Educational Inputs vs Outcomes
Sep 18th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I was meeting with a medical doctor last week who asked me about my profession.  I expressed that I was an educator working on STEM programming with teachers and students across the state.  He asked the off-color question “Do you do that education stuff where you make kids feel good about themselves?”  I didn’t even hesitate to say no.

The programs I run focus on rigor and increasing achievement.  Thinking about it more, I think we work on engagement (a.k.a. “feel good”) as an outcome, NOT an input.  This really made me think more about the design of research.  When conducting studies you need an independent variable and a dependent variable.  To me, engagement is a dependent factor – what should happen with quality instruction.  I wonder if other educators consider it an input.  Kids thinking, working hard, problem solving, collaborating, asking and answering hard questions .  .. .  that’s the essence of good engagement.  Good instruction, success for students, meaningful and relevant assessments .. .  . that leads to success.

Student Innovation Exposition 2013
May 5th, 2013 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I wanted to share a brief story from the 2013 Student Innovation Exposition.  The Expo brings together over 2,000 students, parents, teachers, judges, and community members.  I have the distinct pleasure of hosting the event.  Near the end of the day a teacher from an urban high school approached me and asked if she could speak to me privately for a minute.  A bit nervous, not knowing what she was going to ask, I agreed, and we moved to a quiet corner of the tradeshow hall.  She started telling me that her students had really not done a good job preparing for the event and that several of the students were identified as Special Education.  Then she started to cry.  She said the judges had been so supportive of her students, they gave them meaningful feedback, asked questions, and complimented them on their work, even though the students knew it wasn’t the best or of the highest quality.  The students felt VALUED.  And what can be more motivating than that.

If we really want students engaged, they must find value in the process.  That engagement undoubtedly leads to higher achievement.  As another teacher put it – the event is unique – it allows students to really be challenged by academic content, it encourages them to be extremely creative, they must collaborate and rely on each other, but most important, it allows them to be kids at the same time.

I couldn’t ask for a better assessment of the program.

Digital Learning Day
Feb 7th, 2012 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

dig learn day, a set on Flickr.

Here’s a summary of my exciting day on February 1, 2012

Frank LaBanca visited Sandy Hook School in Newtown for digital learning day.  There he joined a fourth grade and second grade class.  Using iPod touches and the StoryKit app, Frank, Ted Varga, teacher, and the fourth grade students created riddles that modeled the literary device personification.  Students selected an inanimate object in the room to personify.  Some examples of their work include:

sample | sample | sample | sample | sample

Frank also visited second grade teacher Robin Walker’s class.  Using the same app, students recorded observations of growth patterns of their Wisconsin Fast Plants that they are growing as part of a science unit.  Some examples include:

sample | sample | sample | sample

Learning Knowledge and Skills
Dec 12th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I was recently listening to a presentation by one of my students on the topic of implementing a 21st century skill-based instructional philosophy.  It was a very thought provoking presentation; one of the most interesting comments was that in order to achieve success, there needs to be “a corporate change of disposition.”  How poignant.  When we look at examples of 21st century skills we quickly realize that we’re not talking about technology skills – we are talking about job ready skills:

  • Information literacy
  • Communication (spoken and written)
  • Self-Directed and Collaborative Work Ethic
  • Problem Solving
  • Innovation/Creativity
  • Responsible Citizenship

How we teach and measure these skills is the essence of high quality education.  They don’t exist in isolation, and they can’t exist without foundational knowledge and skills in literacy (reading/writing) and numeracy (mathematics).  The 3 “R”s are the bedrock while 21st century skills are the authentic application of them.

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!

Value Proposition
Jan 22nd, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.


I am co-presenting this morning for the Connecticut Science Fair and the Connecticut Junior Science and Humanities Symposium.  My co-presenter, Joy Erickson is talking about value propositions.  I really like the idea, because it really makes the person define the scope of authentic work.  Here are some key features:

Value Proposition Definition: The four parts of the value proposition are fundamentals:  they must always be answered:

  • Need: along with your new, compelling, and definible
  • Approach: to address that need with the superior
  • Benefits: when compared to the
  • Competition and/or alteratives.

Successful value propositions are quantitative and easy to understand and remember.


  • NOT: Diabetes type 2 is growing fast
  • RATHER: Diabetes II cost our country $2B/yr and shortens a person’s life by an average of 10 years


  • NOT: We have a clever design
  • RATHER: We have created a new engine that uses methanol and emits 10% less carbon dioxide gas than the gas powered combustion engine


  • NOT: The results are excellent
  • RATHER: Our one-step process reduces costs by 50% and results in an expected ROI of 50% per year withi a profit of $30 M in Year 3


  • NOT: We are better than our competetors
  • RATHER: Our competetors are Evergreen Corporation and Bigway, which uses the current two-step process.

Great thoughts Joy!

Green Light Academy means AUTHENTIC
Dec 23rd, 2010 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

This past summer I was the program director for the Green Light Academy.  Here’s a description from the website:

A Beacon of Hope
Green Light Academy is one of many educational and cultural programs offered by Beacon Preservation, Inc. a nonprofit organization designed to promote environmental conservation, sustainable energy options, and “green collar” skills training through lighthouse preservation. Green Light Academy is made possible through a grant from the Connecticut State Department of Education, the 1772 Foundation,  and the generous support of private donors. For 2010, GLA is open to public high school students from Bridgeport, New Haven, Norwalk, Stratford, Fairfield, and Oxford.

The Green Light Academy (GLA) Is a four-week summer residential program for high school students (grades 10-12) that takes place on the college campus of Western State University In Danbury, Connecticut from Sunday, June 27th through Friday July 23rd, 2010. GLA students live In university housing, dine In the Westside Student Center, use WCSU’s classrooms,  conduct research in the libraries and computer labs, conduct experiments In the laboratories of WestConn’s new state-of-the-art Science Building, explore the Ives Nature Center, and enjoy the many playing fields, gymnasiums, and recreational facilities on both the midtown and westside campuses. Our faculty and guest speakers are experienced professors and certified teachers committed to engaging the learner through hands-on skill-buildling exercises. We believe that academic achievement Improves when students develop a new Interest and appreciation for science, technology, and sustainable energy by doing real-world “applied learning” lessons and hands-on activities.

Here is a great video summarizing our month-long program.  Images sometimes capture a program’s essence so much more effectively than words can . . .

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

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.

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