Asking questions of nature
Sep 21st, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
from the town of Stratford

from the town of Stratford

I often think back to Ralph Yulo’s important statement “Put your questions to nature,” when I engage students in field experiences. Last Thursday, I took my graduate science methods students to Great Meadows Marsh in Stratford. This has long been a favorite site for me because it is such a powerful example of the beauty and grandeur of nature and the impact of human activity.

Great Meadows sits on Long Island Sound to the south (Long Beach) and is surrounded by the Sikorsky Airport, Bridgeport to the west, and Lordship to the east. The drive into the area takes you right through the middle of the marsh, and you immediately gain a sense of the vastness of the area in comparison to the extensive development that surrounds it.

What I like best about the marsh is the enormity of the topics that can be discussed. I bring several activities for students to complete including:

  • water chemistry (dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, salinity, etc.)
  • bait fishing (using small minnow traps)
  • finding interesting things.

I’ve described a meaningful marsh experience in a paper written for the Connecticut Journal of Science Education here.

What I always find to be the most powerful part of the experience, however, is the discussions that ensue.  I love to talk about edible marsh plants and often offer a sample of rose hip jelly, a taste of beach rose flowers or glasswort.  Jumping on an area of marsh always provides a powerful example of how absorbent and sponge-like the area is.  And the cautious eye of the student (or me) can often finding interesting science concepts embedded in the sand or the mud.

I think the real power in a successful trip stems from creating an environment that is conducive to questioning.  That’s where real inquiry IS!  I can provide structured activities for the students, but I think the real learning comes from their enthusiasm and excitement from wanting to learn something new about the world.  Those questions (both from them and me) are the intangibles of good teaching and learning. 

In essence, what’s not planned is as important as what IS planned. Sure there’s a bit of finese and experience required, but I think the end results are so powerful.

Fairfield cop hurt investigating traffic incident
Sep 21st, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

This article recently appeared in the Connecticut Post.  It caught my attention since it had an embedded video, but moreover, in my Forensics class, we’ve been talking about the crime scene.  This gives a classic example of a crime scene that is transient.  I think it will be an excellent example to share with the class.

By Genevieve Reilly
staff writer

FAIRFIELD — A police officer was injured by a woman who sped away from officers investigating why she stopped in the middle of an intersection Friday afternoon, triggering a short chase that was recorded on videotape by a neighbor.

Officer Michael Guilfoyle came upon January Wilson, 29, of Melville Drive, in a car stopped in the middle of an intersection on Church Hill Road. Guilfoyle approached the car, but Wilson refused to respond to verbal requests for her to open her window, police said. Eventually, Guilfoyle broke the passenger-side window and reached in to open the door. But Wilson backed into the police cruiser parked behind her, and as Guilfoyle again tried to get into the car, she hit the gas, causing the officer to fell to the ground, police said.

The video shows Guilfoyle collapse as he attempts to walk back to his cruiser.

Wilson sped around another police cruiser, up onto a lawn and then back onto the street. However, other officers dispatched to the scene soon overtook her.

She was taken to St. Vincent’s Medical Center in Bridgeport, where she remained as of Monday.

Guilfoyle was also treated at the hospital for pains in his stomach and upper thigh.

Sgt. James Perez, the police spokesman, said Wilson has not yet been charged in connection with the incident because she was taken to the hospital, but she will face charges.


Rose hips . . .
Sep 13th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

The Beach Rose, Rosa rugosa, is a plant commonly found along the beaches of Long Island Sound.  It is a particularly interesting plant because its leaves are quite textural, it produces beautiful flowers, either white or pink, and of course, it produces a fruit called a rose hip.  My main website (www.labanca.net) has a picture of the flower near the Edgartown Lighthouse, and I have a description of the Beach Rose in my “Coastal Plants of New England” Project.

Today I went to Great Meadows Marsh, in Straford because I will be teaching my Methods in Science class there this Thursday.  I usually prepare for these field experiences by visiting ahead of time to ensure that my expectations for the site are correct.  As usual, the marsh and beach areas look great for study.  The site is particularly interesting because much flotsam and jetsam washes up on shore from all of the extensive human activity and development in the surrounding areas.

I spent some time on this beautiful Sunday afternoon picking some rose hips from the beach rose trees.  Rose hips are commonly used in many herbal teas, but they also make a very nice jam.  I’ve made a small batch that I will bring Thursday afternoon.

Here’s my recipe:

1 Granny Smith Apple (everything, seeds, core, stems – lots of pectin)
1 Quart of Rose Hips
3 cups of water
2 cups of sugar
pinch of salt

“Get Motivated” or “Get Bamboozled” ???
Sep 9th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
from: www.pakalil.com

from: www.pakalil.com

My department chair colleagues and I at Oxford High School attended a professional development session in the Hartford XL Center along with a crowd of about 19,000 others for a day-long program referred to as “Get Motivated!”  The program was billed as having major (and I mean MAJOR) speakers to inspire, motivate, teach team building, perseverance, and leadership skills to the audience.  Sounded like a powerful day, especially with a line up including Joe Montana, Laura Bush, Rudy Giuliani, and Colin Powell. 

The program began with an MC introducing Joe Montana who came out, gave a 20-minute talk about stories from his professional career, followed by Laura Bush, who spoke, also for about 20 minutes about her passions and life in the public eye.  Both speakers were fairly good, but seem to capture more of “stories from the past” than learned lessons that can be transferred to other’s life situations. 

Then came the circus.  .  .  A motivational speaker (actually pretty good) who told me that no one ever remembers a critic and critics are there to find faults in things.   Uggg, I guess that I am going to be unmemorable based on what I say from here out.  The following speaker talked about financial success and effectively working the market.  I initially found his talk very interesting and thought provoking, until the pitch came.  “But wait . . . if you call now we’ll supersize your order to two jars of oxyclean . . .”  Was Billy Mayes speaking to us from the netherworld?   The speaker actually talked about the specific software that was necessary to track stocks the way he described.  Normally ~$3,100.  Wow!  But he worked a special deal for those who were in attendance today . . . the whole package for $99.  Could this be?  The whole thing for just over 3% of the original cost?  But you have to act now.  You need to sign up for the seminar for either next week or the week after.  Come to one of the tables on the floor of the XL center or go to one of the tables on the promenade.  AND DID THEY COME!  I just couldn’t get over how many people were ready to jump for this.  Must have been the free red canvas bag that was given with each purchase.  Don’t worry, the purchase was fully refundable after the first day of the 2-day seminar if you didn’t like it. 

Following Mr. Sell-a-stock, the co-founder of the Get Motivated! seminar came out and gave a patronizing, contrived speech about sales and individuals’ “motivational DNA,”  complete with a “rap” of her spiritual values.   But don’t worry, she was also selling something, too:  her new book.  But wait, it also comes with pleanty of free-bees, valued at over $1000.  I guess it’s easy to give away $1000 when its really worth nothing.  Fill out the card, go online, yadda yadda.  What is going on here?  I am still waiting to learn something that can help me out in my job as a department chair and an instructional leader.   Maybe I’m just being too much of a cynic.  After all, it really does seem that the mission of this organization is to promote motivation and leadership.  I’m just not sure about some of the extracurricular tangential strategies that go along with it.

crossBut I did listen carefully . . . There was a free “Motivational DNA” survey that I could take online to get my motivational DNA profile.  I completed this instrument online, just before this post as I sit in the emergency room at the hospital.  (I punctured my foot on a rusty nail, need a tetanus shot, etc.) This was very powerful.  It really makes sense to me and its description of my motivational style. At the risk of being too cheeky, I’ll post my results below.

Frank’s Motivational DNA Type is: PVI
(Production-Variety-Internal) The Visionary

Visionaries are persistent, energetic and confident. They are able to organize people and projects. Visionaries exhibit strong leadership potential and react quickly to crisis. Creative thinkers, Visionaries have the ability to craft a vision and get others excited about it. They enjoy working on multiple projects at the same time and like to be involved in exploring alternative concepts. Farsighted and imaginative, Visionaries are good at finding original solutions to difficult problems. Visionaries enjoy change and thrive under pressure. They have the ability to shift gears and turn on a dime. They are confident in their ability to master new skills. Visionaries enjoy challenge and desire personal growth. Visionaries want to know that their work matters and desire to “go where no man has gone before.”

PVI Motivators: Inspiring work environment, opportunity to originate and initiate ideas, peer respect, credit for work accomplished and a strong sense of mission.

PVI De-Motivators: Rigid structure, routine, delays, time-consuming details and bureaucracy.

1. Options are vital for your motivational style. Make a list of a dozen ways to accomplish your goal. Then mix it up. Do a little of everything on the list. PVI Visionaries get bored with the same old, same old.
2. Create a customized plan for achieving your objectives. If something doesn’t work for you, don’t force yourself to do it—eliminate it. Find a better way—something enjoyable that works.
3. Make a detailed record of why your goal is important to you. How will you (and others) benefit if you achieve the goal and what are the consequences if you don’t?


from: csb.yale.edu

from: csb.yale.edu

In all honesty, I left at lunch, because I was so disappointed with the content.  I also found out that Giuliani and Powell wouldn’t be presenting until the end of the day, and I had family obligations that brought me home instead of listening to more pitchmen before these keynote speakers.  So here I sit wondering what I’ve learned, and I’m not too sure.  Certainly this motivational DNA instrument is interesting. Although as a good researcher, I want to know if it is reliable and valid.  I think the “Visionary” description does describe me well, although I wonder if its a perceived ideal of myself.  I walk away knowing that I don’t like the pitch as subterfuge of a motivation and leadership conference.  I also walk away thinking about the professional development I do and want to make sure I think very carefully about the values that I often impose and how it might be perceived by my audience.

Describing a continuum for inquiry
Sep 8th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
from philipmartin.info

from philipmartin.info

I began teaching a new graduate class last Thursday and have been remiss to post about the experience.  I will be using this blog as a reflective medium after class, open to my students, so we can communicate about teaching and learning.  I continue to consider this blog an important Web 2.0 tool to allow asnchronous discussion, discourse, and learning to take place.

I spent time talking about my view of the so-called “scientific method,” a philosophy, I feel is riddled with fallacies about the way science is actually done.  Below is a sample that I have written regarding it and applications in the science classroom in terms of problem finding.  I think it illustrates my disdain:

An underlying problem with the Osborne-Parnes and Firestien and Treffinger creative problem solving models is the assumed linearity. Although Firestien and Treffinger do not support linearity of their model, it has previously been presented that way, and the flexibility of the model is therefore often obscured in classroom application. In fact only recently has an alternative more open model been presented (Treffinger, Isaksen, & Dorval, 2005). Similar to the so-called scientific method taught irresponsibly in many science classrooms, these models purport a starting and endpoint with a clear step-by-step progression. However, the idiosyncratic nature of science and creativity suggest that such a methodology might only serve the misplaced pedagogical needs of a teacher, and not be truly representative of the actual asynchronous routes that individuals traverse during the problem finding process.

I think, as thoughtful educators we need to consider entry points to learning and how we can develop many aspects of student strategies to (a) problem finding (i.e., creative thinking) and (b) problem solving (i.e., logical/analytical thinking).  When we are more open to varied and diverse thinking strategies, we provide our students with better learning opportunities.

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