The template for courageous middle grade teachers!

Hello teachers. 

In this inquiry-based framework I give you an approach for students to understand the larger questions raised by my middle grade novel.

Why am I doing this?

I believe that evil can only be vanquished

if it is understood.

When I say “it” I mean the fentanyl industry, from soup to nuts. Or, understanding the evil enterprise in its totality, from the making of fentanyl, to the distribution (smuggling), to an overdose by an addict. Yes, it’s an ugly business, but it’s not complicated to understand that it is all driven by greed. 


I believe students can be empowered to fight not only fentanyl, but street drugs generally. Through following this inquiry-based process they will uncover the callous, money-grubbing thinking that is blind to the tragic suffering of millions of families.

What are those larger questions?

From a middle grade student’s point of view their indirect or direct exposure to this crisis is probably hearing about an overdose…or having one! But Never Less shows there are far reaching implications. Never Less addresses questions about:

  • How street drugs are trafficked.
  • The connection to prescriptions
  • Gang involvement
  • Manufacturing street drugs
  • International supply chain

…just to name just a few. 

The fun is the adventure, the engagement is the inquiry.

Inquiry-based learning and socratic teaching is the approach I’ll take in your classroom. Along the way students will expand their vocabulary. New words open up a new understanding of the world they’re facing. Incorporating inquiry-based teaching methods into your curriculum. You probably know that inquiry-based teaching places students at the center of their learning experience, encouraging them to ask questions, explore, and discover knowledge independently. I believe that integrating this approach into your teaching practices can yield numerous benefits for both students and educators.
However, learning is enhanced when coupled with the emotional weight of an age-appropriate story like Never Less. They will love following Mindy and Pablo’s adventure to save her dad!
Here are some compelling reasons to consider inquiry-based teaching:
  1. Fosters Critical Thinking: Inquiry-based teaching encourages students to think critically and analytically. By posing questions and seeking answers, students learn to evaluate information, draw conclusions, and develop problem-solving skills.
  2. Promotes Curiosity: This method ignites students’ curiosity and intrinsic motivation to learn. When students have the freedom to explore topics that interest them, they are more likely to engage deeply with the subject matter. (See the course except below: Pablo is in a hopeless situation. What does he do? )
  3. Encourages Active Learning: Instead of passively receiving information, students actively participate in their own learning process. They become investigators–like Pablo and Mindy who research and act to solve the their problems. They become creators of knowledge, making learning more meaningful and memorable.
  4. Develops Lifelong Learning Skills: Inquiry-based teaching equips students with essential skills for lifelong learning. They learn how to formulate questions, gather and assess information, and adapt to new challenges—skills they will use throughout their lives. In the context of the lessons in Never Less, these challenges will protect them from succumbing to the lure of street drugs.
  5. Enhances Collaboration: Collaborative inquiry projects encourage teamwork and communication skills. Like Pablo and Mindy, students often work together to solve problems, share ideas, and learn from one another, preparing them for real-world collaborative environments.
  6. Tailors Learning to Individual Needs: Inquiry-based teaching allows for differentiation, enabling educators to tailor instruction to individual students’ needs, interests, and abilities. Pablo and Mindy come from diverse backgrounds, however their common goal to save their fathers gives the teacher the opportunity to form personalized inquiry-based questions around this subject.
  7. Increases Engagement: Students are more engaged when they have a say in their learning. Inquiry-based teaching can help reduce disinterest or disengagement in the classroom. Mindy and Pablo’s adventures provide a great launching pad for engagement.
  8. Aligns with 21st Century Skills: This teaching method aligns with the skills needed in the 21st century, such as critical thinking, adaptability, creativity, and information literacy.
  9. Reflects Real-World Problem Solving: Inquiry-based teaching mirrors the way professionals approach real-world problems. It prepares students to face complex challenges by teaching them how to research, analyze, and develop innovative solutions. (See the course except below: Pablo, alone in the Atlantic Ocean . . . how does he survive?)
  10. Fosters a Love of Learning: Ultimately, inquiry-based teaching can help nurture a lifelong love of learning, which is a gift that will benefit students far beyond their time in your classroom.

Incorporating inquiry-based teaching into your curriculum will benefit your students’ education and personal growth, which are well worth the effort and will serve them in the future. I would be more than willing to collaborate with you on implementing inquiry-based teaching methods, share resources, and work together with you to create an effective, engaging and enriching learning experience.

Thank you for considering me for a one day school visit
and giving me the opportunity to show my professional development approach to giving your students a fighting chance against street drugs. These evils are no contest to the empowered student.
I look forward to discussing this further with you.

Email me at:
or call me at (646) 919-0002

Curiosity: Pablo is in a hopeless situation. What does he do?

Except from Chapter 27: 

The Fish Factory.



[¿] – This indicates an opportunity to ask an inquiry-based question.

[≈] – This indicates an opportunity to explore vocabulary.


I’m shoved along by Sockeye, Bald, and the gang from the bottom of the ship up galleys and through thick metal doors till we come into a large, cold white space vibrating with industry and the smell of fish. The hum and clank of conveyer belts and packaging machines echo off the twenty-foot-high ceiling of pipes, bright lighting, and refrigeration vents. Men in bright yellow waterproofs handle the slithering silver three-foot fish as they process each down to shrink-wrapped slices on polystyrene platters, which they throw into boxes of dry ice.[¿ WHY WOULD A DRUG GANG TAKE PABLO TO A FISH FACTORY IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ATLANTIC OCEAN?]

We climb more stairs and come into a quiet and orderly observation deck. Bald shakes the hand of the bearded and rotund operational manager. I, of course, am ignored. Through the slanted window I look down on the processing plant we just came from.

“Come away from the glass, please,” the manager says, then lowers his voice and asks Sockeye, “What are they going to do with him?”

Sockeye points at Bald. I turn my back on them as if I can’t hear.

“He’ll be part of the program,” Bald says. The ops manager shakes his head and presses his lips together. “In the underage testing control group,” Bald adds, muttering under his breath.

 The manager lurches toward Jordan. “After my China shipment is off-loaded, we load the boxed fish. Nineteen hundred hours, back here, okay? Now get out of here,” he says, dismissing Sockeye, whose name is . . . Jordan? I make a mental note to find out where he’s bunking. [¿ WHY DOES THE AUTHOR MENTION CHINA HERE?]

I want my knife back.

The manager hands something to Bald. “The boy is your responsibility, so you two will share the guest quarters,” he says, stabbing Bald’s chest with a commanding finger.

I draw in a deep breath and rub my eyes. How can I be fish food if Bald needs me for his program? Could it be worse than death? 


Later, Bald prods me awake in the bunk he’s assigned me. “Hey . . . hey, kid, wake up. You hungry?”

I jolt upright. A cold fog clears my head as I remember I’m on a floating fish factory ship. I rub my hand over my face to wipe away beads of sweat around my mouth. Yes, I’m hungry. This ship must have all the services to support the men who work here—I haven’t seen any women. And this man, this doctor of pharmacology who I have been calling Bald—because he is—seems to be looking out for me. He’s prodded me awake and is treating me like I’m a lab rat for his experiments. [¿ WHY IS THE “PROGRAM” SO SCARY?]He doesn’t want to lose me.

But he will. Bald wants his family back.

“Did you find your wife and daughter?” I ask.

“You don’t know about them, okay? Go take a shower, then get lunch in the mess. Come to the observation deck when you’re done.”


My mouth is dry, and if Bald hadn’t woken me my growling stomach would have. The quarters, as the manager called them, are quite comfortable—not like Mindy’s bathroom, and this shower and everything is definitely not for the laborers down there on the factory floor. Doctor Bald carries some weight on this ship, which makes me dress quickly to get away from him. Peter’s phone is still there—tucked into my shoe under my sock, hiding in plain sight.

Bald gives me directions to the mess and explains that it’s not a mess [≈ DOUBLE ENTENDRE], it’s a kitchen and dining hall. “If you get lost, ask someone. Everyone knows where it is.”

 When I enter it’s quite tidy. The mess is deserted but for a couple of stragglers who ignore me and mumble into their soup. The cook, scraping down the short-stack plate, greets me in Spanish—much to my relief.

“Why are they letting you wander around unsupervised?” he asks me, speaking English.

“Where am I going to go?” I say.

“Why? You want to run away?”

Actually, yes—but I don’t say that. I do say, “I’m hungry.”

“Want a burrito?”

My mouth waters. “Love one,” I say. “But not fish. Can you do that?” I’ve lost my appetite for fish—since they might soon be feeding on me.

The cook smirks. “You’re in luck, my friend. I have pulled pork.”

“Oh yes, thanks. And after, can you show me how to get outside?”

He nods as he works on my meal. I sit on a steel chair at a long steel table next to his work station. Unless I’m going crazy, this cook is friendly—in a good way. [¿ WHAT DOES HE MEAN HERE?]But can I trust him?

“Here you go,” he says and places a large plate on the pickup counter. “I made them chimichanga style for you.”

The three lightly fried pork burritos sprinkled with lime and served with a side of fiery salsa, beans, and rice drives me almost insane it is so delicious.[¿EVER TRIED MAKING THESE? ASK YOUR STUDENTS…]

“Good?” he asks.

“Man, this is so good. Thank you so much, sir,” I say. “This is excellent.”

“Juan. Call me Juan. You?” he asks, pointing at me.


“Who are you with?”

“The doctor,” I say.

I can’t call him Bald and I don’t know his name. But it doesn’t matter.

Juan wrinkles his nose and tilts his head to one side. “Which one? The pharmacy guy?”

I nod.

He takes my plate. “This is not a cruise ship, Pablo. Be careful. But come. I’ll show you a way outside.” He leads me through the mess kitchen to a rear door with a keyless combination deadbolt pad, and says, “Nine-two-four-three, if you need to get in and I’m not here.”

Why would he say that? First, he tells me to be careful, but he doesn’t know Bald the way I do. Then he gives me a place to hide.

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