Cut the Rope and Angry Birds
Oct 22nd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

This past week in my graduate leadership class, we were discussing problem solving and used the app “Cut the Rope” to spark the discussion. Later during the class, I showed a video of Dan Meyer presenting at TEDxNYED. Ironically, Dan just made a post on his blog, dy/dan about the app “Angry Birds” and approaches to problem solving. Read it here:

Five Lessons On Teaching From Angry Birds That Have Nothing Whatsoever To Do With Parabolas

Distilling Problem Solving
Oct 19th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

My graduate class and I attempted to distill the essential features of problem solving on our class last week.  We superficially compared our results with Newell and Simon’s (1972) model.  Since they have had time to incubate the ideas, I am wondering what they think of the relationship between the two. (P.S. – is my list what we discussed?)


The Doctoral Student List | Newell and Simon’s List Identify a problem
Determine a strategy
Employ the strategy
Evaluate solution
| Varying levels of task complexity and goal clarity
Constraints and opportunities (e.g, surroundings, prior knowledge, resources, time)
Heuristic and algorithmic strategies
Divergent and convergent thinking
Appraisal of value and relevance



CT Science Fair Idea Workshop
Oct 16th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

On October 15, 2011, I facilitated a workshop for the Connecticut Science Fair entitled:

Where do good ideas come from?  Techniques for Developing creative potential and idea generation

Below, please find video segments for the workshop.  Here is the accompanying handout

Part 1:  Intro

Part 2A:

Part 2B:

Part 3: Brainstorming


New CT Comissioner of Education
Oct 7th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

From the Hartford Current:

New State Schools Chief Begins Today, Declaring ‘We Are Tired Of The Lack Of Progress’

Rick Green

4:57 PM EDT, October 6, 2011

The heralded and long-awaited arrival of Stefan Pryor as Connecticut’s new education commissioner — he begins work Friday — is a bitter reminder of how little progress we’ve made solving our most persistent failure.

We talk endlessly about our economic future, and yet tens of thousands of children in urban schools are still falling behind, not learning and dropping out. There are few, if any, larger obstacles holding Connecticut back.

What, I wanted to know when I met with the commissioner-to-be this week, could Pryor possibly do that governors, previous commissioners and hundreds of educators haven’t already done to tackle what is the nation’s greatest achievement gap?

“I think there is a recognition that this is a special moment,” Pryor responded, explaining that it his good fortune to be working for an impatient governor who has promised an education agenda during his second year in office.

“The sense I get from everybody — the education associations, the union leaders, the advocacy group leaders, the legislators, the state board members — is that we are tired of the lack of progress. We are ready for a shift forward.”

Though Pryor was cautious and guarded during our chat, it was still clear that education policy under the 39-year-old Yale graduate may shift seismically in coming months. This is a man, after all, who made an early name for himself as the founder of one of Connecticut’s most successful charter schools, the Amistad Academy in New Haven. More recently, Pryor was a top aide to Newark Mayor Cory Booker.

Above all, Pryor was brought here to create change. Some important highlights emerged from our conversation:

•A streamlined state Department of Education, one that focuses more on the fundamental problems of struggling schools, will emerge. Shifting from a regulation-and-compliance bureaucracy focused on paperwork to a more nimble agency that exists to improve learning will be a top priority.

•School districts that succeed can expect new freedom. Schools, experimental or traditional, that show results will be held up as models — and replicated.

•Teachers who achieve will be rewarded. Whether students actually learn must become part of how educators are evaluated. In particular, getting the best teachers into the lowest-performing schools will become a top priority.

•Student achievement, measured by indicators like standardized tests, will continue to be a critical metric for evaluating schools.

“At the moment, when there are national dialogues about which states are moving in the right direction, you don’t hear Connecticut’s name,” Pryor said. “The unit that parents think about … is the school. We as a department need to think about the schools of our state and how to improve them.”

Two things Pryor spoke repeatedly about — giving more freedom to school districts that achieve, and promoting successful individual schools as examples for the state — are particularly noteworthy. Significantly, we have no shortage of high-achieving schools and districts in Connecticut.

It would be revolutionary if Connecticut’s state Department of Education became known for helping good ideas grow and for getting out of the way of districts that are already succeeding.

“What can the state department do for higher performing districts? Get out of the way,” Pryor said. The big idea, he told me, Is to “spend more time with this districts that need the help.”

Pryor warned me — repeatedly — that he was not arriving as an acolyte of the charter school movement, which is often pitted against traditional education and unions. Charters play a very small role in the education of children in Connecticut. Like other model schools, they can be an example, he said.

“Effective schools will play a large role in this new era,” Pryor said, whatever the design or governance structure. “My goal will be … to promote those schools, to expand those schools, to replicate those schools that show effectiveness.”

Teacher evaluation, a favorite topic of seat-of-the-pants school reformers, must improve, but by working with all sides, particularly the unions, Pryor said. Significantly, this must include a career path that rewards and promotes effective teachers.

“It is essential that student performance be an element of evaluation and companion in our system,” he said. “That is something that we are going to engage as a very healthy, very full conversation with all of the stakeholders.

“We need to ensure that the teaching profession provides for ways for outstanding faculty members to advance in their careers. And advancement includes increased compensation over time.”

Pryor, who has a reputation as a workhorse, said he plans to begin his job with a listening tour of schools, classrooms and towns around the state.

“I think it’s possible to map out an approach that people agree upon. Will there be conflict? You can count on it. The place to start from is what do we agree on what do we want to accomplish,” he said. “People are hungry for that.”

The more I examine and think about “CHANGE,” the more I realize it happens in the evolution of dated individual teaching and learning philosophies of education to constructivist thinking.

Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name – and they’re always glad you came.
Oct 3rd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am writing this post because, I think it is important to be self deprecating sometimes.

I don’t yet know all of my students names in my graduate class and I haven’t set up a good system to learn them.  I, of course, have my list but I don’t have all of the names-to-faces.  It’s my own fault, of course, and I know my students are going to read this, so they too can see my ill-guided fate.

However, interestingly, I don’t think they all know each other’s names either.  (Some may have it, but I’m not sure . . .) I’ve watched their interactions and have seen quite a number of personal pronouns used instead of proper nouns when I would think the opposite would happen, based on the context of the discussion.

This graduate program is a cohort model, meaning these students will be grouped for the next 5 years.  Of course, they will come to know each other well – but now is the time to form those important bonds to create a culture of collaboration and partnership.

Anyone have any good team-building activities that we can try next class?  Help a poor unfortunate soul out.

The confidence not to know
Oct 3rd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I distributed an article to my graduate leadership class that I am teaching.  It was a fairly challenging article to read in general – a meta analysis.  However, to the neophyte researcher, it was probably extremely challenging.  Being a research article, it had the typical parts:

  • abstract
  • introduction
  • methods
  • results
  • discussion/conclusion
  • references

My experience tells me that you don’t necessarily read a research report from start to finish, but rather use the subheadings to guide your search for information.  However, not everyone knows that, and there certainly is an art to the process based on expertise.  However, teaching that class, something else stood out – some students clearly didn’t understand some of the concepts and were (afraid?) (shy?) (lacking confidence?) (thinking they should, when really they shouldn’t?) to ask questions, or to verify their lack of understanding to me.

It gets me thinking . . . you really have to be confident to be willing to stand up and say you don’t know something.  That’s a real challenge.  As an educator, it’s my responsibility to create a culture that promotes confident questioning.   After all, I am working with educators and that’s where their expertise lies, not necessarily in educational research.  But as this cadre builds their knowledge – becoming a good consumer of educational research is critical, because after all – that’s what leads to being a producer of educational research.

New Publication
Oct 3rd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am proud to announce a new publication that was just released in The Science Teacher entitled “The 21st century oral presentation toolbag.”  Link is here.  You can see the article if you are a member of NSTA.  Others can send me a message, and I will be happy to email a copy.

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