Extended instruction in one day offers challenges
Nov 25th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I recently taught a day-long statistics class.  That should be enough to make anyone shudder, but please feel free to keep reading . . .

As part of the semester teaching assignment I have at Western Connecticut State University, the course has an extended Saturday class – 7.5 hours!  Clearly planning for that length of instruction with adult learners was a challenge.  When I began thinking about such an experience, I was really careful to ensure that the day got broken up into parts and that the learners would have a chance for some experiential, tangible learning.  I also had the opportunity to bridge from their other course:  Learning and Cognition. 

When I was originally hired to teach the course, I spoke with the program director, who was also teaching the second course the students were taking.  We discussed the extended day, and I said that it would be really great (cool) if we could connect the two courses together in some meaningful way.  The Learning class has the students observe a teacher (or video tape themselves) and analyze the instruction using an instrument called the CPR (Classroom Practices Record).  The CPR examines incidents of higher order thinkingquestioning in both students and teachers.  Since students had to observe both pre and post, I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to analyze data.

Therefore, the topic of the day was chi square, a nonparametric statistical procedure that has many benefits in educational research, and direct application to the CPR data that was collected.  I did a standard, direct instruction introduction to discuss the overarching concepts:

Following the instruction, I had the students participate in a hands-on activity using M&Ms to determine if the package (observed) contained what the company said would be present (expected).  The students appeared to aggressively engage in the activity. 

For me, one of the most facinating parts of the lesson was the inputing of a live data sheet.  I had established a spreadsheet on my Google Docs account and embedded the link in the PowerPoint.  When we got to that section, students entered their data, and on the projector we could actually watch in real time as data appeared.  It almost looked like watching live election returns.  Talk about a classic example of reconfiguring!  New information was being provided to the class (and actually the world at large) in real time.  There was no waiting, students could acquire and use their classmates information as it actually came into existence.  Can you imagine learning based on class data without any lag time?

After data entry, analysis on the M&Ms took place and students were relatively able to work at their own paces.  I think I was able to provide some one-on-one attention, although I’m not sure if everyone got entirely what they needed.  Nonetheless, I think most (if not all) students walked away with a clear understanding of the chi square statistic, and certainly had a major portion of their CPR project completed.

I would be remiss to also add that I also brought in three guest speakers to discuss their research interests and how statistics helped them bring meaning and understanding to their passions.

Gaining Expertise
Nov 18th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I was recently checking things out on Craig’s List, when I saw a Catalina 27 sailboat available at a phenomenal price.  I have enjoyed Long Island Soundsailing for the past 11 years on my Catalina 22, but with the family more regularly joining me, I’ve been thinking about opportunities to upgrade.  Adding 5 feet of boat length translates into an incredible amount of space. 

I asked my friend, Paul, to join me on the excursion and we arrived in Milford to check out the boat, now dry-docked in a boat yard.  Apparently the boat has been abandoned, and they want to get rid of it.

Initial inspections look good.  The boat is very structurally sound.  I think the cushions all need to be replaced – all wet and mildewy.  Mast looks good.  Needs a lot of TLC.  We discuss the boat with the boathouse manager – apparently the motor may have seized.  What does this mean?  I’ve always had an outboard motor on my boat – it comes off; it’s easily serviced.  I’ve never dealt with an inboard before.  I don’t know anything about it.  In fact, I was blissfully ignorant about inboard motors. 

Changing hats . . . sailor-enthusiast to educator

A while back I wrote about expertise and student experiencemaking references to a Disney song from Pocahontas “Colors of the Wind.”  You see, students and teachers can be incompetent (I use the word incompetent, not as a derogatory word, but rather as an objective descriptor) and not even know it.  They can be conscious of their incompetence and want to learn more.  This Consciousness/Competence learning model (similar to Ingham and Luft’s Johari Window) provides an important framework for competency and expertise.

As students begin learning new concepts that they’ve never been exposed to before, first they have to identify that knowledge and skills exist beyond their experiences.  This is not a bad thing – it indicates to us, that there is always more to learn – we need to strive for continuous improvement.  In fact, who would be so boldly ignorant to say that he or she knows everything? 

As I work with my students who are developing independent science research projects, they begin to learn about limitations and need to make deciscions to navigate through those uncharted waters.

They might ask:

  • What do I know? 
  • Am I capable of doing this?
  • Do I have the necessary skills, expertise, access to expertise, money, time, or self-commitment to follow through?

Adult learners also have to make the same considerations.  In addition, they most likely think about how their learning will impact their job. In the case of teachers – how does the new learning impact teaching and learning.  Is it meaningful and helpful for me and students?

Let’s set sail and find out!

Offering professional development
Nov 11th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I was recently asked to present a professional development workshop to teachers on blogging. The blogs I work with in my classroom are very different from this one. This blog really is more of a reflexivity journal for me, while my classroom blogs really are based on students socially constructing knowledge together. I think my graduate students, who often view this blog, might differ on this description, as their comments reflect social learning here as well.

Here’s the presentation:

In any event, my workshop, which lasted around an hour and forty-five minutes began with an activity about asking conceptual questions. This part of the workshop took an hour. For me, this was far more important than the actual technology use. After all, if we talk about good instruction, blogging only becomes an instructional tool. Asking students meaningful, open-ended, ill-defined, multiple perspective/response questions are critical for developing thoughtful intuitive minds. A blog can asynchronously facilitate this.

So we’re back to the same ideas, which ultimately are critical: technology should enhance instruction, not replace or impede it. It should make learning meaningful, not burdensome.

This is a challenge in the statistics class I am taking, because the technology, in this case, SPSS statistical analysis software, should allow students to understand and interpret concepts. When the technology gets in the way of learning concepts, then real learning stops occurring. The software needs to only be a tool to allow students/researchers to make meaning of their questions – to help them validly and reliably answer them.

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