own. Then when we have class discussions about them, it is the few strong voices in the room that continue to dominate discussions. By having a collaborative writing environment, it could be possible to get more people to participate in classroom discussions since they have had to express their ideas to at least one other person.

Likewise, the tool seems like a good way to get ideas flowing for the papers that are assigned to the class. We read a lot of science literature in the class, and not everyone is familiar with those types of articles. It could be helpful in creating a better understanding. While it isn’t anonymous, it might be easier to ask questions when one isn’t in front of the class. Maybe that provides an opportunity for a student to answer a question rather than wait for the instructor.  I know it is about building the network and sharing ideas and experiences, but I also see it as a way off accountability for actually doing the readings that doesn’t involve the instructor threatening to take off points for not doing an assignment. I see myself incorporating this into the class and it seems to be a worthwhile use of technology.