Philosophy of Education
Feb 27th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I’ve been working on my philosophy of education and thought I would post it here. It is always subject to revision and change based on my socially-constructed knowledge experiences.  I’ve used my 21st-century wheel here. 

            Too often, education is viewed as taking place in a classroom surrounded by four impenetrable walls, where knowledge is transferred from a teacher into the minds of students.  This didactic approach to teaching and learning does not provide young men and women with the opportunity to construct their knowledge and develop a conceptual understanding of content.  Teachers and teacher leaders need to facilitate the development of skills, dispositions, and knowledge of students to make them competent, contributing members of society.

            Secondary educators have such amazing opportunities to allow learning to transcend the classroom walls.  Frequently the expression, “like real life,” is used within the context of learning tasks provided by teachers.  Unfortunately these synthetic scenarios only partially mimic an authentic situation.  There is no reason that learning and learning context cannot be truly genuine.  Making meaningful connections with the community, whether that community is defined as a local environmental organization, the medical field, the computer gaming industry, or perhaps the local news media, is critical to provide an audience for the production of student products.  When students have an authentic audience who value the learning products they create, they take greater ownership and produce higher quality work.  They also develop the skills necessary for their future success.

Twenty-first-century skills

            Dubbed twenty-first-century skills, educators have developed a framework to identify the life skills that are necessary for today’s learners.  The skills and dispositions associated with a twenty-first-century learner include: critical thinking, problem solving, innovation, creativity, self-directed work ethic, collaboration, written and oral communication, and leadership development. Information technology (IT) skills are often listed within twenty-first-century frameworks, however it seems more reasonable to integrate IT skills as a bridge between core instruction and twenty-first-century skills because it is the emerging, common, fundamental link that connects them (see Figure).  The concept of twenty-first-century skills is really not novel; they make logical sense and have been long extolled by the education community.  However, they provide educators with a valuable framework to ensure they are providing their students with valuable learning opportunities.

Information Technology Bridging the Gap between Twenty-first-century Skills and Core Instruction  (LaBanca, 2008).


When truly considering the implementation of twenty-first-century skills in conjunction with core instruction, educators must reconfigure their instructional strategies. Most recognize that constructivist-based knowledge acquisition occurs through a situated learning schema where students not only learn from the “Sage,” but from social interaction with one another. Knowledge flow can occur in two directions. Therefore, students need to become producers of information, not just consumers. Implementing novel knowledge production in this bidirectional fashion certainly will cause changes to teacher pedagogy. It is probable that many educators will need direct and specific training and mentoring to implement this type of change.

Problem Solving and Problem Finding

            Secondary school teachers have long valued developing student problem solving skills

Indeed, problem solving has become an integral part of instruction across curriculum areas. Students are challenged to use a variety of strategies to identify problems and their implications, develop action plans, utilize a variety of relevant sources, information, and data to address the problems, and formulate solutions. Problem solving, a twenty-first-century skill, often involves the integration of other twenty-first-century skills like critical thinking, collaboration, and written and oral communication.

Problem solving techniques can be highly idiosyncratic. However, in perhaps too many educational settings involving problem solving, teachers provide students with the problem or question, and sometimes even the methodology for determining the solution. This approach may be due to curricular requirements, time factors, the limited scope and goals of particular learning modules, or the inability of teachers to effectively employ inquiry-oriented instructional techniques.

What, therefore, seems lacking are opportunities for students to problem find: to develop their own unique ideas for study. While problem solving requires primarily logical and analytical thought processes, problem finding is a creative process. Students benefit greatly from a more holistic instructional approach, which includes experiences in both problem finding and problem solving. When these opportunities become authentic, there is potential for great gains in student learning and achievement. Educators can simultaneously develop students’ creative and innovative potential while improving critical thinking skills.

Teachers and Instructional Leaders as Change Agents

Bidirectional knowledge acquisition as an instructional strategy is not a simple process. It involves a major rethinking and a paradigm shift for teaching and learning. Too often the educational enterprise has focused on good teaching.  While good teaching is important, it is not as critical as meaningful learning.  If there is a shift in focus from teaching to measured learning, there will be benefits to the educational enterprise, business and industrial communities, and most importantly, our students.  Twenty-first-century skills are critical to the needs of society, as we develop autonomous, self-directed learners. The only way this process can potentially approach success is through communication and sharing of ideas with all stakeholders. The collective expertise of many people, facilitated by informed leadership, can help to continuously improve the process where students become producers of information that is shared with an audience that transcends the classroom walls.

Students present high quality work
Feb 27th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I hosted my annual Science Symposium last night.  It is always professional rewarding to see my students present their results in front of a large audience of adults and impress them with their sophisticated, technical knowledge.  These students represented themselves, their school, and me in an exemplary fashion.  They are true innovators and capture the essence of autonomous, self-directed learners.  I am randomly selecting several of their presentations to feature here:

Toys of the trade
Feb 18th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.


I will be giving a presentation on tools for research tomorrow at Western Connecticut State University.  I am going to do a little show-and-tell.  This picture represents the essential (and perhaps not-so-essential-but-boy-is-it-nice) gear for educational research.  The products I selected where what I deemed the “best” at the time. Best sometimes referred to price, sometimes quality, sometimes availability. 



Second monitor

It is so much better to be able to have multiple files open AND visible at the same time.  The setup is particularly simple with a laptop


Eee netbook

A small, inexpensive ($350) laptop that goes anywhere.  No optical drive, no speakers, small monitor, 4 USB ports, 120G hard drive, 1G RAM


Traditional laptop

I keep a wireless mouse and a wireless number pad close by when using this.


USB 2.0 cable

I keep one in every laptop bag I have and at every computer.  You always seem to need this to connect devices into the computer.


Cell phone

A critical feature to my cell phone is that it has a jack for a wired headset.


Mini recorder control

RadioShack Part 43-1237 ($14.99).  Allows me to attach a recording device to a standard corded land line telephone


Wireless phone recording controller

RadioShack Part 17-855.  This is currently not listed on the RadioShack website, but I used it in conjunction with my cell phone, when a land line was not available. 


IPOD Touch

Great for listening to files.  There are microphone adaptors for IPOD classics, although I have not used this technology.


Digital camera

I am very partial to Canon products, but everyone has their favorites.


Digital voice recorder

Olympus VN-4100PC.  Very cost-effective option.  Be sure that you have a USB 2.0 connection on the voice recorder.  Some are stand-alone units.  YOU DON’T WANT THAT!  Current model is the VN-5000.


Digital voice recorder

Sony ICD-MX20.  This was the highest rated voice recorder when I began doing my work.  Although it was pricy ($300), I found it worked extremely well.  Be prepared to buy an mini-SD or memory stick.  Internal memory tends to be small!  Current model is ICD-MX20R9.  My recorder came with great software for my transcription work: Digital Voice Editor.


Flip Video Camcorder

Low (web) quality video recorder.  Runs on batteries, has a built in USB that plugs directly into the computer.  It is SO easy to use.


Wireless presenter

Targus AMP03US.  So maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, but this is just such a great little gizmo.


External Hard drive

Back up, back up, back up. This one is a Western Digital 320 G.  So easy.  You just have to remember to do this OFTEN.


Flash drive

We all have one, get another and back up!  They really are so reliable. Sue Shaw ran hers through the laundry and it still worked fine.


Voice-to-text recognition software

Dragon Naturally Speaking is the Cadillac product.  I used Version 9 – New version 10 is available.  You still have to significantly edit your work and it takes a while.  I ultimately decided that I typed fast enough to do my own transcription using Digital Voice Editor software.  Dragon software took about 4:1 time to edit.  When I started transcribing, I was about 6:1.  By the end, I was under 4:1.


I would be remiss to not recognize my wepage provider, BlueHost.  Some of the best prices, but more importantly, fantastic service and techical support:


I currenlty employ:  Two WordPress Blogs (http://appliedscienceresearch.labanca.net; http://problemfinding.labanca.net), LimeSurvey (http://surveys.labanca.net), MediaWiki (http://practicalstats.labanca.net), as well as my homepage (http://www.labanca.net) which I construct on DreamWeaver (part of the Adobe CS3 Suite).  Surveys for my dissertation were orgininally hand coded in HTML and PHP, but I wouldn’t now think of using anything but LimeSurvey.


Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.  Discourse is, of course, always welcome!

Feb 18th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

My wife and I enjoyed a movie last night, The Cider House Rules.  We are a bit behind the times when it comes to movies, but have been making a rapid comeback since we started our Netflix subscription.

A brief introduction synopsis from the Internet Movie Database:

Homer is an orphan in remote St. Cloud, Maine. Never adopted, he becomes the favorite of orphanage director Dr. Larch, who imparts his full medical knowledge on Homer, who becomes a skilled, albeit unlicensed, physician. But Homer yearns for a self-chosen life outside the orphanage. When Wally and pregnant Candy visit the orphanage Dr. Larch provides medically safe, albeit illegal, abortions Homer leaves with them to work on Wally’s family apple farm. Wally goes off to war, leaving Homer and Candy alone together. What will Homer learn about life and love in the cider house? What of the destiny that Dr. Larch has planned for him?

What stood out for me in this movie was the relationship of a teenage boy with his mentor and his desire to spread his wings and seek out his own life.  Homer, played by Tobey Maguire, is a young orphan who learns to be a physician, even though he never attends medical school.  From a situated perspective, he becomes a brokered member of the community of practice – receiving his cognitive apprenticeship from his mentor, Dr. Larch. 

Homer respects and honors the relationship with his mentor, but realizes that he needs to grow beyond the walls of the hospital/orphanage that has been his home his entire life.  He seeks new experiences as an apple picker and a lobsterman – potential careers that are not necessarily on par with his cognitive ability.  He does this because he has the desire to experience a more visceral life – to interact with others, to value hard work, and certainly the feeling of independence.

Dr. Larch struggles with Homer’s departure from his lifelong home, and at one point comments “I think we may have lost him to the world. . .”  Dr. Larch is conflicted with the desire to have Homer work in partnership with him and allowing Homer to experience the world without the constraints of pleasing and staying with him.

As a mentor, this is certainly the monumental challenge – to give a young mind the skills, dispositions, and knowledge of a discipline-domain, while allowing the student the freedom to grown and move beyond the experience.  We are often selfish, but the greatest gift we really can give our mentees is the gift of self-direction, self-reliance, and independence.

As a research teacher/mentor, I have been fortunate enough to see some of the long-term results of these relationships, and am amazed how these students, now doctors, scientists, as well as a host of other professionals, recognize the importance of the relations they had with me. 

It’s too bad Dr. Larch didn’t get to see Homer at the end of the film – if you don’t know why – rent it.  I’m sure you’ll see why I could relate to this film so well.

Publishing in Education
Feb 13th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I’ve started a post-Ed.D. writing group with my colleagues for the purpose of generating articles for publication. We’ve all done significant research, and now is the opportunity to share this great, original knowledge with others. We invited Dr. Karen Burke as a guest speaker last night.  Karen spoke so eloquently on the topic and I am podcasting her presentation here.  Dr. Burke speaks about a wiki that is currently by invitation only.  Please contact me or leave a comment if you need further information.

Writing with purpose
Feb 10th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

After dinner tonight, my older daughter Anna (6) said that my wife and I had mail, but she “didn’t know” who it was from.  It contained a “mystery” that we needed to solve.  Each of us had a different letter giving us clues to figure out who and where s(he) was.  We found that she had scattered a breadcrumb trail made of index cards all around the house and it eventually led us to her room.  She was so excited that we found her, but frankly, I am more excited to see what she had done.

You see, Anna had created an piece of writing for a specific, authentic audience.  She wasn’t writing within the confines of directed parameters of some adult, but rather what was interesting to her.  She was certainly utilizing age-appropriate higher order thinking skills, connecting two independent writing samples purposefully, all with a goal of having two individuals work together.  Of course there were spelling and grammar errors, but that is appropriate at this age.  What was important was the conveyance of a novel idea.

Anna was problem finding today, and in my mind, that is one of the most important creative acts in which an individual can engage.  These are the things we need to promote in education in our young children.  Sure we want them to solve problems, but I think we always must keep in the back of our minds, that the problems we ask children to solve are often well-defined: a well-known question, with well known answer.  When we leave our comfort zone and push the boundaries of ill-defined questions and answers that we don’t necessarily develop or know the answers, we allow our children (students) to become more thoughtful, autonomous thinkers.

My students and I can certainly learn from Anna’s example.

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