Reflective properties of open inquiry
Sep 30th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Though I spend my days working with high school students, I have a deep passion for open inquiry research and am lucky to have the opportunity to work with doctoral candidates in the Ed.D. Instructional Leadership Program at Western Connecticut State University.  This semester (and for the next 5,) I will be providing secondary advisement to two students and primary advisement to one. 


Yesterday, one of my secondary advisees had her proposal defense.  A proposal defense occurs when the student has identified and defined his or her study (problem finding).  First, the student provides the advisors with a ~20-page document for review a few weeks prior.  We provide feedback, the proposal is modified, and then a presentation is conducted to share the design with the committee.   Yesterday was that presentation.  As we listened and subsequently discussed, I couldn’t help but consider some of the important behaviors and actions the student had undertaken.  My colleague, Krista Ritchie, and I are working on a paper about promoting  problem finding and our recent email discussions synthesizing our research have lead us to generate a teacher and student list of strategies.  Here are the student strategies, which I clearly saw on display yesterday (and part of our working list for the paper):

  1. Identify and work with an authentic audience
  2. Excellent written and oral communication skills
  3. Know there is value
  4. Novel approach
  5. Focus on areas of personal interest.
  6. Be a critical consumer of information.
  7. Create a support system. 

We are going to elaborate on each of these as well as provide a “teacher list.”


After the defense, in the adjacent lounge, the professors then gathered for one-on-one meetings with primary advisees.  This was a great time for each professor (4 of us) to meet individually to discuss ideas, goals, and progress.  What was more striking to me, though, was the culture.  Student sitting with advisor, advisors and students sharing information both between the two and among the group.  Meeting dynamics that went from one-on-one, briefly to small group, back to one-on-one.  There was an underlying sensation of inquiry permeating the room.  Deep, specialized learning occurring without the traditional walls, desks, or blackboards.  Learning for learning’s sake, bidirectional knowledge flow, challenging ideas – wow!  This is what learning is supposed to be like.  As we constantly consider educational reform we really need to think of ways to make authentic inquiry the bedrock of learning.  This is where growth really occurs.

Field Studies are more than just Science
Sep 19th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I took my semi-annual trip with students to the Great Meadows Marsh in Stratford, Connecticut.  It is an amazing location that really highlights the beauty and grandeur of nature while examining the human impacts of development.  We were easily able to see Bridgeport, CT, Norwalk, CT, Port Jefferson, Long Island, NY, and Northport, Long Island, NY.  The smog emits from the United Illuminating coal/oil-fired power plant, the planes take off from Sikorsky Airport, there is flotsam and jetsam at the wrack line, and the wind whistles gently through the Spartina grass while the snowy egrets glide gracefully through the air.

As many stories reveal themselves through the vistas and views, so do the activities we conduct.  I use my model from my article Fishing for Data in Long Island Sound Salt MarshesBut there’s more to this trip than the science we conduct.  I stop, as part of the trip, to highlight one of my favorite marsh/beach plants:  Rosa rugosa: The beach rose.  The plant has edible petals (often used as high-end wedding cake decoration when dipped in egg white and sugar) and edible rose hips.  The hips are most commonly found in herbal teas, but the hip makes a very nice jam, especially when enhanced with a bit of apple.  I always have on hand a jar of rose hip jam to share – I think there is something mystical when I can talk about making this jam, and then whip out a sample. 

This trip I collected a bag-full-o-hips to make a new batch of jam.  I also stopped at St. Rose of Lima in Newtown, where there are two apple trees and collected a few green (I think they might be Granny Smith, but not sure) apples.  My rose hip jam making adventure is chronicled in the pictures below:

The apples and rose hips I collected

A close-up of the hip - ~2 cm diameter

Rose hips are boiled in water for about 45 min

The apples only need to be boiled for about 20 min - boil seeds, stems and skin to extract the pectin

I hand-process the soft apples and hips through a conical food mill to extract the pulp

The mill separates out the seeds and skins so they don't contaminate the pulp for the jam

The "by products" heading out to the compost pile

I had 8 cups of apple and hip pulp.  I added 4 cups of sugar and 1/2 cup of lemon juice .  This gently boiled for about an hour to reduce and thicken the mixture. I prepared my mason jars by running them through the dishwasher – for sterilization, along with the spoons and tongs I was going to use.  Not the perfect aseptic technique, but it works fine.  The jars were filled, lidded, and banded, then loaded into my boiling water bath to process for 30 minutes. 

The completed jars - a bit of fabric enhances the jar to make a nice gift

All natural, organic (although not certified – you don’t certify a beach and the church grounds . . .), relevant, and tangible to learning.

Considering purpose in instructional design
Sep 9th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Dan Meyerrecently wrote on his blog dy/dan:

“The best learning begins with a good worksheet.”

September 6th, 2010 by Dan Meyer

I wrote that. In all sincerity. On June 8, 2004. In an essay for my credentialing school entitled — of all things — “How Students Learn Math.”

This gobsmacked, gross-feeling moment is what I get for digitally cataloging every essay, handout, and lesson I have written since high school.

I am grateful, I suppose, that it only took me six years to go from “the best learning begins with a good worksheet” to the kind of instructional design that — for whatever good it does my students — has me excited to wake up in the morning, has me constantly double-checking my front pocket for a camera, has me excited to walk around and encounter math in my daily life. I’m grateful because I’m positive there exists another timeline, equally plausible to this one, where I’m still that enthusiastic about worksheets after six years, or ten years. Or an entire career. I hear that happens.

Although I think he doesn’t clearly articulate what is “best,” or  ‘better,” I internally find that the major concept is that what is key to good instruction is generating compelling and engaging problems, and working through them in a hands-on, minds-on way.

What stands out for me is that good instruction is NOT about the stuff – the worksheets, the PowerPoint, the lab book, the Internet resources.  It’s about the meaningful interactions we have with students that help them positively grow in knowledge, skills, and disposition. 

Although teaching and learning has best practices that are research-based, there is no question that design and execution of meaningful, well-articulated instruction has an artistic component – one that demands we build quality relationships with students.  After all, we may teach biology, chemistry, or research, but ultimately we are teachers of  students.

Moodle setup as logical/analytical problem solving
Sep 7th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

As part of this website (labanca.net), I maintain a MoodleMoodle is a course management system that allows me to conduct blended learningclasses – classes that have both a face-2-face and online component.  I use the Moodle in both my high school Applied Science Research course, and my graduate school Materials and Methods in Science Educationcourse.  These classes benefit from such environments, because there is a certain level of independence associated with them.  Allowing students a virtual component often helps to better engage them, while providing me with a systemic way of managing the content and assessments.

I wanted to move my system to a Manual Registration method, so I could save myself a step by allowing students to enter their own account information, and then provide an “enrollment key” to enter the course.  Of course, not as simple as anticipated.  First, was just trying to figure out how to get the system to allow the manual enrollment button to appear.  My problem solving was a trial-and-error method.  I clicked and looked, thought about what made logical sense, clicked some more, and eventually came to the following screen where I could enable the appropriate setting.  

OK, so now an option appears on the shell for users to set up their own accounts.  Click it, bingo, the user gets a screen to input information.  Click OK – failure.  There is an error message indicating there are SMTP issues.  I know from terminology that this is an email issue, so I pursue finding these setups.

I find the following page.  OK?  What are my settings?  Don’t know.  Call Bluehost, my provider.  Technical support gives my my SMTP host name (very obvious, I should have known this . . .)  I am now at a decision point:  do I need the additional information in the script?  I decide less testing is better, so I establish an email account for the Moodle, and provide the password.

Problem resolved.  System functioning.  This process of problem solving, for me, was a very logical/analytical process.  Very little, if any, creativity involved.  I had to trouble-shoot, test options, gather information, modify plans, involve others who had expertise .  .  . all with a tangible, well-defined goal – getting the system to work.

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