Jul 28th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.


The continued impact of Web 2.0 “the read-write web” continues to have a profound impact on instructional practices. I have commented about how educators need to reconfigure their teaching approaches and decided to try a new (for me) strategy at a recent presentation I did.  I was presenting some of my research about categorizing science fair projects based on the nature of the data and outcome.  This was a combined session platform presentation – basically a lecture to an audience.  In this format, the audience is expected to be passive in learning style.  They listen, consider, and at the end, after the presenter has finished, perhaps ask a few questions.

When considering the nature of socially constructing knowledge, this is probably not a great learning strategy.  Individuals need to interact, think, and assimilate ideas.  But how can this be done in a traditional format, where I am expected to be a “sage-on-the-stage” instead of a “guide-on-the-side”?

One possible solution, which I’ve heard about, but never tried:  creating a backchannel.  In essence, a backchannel is a chat room that exists while the presentation is progressing.  Participants can comment, interact with one another, form opinions, and ideas, without interrupting the presentation.  I downloaded a freeware version of a chat room to my website and put it in a subdomain.  The chat can be found at http://chat.labanca.net.

Since this was a trial for me, I haven’t worked out all of the software kinks yet.  For example, I don’t have a nice skin on the chatroom yet. I’m not sure how to archive the chat so I can actually read the content after the presentation.  (I realized this when I went back and found the discussion missing, and just the later portion was present.

During the second session given by one of my esteemed colleagues Dr. Lori Kolbusz, I suggested we continue to backchannel and actually was a participating member of the chat.  Here’s a small sample of the discussion based on Lori’s qualitative research:

02/05/2009 07:46:39 guest385 All,  I can’t get over how often social learning theory (Vygotsky, Situated Cogntion) really seems to embed so much good research
02/05/2009 07:47:53 guest276 I am sure Vygotsky was cited in all of the past dissertations at WCSU. What a wealth of knowledge!
02/05/2009 07:48:27 guest89 Vygotsky’s Proximal Zone of Development is something that I can really relate to!
02/05/2009 07:49:22 guest385 The 24-hour cable news cycle doesn’t help the cause of these aberrant events which become the perception of education as a whole
02/05/2009 07:49:55 guest276 I am sure we all agree that no matter whatever district you are in, clear expectations need to be established.
02/05/2009 07:50:01 guest276 and consistency
02/05/2009 07:53:43 * guest15 joins My room
02/05/2009 07:55:30 guest89 It is interesting to note that Vygotsky’s research was conducted in  the Stalinistic Era; I am interested in finding out how he kept a lot of his work outside the scope of a totalitarian set of controls – largely through state-mandated regimentation of universities.
02/05/2009 07:55:46 guest385 This is a great sample size for a qualitative study (survey=30); (SSinterviews=10)
02/05/2009 07:57:58 guest89 Agree with you, guest 385.  Lorraine mentioned a relevant term; the geberation of “thick data.”
02/05/2009 07:59:41 guest276 With a larger sample size, emergent themes are more likely to arise. I wonder how many she asked before arriving at n=30.
02/05/2009 08:00:10 guest385 It might be possible that she achieved data saturation – would be a good question
02/05/2009 08:01:29 guest15 A little Glasser training would help
02/05/2009 08:02:35 guest276 To be perfectly honest, I don’t think this school district can afford Glasser. What can they do now?
02/05/2009 08:06:10 guest276 22 paired responses is a pretty good number. Analyzing qual data takes a lot of time. I am thinking of what was analyzed for this study with the 4 RQ’s.

What meaningful comments!  This certainly allows for a more active role for the participants.  When educators talk about 1-to-1 laptop initiatives, they need to think about this type of reconfiguring, not the “extract the data from the Internet as a consumer” or “type my reports using Word” mentalities.  This is a way to use technology to allow learning that can’t take place without.  Our students are already doing it anyway.  I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen students texting.  Why not make it more mainstream – and have a way for the teacher to get feedback?

A bit more sophisticated than passing notes under the table!

Research indicates that problem finding elicits negative responses from students
Jul 28th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
from: www.bath.ac.uk

from: www.bath.ac.uk

My good friend and colleague, Krista Ritchie, recently defended her dissertation at McGill University.  I was able to attend via distance using Skype.  During her defense, I had the opportunty to hear about her research on problem finding.  She conducted her study longitudinally, observing students over the course of a year from various Connecticut high school science sites.  Each site she studied had students in a “traditional” course (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics) and an applied science research course. Both the traditional and research courses were taught by the same teacher at each site.

As she was presenting her data, one thing stood out to me as a practitioner.  She discussed the negative responses often associated with problem finding: anxiety, nervousness, fear.  These responses, she discussed, were often not found in the traditional science education classes, yet were prevalent in the applied research class.  This immediately got me thinking.

Of course, the proximate interpretation is for an applied science teacher to know that there is anxiety assocaited with the problem finding phase of research, and he or she should do whatever is in his or her power to support the students.  Yet, I wonder – what is the necessity of the anxiety to push the student forward to facing and conquering the challenges associated with creative problem finding?

For more of a holistic view of the educational enterprise, I am thinking more about the place of problem finding within educational structures.  While I am an advocate of problem finding, I am not so Pollyanna as to realize that creative behaviors like problem finding are often stifled and supressed in education.  As much as teachers say they want their students to be creative producers – so many really don’t.  I can hear the voices now . . . “Just do what I say.”    Or from the students, “Just tell me what to do and I’ll do it.”  There is TOO much culture of lock-step-do-as-the-teacher-says-and-don’t-push-the-creative-envelope culture prevalent in education.  I don’t even claim this to be a one-way street.  Teachers and students just want to do as told:  solve/teach well-known questions that have well-known answers.  I am often disgruntled about how few teachers and students are willing to take a risk and work with ill-defined problems.  I think that’s where really powerful learning takes place. My challenge as an instructional leader is to bring more students, parents, teachers, administrators – all the constituents – to this place.

A place where we transcend the logical and analytical processes of problem solving and challenge students to engage in creative problem finding behaviors.    And I’m not anxious about saying that one bit!

Metacongitive students
Jul 23rd, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

nav_logo_gla2My continued adventures with the Green Light Academy continue to exceed my expectations.  Tomorrow will be my last day before heading to Brazil to join my family on vacation.  Last night I was working on the program evaluation for submission for presentation at the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in Denver, CO for next April. 

I was analyzing some of the qualitative comments written by the students, and feel obligated to document them here.  They are demonstrating that learning through a guided inquiry approach has very wonderful rewards:

Student #1

We actually got to implement our ideas and be creative during the lab, too.  The research and the presentations which help our public speaking skills were nice things to do.  I think being able to successfully communicate is just as important as taking in information.

Student #2

At first I thought it was really hard to figure things out, because we didn’t get a lot of information.  But now I realize that I can figure things out myself and it really isn’t as hard as it initially seems if you just think about it and work things out.

Student #3

Another thing I like about this academy are the projects.  Even thought they were challenging, they were challenging only in the beginning. I loved going through the journey, of going through the clueless ideas, and then it turns to being so easy.

Thanks for validating me!

Engineering project inspires creativity
Jul 13th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

nav_logo_gla1As part of the curriculum I developed for  Beacon Preservation’s Green Light Academy, students participated in a hands-on, minds-on activity to develop and build a small-scale solar still.  In true “guided inquiry” format, we gave the students some minor expository information about concepts of distillation for purifying salt water, and then asked them to design and build their own still using wood splints, plastic wrap, and different adhesives. 

I was absolutely amazed how engaged the students were.  They were building, asking questions, sketching, thinking, and really working hard.  They actually wound up working over an hour longer than we initially had planned.  No problems on my end.  When you are working with flexible time, and not confined to the “tyranny of the bell,” you can make great learning experiences occur.  Best of all, students were being creative, and NOT working under the traditional frameworks often associated with a science lab: 

  • a clear, defined procedure,
  • identifying variables, constants, and controls
  • meticulous data collection
from: rael.berkeley.edu

from: rael.berkeley.edu

I think science instruction often focuses on logical/analytical processes.  However, this was an engineering project – build, develop, deliver.   And although there were logical and analytical thoughts, there was more of an emphasis on creativity.  There was no one design that would work (the well-conceived (structured) question), but rather an unlimited number of possibilities (the ill-conceived (open-ended) question).  Many students were in awe that we, as teachers, did not have a “right” answer in mind.

What has bothered me, however, was the evidence.  I think I somewhat dropped the ball, because I didn’t plan well to document student learning.  Sure, I anecdotatly perceived student learning of concepts and creativity development, but how did I know it actually occurred?   I think it’s so important that we are able to show that students have, in fact, learned.  I have been thinking about ways to better document the concept learning and am curious about a good assessment method/mechanism for such a task.

Green Light Academy Mystery Bottle
Jul 2nd, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

nav_logo_glaI am program coordinating the Green Light Academy beginning next week.  This interdistrict, residential program will serve about 60 Connecticut High School students for FREE!  Today I conducted teacher training, and, as part of the training, we ran several experiments.  Being “GREEN” we didn’t pour the waste down the sink, but rather bottled it.  I am now beginning an game with the faculty and staff.  The bottle will be passed from one faculty or staff member to another.  This activity won’t involve the students. 

The rule, however, is that the receiving person can not know about it.  If the person sees the bottle coming, they should openly reject it.  In fact, I suspect that some of the recipients will not even know what they got until they read this post. 

When a person receives the bottle.  They are to post a comment here, identifying themselves, explaining an experience, idea, or thought about the program, so we can have a daily running log of different impressions of the Academy. 

This will be an informal way to randomly document events througouht the month.  I look forward to reading and hearing about staff and faculty experiences.

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