What students think about STEM and 21st Century Skills
Apr 12th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I recently observed a high school student focus group for the development of an instrument that will examine college and career readiness in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math). I was amazed (disappointed) at some of the comments the students made. But they are worth examining BECAUSE we need to be change agents! This is part of the call of STEM educators to improve knowledge, skills, and certainly dispositions.

When I think of engineering I think of a train

Research is looking stuff up on the Internet or print materials (not conducting investigations)

There is no creativity in science

Creativity can’t be taught

Problem solving can’t be taught

from lavc.edu

Thinking about the role of textbooks
Feb 14th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

from Desales University Library

I was recently reading the Foundation for Excellence in Education (2010) Digital Learning Now! document.  Of particular interest to me was “Element #5:” Content:  digital content, instructional materials, and online and blended learning courses are high quality.  Check out this forward-thinking statement:

States should abandon the lengthy textbook adoption process and embrace the flexibility offered by digital content. Digital content can be updated in real time without a costly reprint. The ongoing shift from online textbooks to engaging and personalized content, including learning games, simulations, and virtual environments, makes the traditional review process even less relevant.

Transitioning to digital content will improve the quality of content, while likely saving money in production that can be dedicated to providing the infrastructure for digital learning.

This will be a tough nut to crack, but once schools and districts start thinking this way, there will certainly be an improvement in quality.  I started down this path in 2007 when I assumed the role of the first science department chair at Oxford High School.  My perception of the biggest challenge is the time to develop and maintain the high quality resources as part of the blended learning environment.  This, unfortunately, probably is not “doable” by the classroom teacher alone because there is just not enough capacity to give teachers the necessary time to make it all work.  But . . . teachers are key to the process.  So partnerships are a necessity.

Get Engaged 2.0
Jan 26th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

My team at the Center for 21st Century Skills at Education Connection recently produced a video about student engagement, with a “Did You Know?” feel.  Check it out and share it with your friends, family, and colleagues!

Manifestation of 21st-century skills
Dec 14th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.


This summer, I helped my daughter establish an email account.  We discussed the importance of password security and address security.  While sending an email to her teacher, she wanted to demonstrate that she knew how to type.  In fact, she was properly keyboarding with the fingers in traditional positions: asdf jkl;.  Most impressive.  I am glad to see that a skill I learned in 9th grade with Mr. Gargano in typing class, is now embedded within the 3rd grade curriculum.

What is interesting to me is that although we are teaching digital communication to students, we are not teaching world communication:  where are the languages?  While other countries teach their students English from a very early age, where are we in teaching Chinese, Hindi, Japanese, or even the classics like Spanish.  Seems when a child’s mind is most amenable to learning, we don’t systemically take advantage.

From bad to train wreck . . . why written communication is a critical 21st-century skill
Dec 8th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

The following editorial appeared in the Waterville Times last week.  Apparently the author works in the schools in a professional support role.  I don’t know if I am more amazed with the low-quality writing or the fact that the paper printed it without editing.  In any event, this is an excellent example of how NOT to write.  This article could actually be used to teach editing:  i.e., what changes should be made to make it readable and understandable?  Good written communication skills are a necessity.

from Waterville Times

The sliced bread story continues . . .
Jun 10th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I am constantly amazed by the reality, that I am sitting in my kitchen, hooked up to nothing, and writing, which seamlessly travels through the air to parts unknown.  Today, I virtually spoke with my brother-in-law, the impetus to the sliced bread story and got the following link:


I like how we are using 21st-century skills (collaboration, written communication, problem solving) and tools (IT) to make the process almost effortless. We are such consumers of information – the real challenge is to become better producers.

I think I need to follow up with this senator and see if I can conduct a recorded phone interview to get some more perspective on this interesting story which just oozes problem finding/problem solving in such a different type of context.

I’m sure there is more to come . . .

Refining the definition and role of science in education
Jan 27th, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
I recently read a post on Wes Fryer’s blog stating:

The Kennedy Center Teaching Artists define arts integration as:

an APPROACH to TEACHING in which students construct and demonstrate UNDERSTANDING through an ART FORM. Students engage in a CREATIVE PROCESS which CONNECTS an art form and another subject area and meets EVOLVING OBJECTIVES in both.

 We should review this statement carefully, because I really think it integrates concepts of 21st-century learning very well.  It also seems so relevant to science education as well.  Too often, I think students think they learn science, but infer that “they’ll never use this in real life,” unless they become an engineer or scientist.  What I try to stress with students is that the skills we teach in science are what is critical. The content is the medium to advance those skills.  I want students to be self-directed, motivated, critical thinkers who are capable of problem finding and solving.  The Kennedy Center definition also implies constructivist learning theory in their definition. 

from: http://www.ade.state.az.us/

from: http://www.ade.state.az.us/

To that end, and as a springboard point for me, I am going to modify this definition for science education integration.  What amazes me, is that it really doesn’t change very much from the art definition:

An APPROACH to TEACHING in which students construct and demonstrate UNDERSTANDING through INQUIRY-BASED QUESTIONS AND INVESTIGATION. Students engage in CREATIVE AND LOGICAL/ANALYTICAL PROCESSES which CONNECTS SCIENCE and another subject or skill domain and meets EVOLVING OBJECTIVES in both.

Why teachers shouldn’t waste time designing a webpage
Oct 19th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Working with my neophyte teachers, we had an interesting discussion regarding the role of technology in the science classroom.  I strongly subscribe to the idea that teachers should not waste time designing and coding webpages. The fact of the matter is that science teachers have expertise in scientific concepts, not in web design.   Most of the teacher-designed webpages are unimpressive, aesthetically ugly, and lacking the power to promote increased student learning.

That’s where Web 2.0 is so critical. Teacher web presence is incredibly important, but teachers need to focus on CONTENT, not FORM.  So interactive sites like blogs and wikis provide opportunities for bidirectional knowledge flow.  Both the teacher and the students can be contributors to knowledge.  Blogs and wikis (and other Web 2.0 tools – podcasts, chats, Moodle, Google Docs) allow for the social construction of knowledge where all constituents can become producers.  Even better, these tools are preconstruted, have great skins, and look so professional.  Teachers don’t have to waste time with the form, but spend the time where they should – high quality content.  The interactivity also allows ease for contribution from students.  So more and more it becomes about science ideas instead of web page dynamics.

The Machine is Us/ing Us is a strong reminder of these ideas.

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!

Independent learning
May 28th, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.
from: www.rwd.com

from: www.rwd.com

I’ve been working on several projects lately considering autonomy of learning whether it be for students or adults.  Specifically, I am (a) working with the High Ability Inquiry Research group at McGill University trying to define the term inquiry literacy, (b) working with some of my Ed.D. colleagues from Western Connecticut State Univ on several independent publications from our dissertations, (c) preparing professional development programming for Oxford, (d) developing a Moodle site for a blended learning course I teach and (d) working with my applied research students on their continued work.  These activities have me continually thinking about being a self-directed, self-effective, life-long learner. 

I was recenlty invited to view a fantastic wiki, written by my colleage, Donna Baratta, Library Media Specialist from Mildred E. Strang Middle School in Yorktown, NY.   Although I believe her wiki is currently private, it includes a wonderful explanation of models for professional development:

Five Models of Staff Development by Sparks and Loucks-Horsley may be used to differentiate instruction in order to meet the needs of teachers based on years of experience, level of technology use and/or mastery, and professional goals in conjunction with district initiatives, NYSED Standards and more. (This information also appears under the heading of Models and Activities on the Models page.)  Differentiation in regard to technology PD is particularly significant, as learners may vary from reluctant users to confident users of technology.  PD must be designed to meet the needs of all learners participating in the PD experience.

Five Models of Staff Development by Sparks and Loucks-Horsley

 1.  Individually Guided Staff Development

     A process though which teachers plan and implement their own activities to promote their own learning

 2. Observation/Assessment

     This model provides objective data and feedback regarding classroom performance to produce growth or identify areas for growth

 3.  Involvement in a Development/Improvement Process

     Teachers engage in curriculum development, program design or a school improvement process

 4.  Training

     Individual or group instruction that involves teachers in the acquisition of knowledge

 5.  Inquiry

     Teachers identify an area of instructional interest, collect data, and make changes in their instruction based on an interpretation of those data

(Sparks & Loucks-Horsley, 1989, p. 41)

 Further Reading:

Differentiation: Lessons from Master Teachers  

Recommended Reading: (Not available from ERIC in time for this posting)

Sparks, Dennis. Journal of Staff Development, Fall2005, Vol. 26 Issue 4, p4-4, 2/3p; (AN 20217427) 
Gregory, Gayle H.. 2003 132 pp. (ED476461)

I really like the progression presented, allowing for a continuum of growth as expertise level increases.  We certainly should be aiming for teachers to be engaged in independent action research as part of professional growth, evaluation, and supervision.  I am convinced that this change process of teacher as researcher andpractitioneris the one of the necessary steps to allow for systemic increases in student achievement.  Best practices will continue to develop out of an evidence-based profession, not one based on anecdotal, feel-good, been-doin’-it-fer-years strategy.

I think this might have applications beyond the professional growth model, as we think about how to develop 21st-century skills in all learners, both educators and our students.

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