Fall Quarter Wrap-Up / Winter Quarter Kick-Off

Brief Encapsulating Remarks

  1. Academic writing is hard, especially if you’ve grown accustomed for the last five years to posting whatever random 450 words pass through your head at a given moment. Writing even something as basic as a literature review was like trying to run a marathon on sixteen tabs of Benadryl.
  2. Too many units. Someone on the welcome weekend panel – none of us can remember who it was – told us all to max out our units. Never again.
  3. Blogiversity. I was talking to Jo Boaler last night (name drop!) and she admitted she didn’t really get the whole blogging thing. I said I didn’t really get the whole peer-reviewed journal thing. Then I recommended blogging in two ways. First, I showed her the time I asked you to help me identify a core practice of teaching and you came through with 100 (mostly) measured responses. Second, I showed her our ongoing soon-to-end-I-swear investigation of pseudocontext. I’m sure it would’ve taken me many months more to come up with my working definition of pseudocontext had you all not come through with so many examples.

Current Coursework

I’m putting in the minimum this quarter, units-wise:

  • EDUC250B – Statistical Methods in Education. Eric Bettinger. Required.
  • EDUC325B – Proseminar. Hilda Borko, Brigid Barron. Required.
  • EDUC396X/176X – Casual Learning Technologies. Shelley Goldman. With an emphasis on iPhone apps in education. This one’s candy. Here’s the syllabus.

Fall Quarter #GradSkool Tweets

Favorite Papers

These are the ones I gave my highest rating in my aggregator.

Winter Speaking & Workshops

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. Hi Dan,

    Glad to see you progressing nicely.

    I can empathize regarding literature reviews. In fact, I have a really good book on how to write lit reviews if you want to borrow it. Hit me up and I’ll send it to you, it did me wonders early on.

    Keep up the gradskool work!

    Chris Craft

  2. I also love the “favorite papers” list, and I’m encouraged that I haven’t read a single one on your list. That just means there’s more good stuff out there, right? I should look back now and make up a list of my own. If nothing else, it might come in handy in a year or two when I’m preparing for comps.

  3. I think one reason academic writing is hard is that your audience is just one person (who won’t be reading eagerly to hear what you have to say, but will be trying to finish reading a slew of similar papers in time to get to something more interesting). I struggled terribly writing for classes. Maybe if you posted your papers as blog posts?

    Thanks for the favorite papers list, I’ll come back to that.

    I always took the minimum number of credits as an undergrad and in grad school. Even then, there’s not enough time to savor the parts you like.

  4. Didn’t know there was a math conference coming in Naperville! Think I’ll sign up. Are you going to be around during the networking sessions?

  5. On the purpose of blogging:
    You mention the value to you (the blogger), which is relevant of course. But also relevant: the difference in audience!

    I presume that the number of working teachers who read teaching blogs is far higher than the number of working teachers who read education journals. (I’m not a working teacher – am I wrong?)

  6. This is a good format for an update (one of the most interesting I’ve seen for a while). Regarding the tweet “By the time you see a paper in a journal, the field has moved on” – that’s exactly why conferences are highly valued in computer science, unlike most other fields. Wish interdisciplinary scholarship/hiring committees would realize that. ;)

  7. Thanks for the list of favorite papers. I love (and had forgotten about), “A Lesson Is Like a Swiftly Flowing River.” I’ll have to read the others.

  8. ‘Regarding the tweet “By the time you see a paper in a journal, the field has moved on” — that’s exactly why conferences are highly valued in computer science, unlike most other fields. Wish interdisciplinary scholarship/hiring committees would realize that.’ They do, as long as the department letter reminds them.

    Incidentally, the archival conference tradition in CS is somewhat archaic now: in biology and bioinformatics journal publication delays (3 months) are less than conference publication delays in CS (6 months). The slow turnaround of CS journals is really not defensible any more. CS is no longer a fast-moving field.

  9. The thing about academic writing that always annoyed the crap out of me while I was doing it is that it is more about doing combat in the academic arena than it is about communicating.

    The literature review basically exists to clear the field and create a raison d’être for your own research. It’s just a way of framing your claim that “Other combatants in this field have failed utterly to account for the insights that I — and only I — can provide to you.”

    Unfortunately, it’s a prerequisite to getting one’s doctorate, which makes it a necessary evil. Heavy Sigh.

    However I love that you were able to give Jo Boaler a fresh insight into the value of blogging! Way to go, Dan.

    Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)

  10. Thanks for the papers! It inspired me to read “Does Professor Quality Matter? Evidence from Random Assignment of Students to Professors” again.

    I’m still puzzled about their finding of a negative correlation between professor effectiveness (student success in follow-on courses) and student ratings. The paper hypothesizes that perhaps student ratings reflect grades: if the students get higher grades, they rate their prof more highly. That puzzled me. How do students know their own grade? Are students rating their prof after they’ve taken the final exam and after they’re assigned their course grade? After re-reading the paper, I noticed that it doesn’t really say very much about how or when student ratings are conducted. Or is it that students are rating profs more highly if the prof teaches to the test, and ratings profs lower if the prof deviates from material that’ll be on the test? I find hard to know what to make of these numbers without knowing more about the situation on the ground.

    Do you have any insights on that paper, based on your in-class discussion?

    On your heavy schedule: yeah, well, all I can say is, I told you so. My sympathies, and hope this quarter is more manageable for you!

  11. You sound ten years younger than usual when you write about your grad student life. How interesting.

    But what I am here to say is not that! Since you are talking with Jo Boaler, can you ask her if she would do a Math Future event? I get a lot of requests to arrange that. She does not have to prepare slides (like you did) – we can just interview her. The benefit, compared to me emailing her, is that you can explain what a webinar is and why they are good for people, while you are at explaining the web.

    Maybe I am being addicted to complexity here http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ComplexityAddiction

  12. Adam: So……After one semester away, What do you miss about the classroom? What don’t you miss?

    Thanks for the prompt, Adam. That question deserves a lot more reflection than I can give it right now. Off the cuff, I’d say I miss most the daily interaction with students. Which is the sort of thing that I’m so obviously supposed to say it’s almost a cliché. I miss the kids for a lot of different reasons but one in particular is that it was spiritually healthy for me to be surrounded by people who don’t care even a little bit about the problems I care about and whose own problems are far outside my own experience also. They don’t care that I have twenty things to do before 5PM and I still haven’t returned my mom’s phone call. They’re worried about what the girl sitting across the room thinks of them or if she’s even thinking of them at all. Experiencing that diversity of anxiety was great for me. It helped me keep my own anxiety in check. Whereas now that my anxieties are shared by absolutely everyone I interact with, there’s no one to keep my assumption in check that my problems are the most important thing in the world to everybody.

    I don’t miss the schedule of teaching, which was always monotonous (with its nine-to-five-ishness that I shouldn’t complain about) and at times dehumanizing (with the bell that tells me when I can go peepee). I don’t miss the lack of time for extraneous projects when I was teaching. Even in my last year, when I was 40%, there was time for a WCYDWT media project now and then but that was it. This year, I’m traveling, speaking, working with interesting people, advising startups, talking to publishers, etc. None of that will be any good to me if I lose track of the classroom experience, obviously, but I’m happy to have the time now for more projects.

  13. For me, I have been out of the high school classroom for four years now… Sometimes I think I am starting to forget the challenging nature of the job. I miss greeting kids by the door, making a student smile who seems to need some cheering up, having a student who hated math actually come to a point where they say “Math is okay”, seeing a student willing to take a risk and share a new idea on a class problem… I definitely don’t miss waking up with my hair on fire realizing I have 50 things to accomplish before all of the early morning help seekers arrive at my door, and the “Sunday night Grumps” when I face the pile of papers I swore I would look at before Sunday night. Teaching is a challenging job and I think it is important that those of us outside the classroom don’t lose touch with those challenges. I agree with what you said, If we find ourselves making suggestions for the classroom but have lost site of those challenges, we aren’t really helping anybody… Recently, a new teacher friend of mine wrote something that I thought encapsulated the “heart of a teacher” that I never want to lose touch with. He wrote:

    “I do not claim that any of this will be easy. There is still much about teaching that I do not know and can only learn by more experience. I know that I will make mistakes; I know I will make plenty of them. But I also know that I will continue to grow and learn from each mistake that I make and, at the end of the day, I will reflect on what worked and what failed and formulate a different plan of attack for tomorrow. I will continually seek out opportunities to learn from my co-workers and others in order to improve my instruction. But I also know that teaching is something I was meant to do and I look forward to the daily challenges that it will bring.”

    I think whether one is a first year teacher or a thirtieth year teacher, a PHD student or educational researcher, this is the spirit of the profession we need to hang on to…