Careers in Environmental Science.
Jan 30th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Today, my Honors Biology students and I had the opportunity to videoconference with Dr. Don Webb at Quinnipiac University.  Don is currently running the Bristol Meyers Squibb Center for Science Teaching and Learning:

Old Saybrook resident appointed director
of Bristol-Myers Squibb Center for Science Teaching and Learning
at Quinnipiac University
Hamden, Conn. – Sept. 18, 2008 – Donald Webb of Old Saybrook has been appointed director of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Center for Science Teaching and Learning at Quinnipiac University.
The Bristol-Myers Squibb Center for Science Teaching and Learning is a Quinnipiac-based network of scientists and educators working to advance the art of science education from kindergarten to the university level. The Bristol-Myers Squibb Center for Science Teaching and Learning is one of only three such centers in the country.
In his new position, Webb will be responsible for overseeing the center, which strives to enhance science education throughout the state. The center offers workshops and support for teachers in inquiry-based teaching methods, providing tools which support student’s proficiency and achievement in science including interactive science education video conferencing with local high schools. In addition, Webb will offer science teachers and students opportunities for hands-on science experiences through Quinnipiac’s management of the Farm River in East Haven.
Webb holds a bachelor’s degree from McGill University in Montreal, a master’s degree in education from the University of Arizona and a Ph.D. in Biological Oceanography from the University of British Columbia. He has worked extensively on issues related to bioremediation and has been involved in international research projects on global climate change and the oceans.
Quinnipiac is a private, coeducational, nonsectarian institution located 90 minutes north of New York City and two hours from Boston. The university enrolls 5,400 full-time undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students in more than 65 undergraduate and 19 graduate programs of study in its School of Business, School of Communications, School of Education, School of Health Sciences, School of Law, College of Arts and Sciences and College of Professional Studies. Quinnipiac consistently ranks among the top universities with master’s programs in the Northern region in U.S. News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges. The 2009 issue of U.S. News and World Report’s America’s Best Colleges named Quinnipiac as the top up-and-coming school with master’s programs in the North. Quinnipiac also is recognized in Princeton Review’s The Best 368 Colleges.

Dr. Webb’s professional path lead him to his current job at Quinnipiac.  He spoke to the students about professional opportunities in this field.  His PowerPoint presentation was:


Please comment on the field(s) of environmental science.  Is it interesting? Do you have interests?  What has surprised you by the presentation?  Please feel free to add to, respectfully agree or disagree, but not repeat others comments.

Continued Anecdotal Evidence of Creative Expertise
Jan 23rd, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Last week I heard about the amazing water landing of the US Airlines flight on the Hudson River in New York City.  I was in the midst of many projects and didn’t have a chance to truly appreciate the magnitude of what had happened until I viewed a slide show of pictures.  The images are breathtaking, and I hope the link I am providing to this event lasts a long time.

What amazes me most is, in less than one minute, the pilot identifies a problem, creates a strategy for solution with multiple options, selects the best option, and finally executes the option in a near-flawless fashion.  This is what creativity and 21st-century skills is all about! (Well, maybe we don’t need to teach students how to crash land a plane, but we do need to give them the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to successfully navigate the challenges that they will undoubtedly encounter in their future.)

This situation makes me really consider the creative mind, in this case, the pilot.  Preparedness certainly favored this mind, and the expertise displayed in the choices made were enhanced by previous experience.  Sandy Kay (1994) defined creativity (specifically problem finding) in terms of an individual finding, defining, or discovering an idea or problem “not predetermined by the situation.”. This definition is problematic because it assumes there are no underlying or situated factors that might influence decision making factors. There are boundaries and parameters that are required for individuals engaging in creative problem finding and solving behaviors that are established by the field of study and the domain-culture (i.e., Csikszentmihalyi, 1990). These predetermined factors must surely influence the nature of the problems individuals attempt to solve.

IMHO, the pilot was capable of such a creative and successful act because he had the necessary expertise, coupled with a situation that mandated immediate action.  Without his experiences as a pilot and a safety consultant he could NOT have been as creative as he was. 

In terms of education, the lesson seems to be that we need to engage students in authentic experiences that challenge them to develop skill sets that allow them to solve problems well.  From a situated cognitive framework, becoming members of a community of practice – practicing both the trade and the thinking of professionals – is a necessary tool to become a productive, contributing member of a 21st-century society.

Do teachers “believe in” data driven decision making?
Jan 22nd, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

As teachers strive to increase the quality of instruction, more evidence-based practices have been implemented in classrooms. A recent trend challenges teachers to evaluate data to make decisions that will inform their instruction. My current district strives to collect student data information, but I think they still struggle with what to do with this information. We can collect it, but do we do anything with it?

In my leadership role, I have done my due diligence with my department to really think about data in meaningful ways. After all, as scientists and science teachers, we strive to use natural empirical evidence with our students to draw meaningful conclusions. Should we do the same for ourselves as we measure achievement data? As a “pocket” in the faculty community of our district, I think we are taking great steps to use assessment as a meaningful tool to help students learn.
I am writing about this, because over the past week I’ve watched an irony in all of this. Fortunately this irony does not apply to the teachers in my department. You see, the past week has been midterm exams. Many evaluate students using multiple choice questions. I feel strongly that multiple choice questions, if well written, conceptually-based, can be very effective assessment instruments. (I’ve written about this before.) Many teachers use machine grade sheets to efficiently correct the papers.  I have no issue with this.  In fact, I provided a machine (a very affordable product from Apperson), connected to a laptop which had data analysis software installed.

A teacher could log on to the laptop, start the data analysis software, scan his or her students’ exams, correct them, and have a full analysis of the questions in a matter of minutes.  This is effective use of teachers’ time.  They gather necessary information and learn about trends of student understanding.  Who could ask for more?

The irony?  No one, except my department members and two other teachers have logged onto the laptop. Teachers are correcting their exams without a care for the analysis of the data.  The machine grades, puts a score on their students’ papers, and they  walk away.   They are not collecting what could be the most valuable information of all:  the item analysis.  I’m sure there are lots of reasons why.  I’m also sure that none of them are any good.  Anyone who has ever collected item analysis data knows how valuable it is.

In a time when we say that data is so important, I wonder how many actually, truly, and really believe it?

Daytona Beach and multiple intelligences
Jan 2nd, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

My family and I have been enjoying a respite in Daytona Beach and I have had a chance to enjoy some downtime. This downtime is so important to the creative mind, because it offers opportunities to develop thoughts without the pressures and confines of the traditional work schedule.  I’ve often walked up and down the beach, with family, spouse, children, and alone just to admire nature’s presence.  Of course, if you look west, there is a plethora of high-rise buildings and extensive development.  But, walking on the sand and facing east, leaves an unadulterated view of the beauty and grandeur of Mother Nature in one of my favorite forms:  the ocean. 

Daytona Beach has a fairly active surf and the sand on the beach is peculiarly clean, without the too often found litter, flotsam, and jetsam that unfortunately crowd the pathway of a nature walker.  I am surprised how flat the beach is and how few shells are mingled within the sand.  Nonetheless, the intense, crashing, powerful sounds of the waves are soothing and relaxing. 

As you look south, down the beach, there is only one obstruction in the water, and that is the Main Street pier.  The peer stretches perpendicular to the beach, about the length of a football field.  There is a building in the middle of it, and is uncrowded with only a few fishermen seeking a catch.  I had walked past the pier, both over and under, several times, but on a recent trip, I noticed something on the sand.  The pier has created an unnatural obstruction in the sand, and has caused it to pool around the piers.  This situation often occurs when human interference, particularly in the form of jetties or groins are installed to stop beach erosion.  However, beaches move, whether we like it or not, and attempts to stabilize them nearly always make things worse. 

I had originally learned about beach movement in a graduate coastal ecology class I took with George McManus , a fabulous marine biology professor at UConn-Avery Point.   A video “The Beaches are Moving,” with Dr. Orrin Pikey discusses the phenomenon.  After seeing the video, and follow up reading that I’ve done, I am constantly amazed that human-imposed techniques are used to interfere with nature’s might.  If you’ve ever seen “Deadliest Catch,” you know that the ocean is a powerful force and a human-built structure really has no chance against the awesome power of the sea. 

So, as a scientist, I thought it was cool that I had the chance to subtly observe a human-nature interaction, but as an educator, it has me thinking about other things . . .

Many professional development opportunities ask teachers to think about their students from a “Multiple Intelligencesperspective.  The list of intelligences, currently at eight is:

  • Bodily-Kinesthetic
  • Interpersonal
  • Verbal-linguistic
  • Logical-Mathematical
  • Naturalistic
  • Intrapersonal
  • Visual-Spatial
  • Musical

Some characterize the multiple intelligences concept as a theory, but there has been little-to-no empirical evidence to support that claim.  Ironically (or maybe not so ironically) the conceiver, Howard Gardner, does not want is multiple intelligences concept used as learning theory. 

Some might consider my observation about the pier to be a naturalistic intelligence.  Now for a brief sidebar .  . . In the past, in the Estuary Watch Program, I’ve collaborated with two professors, Dr. Lisa Kaplan from Quinnipiac University, and Dr. Joe Crivello from UConn.  Joe had an amazing ability to observe nature, and know just where to dip his net in a marsh to come up with an amazing catch of grass shrimp.  Lisa, a more contemplative scientist, would often comment how Joe just seemed to have amazing hands – whatever he touched always seemed to work for him whether in the field or in his laboratory.

The more I think about this “naturalistic” intelligence, the more I think, that the naturalist, really just has an excellent visual-spatial acuity.  After all, naturalism, really is just a specific interest, and may not be an intelligence unto itself.   Every time I interact with someone who has clear naturalistic interest and aptitude, always seems to have excellent spatial perspective. 

As educators and researchers, we should be critical of that which does not have clear empirical evidence.  The way we educate children should be based on clear, evidence-based practice.    

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