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.

Who are your Partners?
Dec 1st, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

Note: This article is cross-posted in the Connecticut Science Supervisors Association September Newsletter.  I typically post on my blog when it is published, but neglected to do it back then. No time like the present!  Be a part of the discussion, join my personal learning network, and leave a comment on its contents there.



y network of colleagues working in Science Education in Connecticut has always amazed me.  The diverse expertise has always made it possible for me to find the resources necessary for improving the quality of programs by increasing student engagement and achievement.   In my (fairly) new role as the Director of the Center for 21st Century Skills at EDUCATION CONNECTION, I have found the network is more important than ever.  Partnering with schools and districts, other science education organizations (both nationally and in-state) are a regular part of my daily activities.  If I want to create the highest quality STEM programs possible, I recognize that I can’t do it alone – I need my partners.  And those partners come from a wide swath – business partners, industry partners, higher education partners, State department partners, foundation partners, and federal partners, to name a few.



 think it is so important that I don’t operate in isolation.   It would be a waste of resources and time if I “siloed.” I don’t want to operate in isolation doing the exact same thing my peers are doing, creating the same product. Yet I find that siloing effect happening too often.  Although we absolutely do need to customize for our own program needs, we really should try to utilize each other’s expertise.  That might be the best use of our time.  Anyone looking for a partner?

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.

Technology that can build relationships
Jul 18th, 2011 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

When I think about technology and value in education, I am always looking to examine how technology can be used to leverage learning in ways that can’t be done in other traditional formats.  I am currently working on a blended learning paper with my team and have started the following vignette to describe such an example:

Michael was teaching a high school Applied Science Research class.  The class was designed for students who demonstrated interest in pursuing research in biological, physical, medical, and/or engineering sciences.  Students conduct a year-long or multi-year independent science experimental research project under the mentorship of the instructor and field scientists and are expected to present the results of their research at local, state, or national fairs, symposia, or competitions.  To help his students find success, Michael set up the following course goals:

1.  Interact with practicing scientists

2. Participate in a significant research experience

3.  Select, develop and conduct an independent research project

4. Develop the skills of reporting and presenting research results.

A highly motivated student, Anna had a strong interest in the physical sciences and engineering, began to examine the properties of particle accelerators and decided that she would like to try to build one.  Even though Michael was a biologist, and lacked knowledge about particle accelerators, he encouraged Anna to pursue her ideas.

Anna discovered that old television and computer monitors contain cathode ray tubes (CRTs) and brought a junked monitor from home to school for examination.  She stopped to discuss her ideas with the IT staff member in school who warned her that the monitor could potentially have a capacitor still charged with 40,000 volts of electricity and she should have it discharged.  Begrudgingly, she found a local electrician who did the work for her.  Returning to school, she started to dissect the device, first removing the cover and then different circuit boards and parts.  She reached an impasse and wasn’t sure how to proceed.

Michael had a friend, Bob, a retired multipatent-holding electrical engineer, living on the other end of the state, and encouraged Anna to make contact.  The two connected and decided to have a conversation in class via Skype, an Internet telephony service provider that offers free calling between computers.  Sitting in his couch at home, one morning during class, Bob coached Anna through the process of removing the CRT and gave suggestions on how to proceed with the particle accelerator.  During the process, Anna often took the laptop and steered the camera towards the deconstructed monitor and they discussed parts and procedures.  Occasionally Bob would scratch some figures on paper and move his camera towards the document to share his feedback.  The two had an invigorating conversation that lasted the majority of the class period.  Nearing conclusion, Anna realized that she still had many more questions.  She politely asked if she could follow up with email with more questions.  Bob agreed, and they continued the mentor/mentee relationship throughout the year, never actually meeting face-to-face.

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.

Green Light Academy Mystery Bottle
Jul 2nd, 2009 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

nav_logo_glaI am program coordinating the Green Light Academy beginning next week.  This interdistrict, residential program will serve about 60 Connecticut High School students for FREE!  Today I conducted teacher training, and, as part of the training, we ran several experiments.  Being “GREEN” we didn’t pour the waste down the sink, but rather bottled it.  I am now beginning an game with the faculty and staff.  The bottle will be passed from one faculty or staff member to another.  This activity won’t involve the students. 

The rule, however, is that the receiving person can not know about it.  If the person sees the bottle coming, they should openly reject it.  In fact, I suspect that some of the recipients will not even know what they got until they read this post. 

When a person receives the bottle.  They are to post a comment here, identifying themselves, explaining an experience, idea, or thought about the program, so we can have a daily running log of different impressions of the Academy. 

This will be an informal way to randomly document events througouht the month.  I look forward to reading and hearing about staff and faculty experiences.

What does a collaborative assignment look like?
Oct 2nd, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

There have been several requests to make one of the assignments a collaborative group effort.  I believe in the situated, socially constructing knowledge approach, so I am open to the suggestion.  My question to the group is, “What does a statistical collaborative assignment look like?”  I ask, from a very serious perspective, because the purpose of the assignments are to build the requisite skills for conducting individually-determined quantitative skills necessary for conducting an inquiry study (a.ka. a quantitative dissertation).  I have thus far designed the assignments, to (hopefully) build upon the experience in class so an individual student can then apply the skills and knowledge, to hopefully gain a positive disposition to and clear understanding of the statistical process. 

A group assignment would have to take a different form, and I am open to suggestions to think about ways to implement this.  Your feedback is appreciated.

Remember . . . 40% of the course grade are these assignments and these discussions . . .

I will make a post regarding last night’s class by the end of the week

Collaboration demonstrated a situated cognitive approach to statistics
Sep 24th, 2008 by Frank LaBanca, Ed.D.

I gave a statistics assignment over the past week to my students which challenged them to assimilate most of the course content and explain it in an applied assignment requiring both visual and written interpretation.  Basically, they took their data set that they had generated in a previous assignment, and analyzed it descriptively:  means, medians, modes, standard deviations, interquartiles, box-and-whiskers, and the like.

But this post isn’t about what the students had to do, it’s about my impression of how they did it.  I received many emails from students expressing how they worked hard, collaboratively.  Together they were able to figure out how to complete the assignment.  They repeatedly told me about the groups that met up together at the University lab, to work, share frustrations, successes and, struggles, and ultimately create tangible products, based on authentic data.

I can’t think of a better example of situated cognition in action.  They were socially constructing knowledge together.  It was in their social interactions that learning took place.  What is interesting, is that they chose to learn this way. 

They were using the authentic tools of the practicing educational researcher:  student achievement data, SPSS software.  Of course, to most, they are new (neophytes) to the field of educational research so they are on a peripheral trajectory to the community of practice. 

Seeing this type of learning in practice makes me think that I must continue to strive to provide cognitive apprenticeship opportunities for the students, both in class, and in the “homework” opportunities to make the experiences as authentic as possible.  I think these homework assignments should represent the most meaningful learning that takes place for the course.  Kind of interesting to consider the role of an “in class test” in a situated learning model.  Doesn’t really fit so well.  But, as most know, a doctoral class in statistics, complete with objective in-class assessments is a right of passage towards the letters that are earned after your name. 

So how do I reconcile the the two? 

  • Make the assessment as authentic as possible. 
  • Use the tools of the community of practice. 
  • Allow students to have the necessary resources to solve problems. 
  • Evaluate on concepts, not isolated facts. 

Any other suggestions?

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