NEWS ITEM: Heaviest Element Discovered
Aug 28th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

My wife and I had a wonderful, thought-provoking discussion about government last night, and I received this wonderful anecdote, which represents so many individual’s belief system:

Research has led to discovery of the heaviest element yet known to science.  The new element, Governmentium (Gv), has one neuron, 25 assistant neurons, 88 deputy neurons and 198 assistant deputy neurons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.


These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lepton-like particles called peons.  Since Governmentium has no electrons, it is inert; however, it can be detected because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact.  A minute amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction that normally takes less than a second to take as long as 4 years to complete.


Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2-6 years; it does not decay, but instead undergoes a reorganization in which a portion of the assistant neurons and deputy neurons exchange places.  In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganization causes more morons to become neurons, forming isodopes.


This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration.  This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.  When catalyzed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, which has half as many peons but twice the number of morons.

Teacher dispositions
Aug 24th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I had the exciting opportunity to complete my open-water PADI scuba certification this past weekend in Dutch Springs, PA. My wife and I decided to celebrate our doctoral graduations by completing the open water program together. We did our coursework with an amazing teacher, Bruce. I had the opportunity to observe him and carefully evaluate the way he taught. Specifically, Bruce, although probably never had heard the term, had a strong understanding of androgony.

He was collaborative, supportive, casual, and well informed. He understood his content impeccably, but more importantly, he understood his students: adults who had elected to learn something brand new and exciting. He clearly recognized that these were new skills for students and that we would often struggle with them. However, he knew that we needed the necessary positive support to become successful.

When we went for our open water dives, Bruce switched with another teacher, John. Bruce conducted advanced open water dives, while John completed our open waters. John has a very different disposition from Bruce. He’s a bit more gruff and curt. That really didn’t bother me, because each person has their own personality. However, it became evident, that the gruff behavior crossed the line of appropriate discussions with adults.

John would occasionally chastise and ridicule individuals for not “doing the right thing.” It seemed to me that John had somehow forgotten that he was a great, experienced diver, and we were inexperienced learners. We certainly couldn’t dive the way he did and we WERE going to make mistakes. Those mistakes, should have been learning experiences for use, but rather, they turned into opportunities for him to criticize us. Diving was supposed to be a supportive, exciting, new opportunity, and it was slowly turning into a drudgery. Not to mention, we were customers who had paid a fair share of money to participate in this activity.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for me was when we were completing an underwater swim at 25 feet without any markers or reference points. This was pretty hard to do – it is very disorienting. My wife and I were swimming along and we must have been on an inclined path, because after a bit, we surfaced. We tried to submerge again, but had a bit of trouble. John had everybody surface and started to rant in a very demeaning and inappropriate way.

I informed him that I did not need to be spoken to in that way. I had a few follow up lines as well. It seemed apparent that John was taken aback, but that this had happened before. His disposition immediately changed, and I think he recognized that his behavior was no longer going to be tolerated. It’s a shame too, because we had gone to enjoy ourselves and do something together. We weren’t planning on having our experience depreciated by a poor teacher.

The following day back on land, I had the opportunity to speak with the dive shop owner. I informed him of my dissatisfaction with the experience. He initially started by saying, “Well, you have to know John . .. ” My response was that I did not have to know John. I was a paying customer and this was no cheap endeavor. After a bit of a discussion, I think the owner got the point. After all, he’s not the only game in town. The real business in SCUBA occurs after the training when individuals begin to purchase the expensive equipment for themselves.  We can easily pay someone else to provide us with high quality equipment with a better interest and attitude.

I think about this in terms of my teaching. I can be a very rigorous, demanding teacher, and still be compassionate. The two are not mutually exclusive. Often in public education, we are the only game in town. Does that give us license and liberty to not provide high quality, meaningful, and kind instruction? I know some teachers that act as that would be true. We can’t do that. Our students deserve better. They need to know their teachers care about them, but also demand at a very high standard.

Maybe John should think about that.

Invitrogen #3
Aug 16th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

My final day at Invitrogen reinforced my appreciation for science content.  I think in educational leadership we think a great deal about pedagogy and student learning, but it always seems to be from a global perspective.  We don’t do a good enough job thinking about individual disciplines and the important qualities that each offers for teaching and learning.  This is too bad, because it suggests that there can be more of an industrial style to teaching.  We talk about differentiation for students, but I think we need to talk more about differentiation for teachers.  Professional development – which is turning more and more to building-based learning neglects the importance of collegiality within disciplines.  From a science persepctive, it is so critical that teachers participate in the professional associations and programs like CSTA, NSTA, and the JSHS.  As an instructional leader it is my job to facilitate this philosophy.

What did we do today that makes me think about this?  We ran the protein arrays and learned the techniques – very systematic.  But then the important things that happened:  eating pizza with the staff of Invitrogen and talking shop. . . looking at the protein array data and thinking about ways to share it with students. . . saying goodbyes and realizing that many scientist are interested in helping teachers.  More important – there are companies that will facilitate this as a company philosophy.

Invitrogen #2
Aug 15th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Today was another enjoyable day at Invitrogen. We got to see the process of protein expression to protein purification. Two wonderful lab techs took us through the day. The most enjoyable part for me was spending time in the tissue culture facility where we had great discussions about fluorescence microscopy and discussed ways to design our own. Also of interest was the insect tissue culture strain the lab works with: no CO2 requirements – pretty straight forward. Would make an interesting strain to work with for student projects.

What stands out most for me, from an educational perspective was that this was primarily a demo day. We got to do pretty much nothing but watch. It is painful for a student. We need to constantly think about ways to engage students to participate in the inquiry. That’s where true meaning comes in. I think about the Chinese proverb:

“Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.”

Invitrogen #1
Aug 11th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Today I had the wonderful opportunity to extern at Invitrogen. Invitrogen is a major Biotech company, and it is the first time in a long time that I had a chance to stretch my science arms. After a long and powerful instructional leadership program, it feels nice to return to my roots. I am joined by two other science teachers. I have had the opportunity to work with Eileen (one of them) before. She truly is a wealth of knowledge and a thoughtful practitioner.

We had a great talk on proteomics and how the company manufactures protein arrays. I am glad to see that I can still comprehend well advanced biotechnology concepts. It was exciting to engage in meaningful questioning with the scientists.

We got a tour of the state-of-the-art lab and then worked with a scientist on a cloning/transformation experiment. The cloning experiment brought me back to my roots of the Berg Lab at UConn. Not much has changed in 15 years. Sure, some steps are now automated, but the science remains a steady constant. We then saw the robot scan and select colonies off of a Petri dish. This was amazing and leads me to my big idea for the day:

Information technology has become positively insidious in science. Without the IT, science moves much slower. With IT, realistic automation trivializes some of the laborious tasks that I (and many others) used to complete on the bench. This brings me to the thought of the growth of information. Not only is IT growing at an alarmingly fast rate, but it carries in its wake other disciplines just as rapidly. Scientists can more efficiently collect data and operationalize it for others seamlessly. The IT effectively manages and databases all of the knowledge. It allows connections to be made more efficiently. Really, an entire industry has developed to support science. It is the merger of science and technology that makes effective change.

Yet, IT remains a tool. This tool is only as powerful as the imagination of the scientists who use it and conjure up new and innovative uses.

From an educational perspective, it is the link between the core knowledge and the 21st-century skills that I so subscribe to . . .
Teacher Professional Development with a 21st-century feel
Aug 10th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I had the wonderful fortune of co-directing a 3-day professional development workshop for science teachers participating in Education Connection’s Connecticut Academy for Science and Research. I was excited, because first and foremost teachers were getting involved with research with their students and I could share some of my important suggestions for improving the quality of those projects.

But as I reflect on the week, what amazed me most was the learning dynamic. This was a small group – 6. We all sat around a conference table, each with our laptop. The host and other co-presenter, provided an unsecured WiFi. We all worked from our laptops, accessing the Moodle system as necessary, looking up relevant information as necessary. I did a couple of PowerPoint presentations – short just to get the conversation going. We worked on creating poster-sized PowerPoints – each made our own product, mounted it, and it was ready to bring back to the classroom. We collaborated, but each created our own work.

This environment, to me, exemplifies what we want to see from a 21st-cy learning environment: small groups, technology facilitating learning (not directing it), collaboration, problem solving, creativity, learning new skills that can be applied to content, critical discussions.

How do we continue to refine this learning style to our classrooms?

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