Sportcoat jackets reflect situated framework of scientific research
Mar 13th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

This past week, my students and I attended the Science Horizons Science Fair, the Connecticut Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, and the Connecticut Science Fair.  Although we experienced enormous success for the wonderful projects they created, executed, and presented, what stands out to me most, is how these young men and women learned about themselves. 

I was speaking with one of my student’s fathers upon return from the JSHS, and I commented on how we had an opportunity to meet one of the professors that had provided feedback for the project.  Initially, the student didn’t want to approach the professor (shy, embarrassed, whatever), but I insisted he make an approach.  After speaking with him, the student, returning with a big smile, said that it was a good choice to speak with the professor.  He had a chance to thank the professor for his help.  More important, the professor conveyed how enjoyable and important he thought the student’s project was.  That kind of authentic value from a member of the community of practice easily helps justify the reason we encourage students to do applied research.  The student KNEW his work meant something, and moreover, he had effectively communicated with an adult.  The father and I spoke about how many additional skills students acquire that might on the outside not be so evident.

Fast forward several days.

Students are at the Connecticut Science Fair; boys dressed in suits and/or sport coats and pants.  They are having an awful time attaching their pinned name tags to the front of their jacket pockets.  After the judging we gather, several parents nearby.  We discuss this and that.  One says “I have such a cheap jacket, all of the pockets are fake.”  Other boys grumble with similar complaints.  Taking a deep breath, I explain to them (probably with a little laced sarcasm), that the pockets on sport coats come stitched up.  I explained that they needed to gently cut the stitches, and the pocket would open up.  The boys are in awe – the parents are belly laughing.  The father from the previous day comments, “You’re right, they learn all sorts of things in this class!”

Situated Understanding
Mar 3rd, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

As I continue to work with students striving to achieve independent research excellence, I often marvel at the level of specialized expertise that students develop and display.  Their ability to communicate sophisticated scientific content effectively and thoroughly is the true magic in conducting a research experience (for me).  So it gets me to thinking about this expertise and how situated it truly becomes.  Students won’t have this deep level of understanding without such an authentic experience.  Experiences that allow students to appreciate the tentative and creative perspectives of the nature of science with truth value allow for incredible growth.

These students are truly entering a community of practice and, as such, have an understanding and ability to communicate that goes beyond what gets taught in the traditional science classroom.  When they develop their curriculum there is more ownership, but more importantly, there is better understanding for what NEEDS TO BE known.  Students become better filterers and can better attack their information needs. 

The ironic part of this discussion is what really inspires it.  I run a Dilbert Comic feed on my Google Reader.  It’s a great distraction sometime during the day and usually brings a smile to my face.  A recent comic caught my attention:


I thought to myself, “Gee, you really have to know a bit of Star Wars history to be able to understand this one.” My experiences allow me to appreciate the humor of this cartoon. Here’s the scene upon which this comic was based:


I saw the original Star Wars in the theater with my dadin 1977 in the theaters.  Over the years, we’ve enjoyed many Sci Fi movies together.  These experiences, combined with my interests allow me to have a more sophisticated understanding of what that comic was trying to say.  I am thinking that it is very similar for students attempting to develop concept domain understandings.  The situated nature of learning allows for expertise to blossom when the student is task committed and open to creativity.  (Joe Renzulli, might also want me to identify above average ability to complete his 3-ring conceptionof giftedness.)  I think I buy into situated learning more and more every day.  The theory just seems to emerge so frequently from my practice.

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